Mobile language apps help millions learn less, more often
By Eric Auchard
FRANKFURT Aug 21 (Reuters) - Smartphone apps that help people learn languages for free or nearly free, a few sentences at a time, are piling pressure on established education firms and setting the pace for how to make lessons more engaging.
Phone and tablet-based mobile products from newcomers like Germany's Babbel, Britain's Memrise and U.S.-based Duolingo have overtaken names like Berlitz and computer self-learning pioneer Rosetta Stone in terms of audience, if not yet sales or teaching sophistication, market researchers say.
Tens of millions of users are being drawn to the flexibility of practising vocabulary or conversation on the go, either as part of a serious course of study or simply a more productive alternative to casual video gaming.
"It is a matter of incremental convenience: smartphone apps offer a wide selection of content that is more easily accessible, anytime, anywhere," said Ed Cooke, founder of London-based Memrise, whose language apps are mostly free.
The best mobile apps use voice recognition, email reminders and insights from the psychology of mobile games and cognitive science to keep entry-level as well as advanced users coming back for a few minutes of practice each day.
These low-cost products are forcing a rethink by publishers, tutors and suppliers of classroom teaching tools who have long counted on charging double-digit dollar prices for books or hundreds of dollars for courses.
Established companies in the sector are scrambling to make their existing print, software and online products more mobile or retrenching to higher-end courses aimed at businesses or schools so as not to have to compete with free or low-cost apps.
The rise of mobile apps is denting sales in the overall market, said Sam Adkins, chief research officer of research firm Ambient Insight. "The language-learning market is declining in terms of revenue due primarily to the adoption of less expensive, technology-based products," he said. Continuación...