Why Journaling trumps Apps for Language Learning Mastery

Why Journaling trumps Apps for Language Learning Mastery

Have you ever spent hours on language learning apps like Duolingo, Babbel or Rosetta Stone but felt you're still far from fluency? You aren't alone. While these apps are excellent for learning new vocabulary and basic structure of the target language, they fail to nurture the competence and confidence needed for real-world conversations. A simple yet powerful, often overlooked tool for achieving fluency - is journaling.

The Illusion of Language Learning Apps

Firstly, let’s discuss why many people never become fluent in another language despite practicing for months, even years, on language learning apps. The best way to understand this is by reviewing Kaufmann's 2019 video where he discusses why people struggle with learning new languages.

Kaufmann, an experienced polyglot, highlights three keys to language learning: motivation, spending time with the language, and having the ability to notice what’s happening in the language. According to him, people often get frustrated because they forget what they have learned, make mistakes, or feel they haven't made enough progress despite the effort put into learning (Kaufmann, 2019).

Language learning apps boast gamified and engaging experiences to keep the user hooked. However, these platforms fall short in two ways - they lack context and fail to aid "noticing". The former creates a disconnect between the app's universe and the real-world, impairing the language application in realistic scenarios. The latter restricts the learner's ability to discern language nuances, which is integral to achieving fluency.

The Power of Journaling

Journaling, on the other hand, provides an effective solution to the challenges posed by language learning apps. Not only does it enhance the learner's engagement with the language, it provides useful context, encourages noticing and provides room for regular practice.
Providing Context

Journaling offers a unique platform where language learners can simulataneously practice and implement their language skills. Since it's based on personal thoughts, feelings, or experiences, it provides context that's unique to an individual, which apps often fail to do. This positions the process of language learning closer to real-life scenarios, boosting understanding and confidence.
Promoting Noticing

Through journaling, learners are encouraged to piece together intricate sentence structures, idiomatic expressions, and linguistic patterns pertaining to the target language. This promotes 'noticing', improving grasp of grammar and vocabulary, and fostering fluency.
Opportunities for Regular Practice

Journaling promotes regular practice, catalysing language learning. Unlike apps that often encourage intermittent bursts of learning, journaling in the language one is learning provides sustained, meaningful engagement, boosting memory retention (Cumming, 2016).

Hence, incorporating journaling in a language learner’s toolkit encourages consistent and meaningful interactions with the target language in a manner that’s much closer to real-world applications.

While apps like Duolingo have their place in the tool kit of a language learner, a technique as simple as journaling can offer a more nuanced language learning experience. It might seem old-school but it brings the learner closer to their language acquisition goals.

1. Kaufmann, S. (2019, February 4). Learning a New Language and Why Many Struggle. The Linguist on Language [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy2LxIPLBFM
2. Smith, D. G. (2018). Critical period for second language acquisition: Evidence from 2/3 million English speakers. Age, 10(18), 20.
3. Cumming, A., & Lai, C. (2016). Writing to Learn Mathematics and Science and Their Intersection with English Language Learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(6), 649-658.
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