How effective is language learning technology in 2019?

Giuseppe Tomasello
Mar 1, 2019 · 3 min read

In the next decade, we will see a huge quantity of language learning startups emerging with cool new technologies.
The reason is simple. It is forecasted that online language learning market will grow 18% CAGR from 2019 till 2023.

We are already seeing many companies that are creating new sexy interfaces, trying to capture a large share of this market.
Mondly launched a VR language learning experience, Busuu has built an Alexa voice chatbot and Duolingo uses gamification to create addictive experiences.

Those methodologies have a strong appeal to end-users and investors.
Easy to use, low price and scalability can gain millions of users almost overnight. But also loose quickly their user attention in favor of newer and shinier alternatives.

Are those language- teaching methodologies delivering value to the end user?

It would be counterproductive to base language- teaching methodologies on something other than an understanding of how language learning does and does not take place.

Those language-teaching methodologies are based exclusively on rule memorization and translation exercises. That is, a student is expected to memorize words and grammar and then translate sentences from the native language to the language being learned and vice versa. Duolingo, initially, based its business model in selling student generated translations.

Studies in second language acquisition (SLA) have made language teachers and curriculum designers aware that language learning consists of more than rule memorization. More important, perhaps, it involves learning to express communicative needs.

Myth: Can you speak correctly?

Truth: Can people understand you?

There are 2 main problems when it comes to current language learning technologies to express communicative needs:

1.The content is not relevant nor personalized to the specific communication needs of the student.
Each user has her own specific communicative needs. This means that if you want to improve your communicative skills you need to focus your limited time and energy resources in learning the language that you can use to accomplish real-life tasks.
If you are a German automotive engineer in China, the language you need to communicate at work is highly specific.
However, the content that you find in traditional language learning apps is not relevant to the specific communication needs. Therefore most of the time users end-up studying non-useful stuff and quit.

Language learning apps are efficient in teaching non-useful vocabulary.

2. The only way to learn how to communicate with humans is to try to communicate with humans.

When we study human language, we are approaching what some might call the human essence, the distinctive qualities of mind that are, so far as we know, unique to [humans].
Noam Chomsky, 1968

Learning languages allows us to experience different ways of thinking. It enables us to develop the ability to change our perspective and adapt ourselves to the mindsets of others. Which is a critical skill for effective communication.

Traditional language learning apps score very poorly in the pragmatic part of language learning. The reason is that since they need to focus on scalability and standardization they need to exclude the personalization aspect.

Second Language learning is a skill that requires empathy and understanding. Real communication cannot exclude the cultural and social norms of that language.

Language learning apps might be an excellent tool to boost motivation and to teach skills that require repetition, such as memorizing vocabulary and improving pronunciation. However, those language learning technologies alone cannot provide a comprehensive learning experience. You still need a real person to talk to. In order to understand what you need to learn and test if the knowledge that you are getting is somehow useful.

To conclude it seems like the real teacher to student interaction is irreplaceable. That’s is the reason why at we believe that language learning technology should be used to amplify, extend and scale the core human aspect of language learning. is a technology supplement, extend and scale the human interaction that is at the core of language learning

Giuseppe Tomasello

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In the quest for finding the right balance between AI technology and a human-centric approach for language learning. Founder of is a technology supplement, extend and scale the human interaction that is at the core of language learning