Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2014
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Lingua.ly - learn a language with vocabulary and articles

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Inconsistent user experience mars terrific language-learning concept

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Social Studies
  • World Languages
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
9-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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5 images

Pros: Built-in dictionary comprised of user-generated and user-discovered words is a smart, thoughtful approach to language learning.

Cons: Available articles rely heavily on user input. Flashcard images can be inappropriate and difficult to change.

Bottom Line: While the concept is great, uneven features and iffy images make this a questionable choice for the classroom.

Have kids input their latest (or most troublesome) vocabulary words into the word list and browse articles to build fluency. Brainstorm a list of words that might fit one of the pre-set categories (like arts, food, or education) and add them to the vocab list to get a wider reading list on the subjects they enjoy. Challenge kids to read widely, sampling articles from several categories within the app. 

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This language-learning app lets users review vocabulary by reading online news articles in the target language. Users set their native language and a target language (one must be English) and add words they already know to the app’s dictionary. The app then generates a reading list of brief news articles and headlines featuring those words. Users can manually add new words by tapping words within articles, and can quiz themselves on flashcards they create for each word.

It’s important to note the app doesn’t work without an Internet connection. Additionally, flashcards automatically include images from the Bing search engine, and results can be uneven at best (an industrial meat slicer for the word slice) and inappropriate at worst (a series of appalling images for infected). A pop-up warns that images appear automatically and the app might not be appropriate for kids under 13. Some might feel it’s inappropriate for students of any age.

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Lingua.ly’s concept is brilliant: Scaffolding language-learning by starting with a few words kids know and building from there is a terrific idea. Unfortunately, the good intentions are unevenly executed. Populating the dictionary with key words turns out to be critical. Two words automatically included in every language are the words for “dog” and “cat,” and there are understandably few breaking news articles about dogs or cats. So it’s possible for the app’s reading section to turn up no search results if the dictionary is limited.

While spoken dictionary entries are well-pronounced and readers have great accents, it’s unfortunate more words aren’t available for definition, especially grammatical particles or words with different gender or number (perro and perras). While some are included, the differences aren't illustrated or explained. Additionally, when a word is clicked, it’s automatically added to the dictionary, but there’s no easy way to remove a word. Between the inconsistencies and the iffy flashcard images, you might want to look elsewhere for an appropriate classroom tool.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Kids will enjoy browsing articles by topic based on their interests; however, selection is often slim and articles are extremely short.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The idea of learning vocabulary in context is solid and could offer great motivation. Unfortunately, users have to enter a great deal of vocabulary on their own to make full use of the feature.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Although pronunciation features are useful for some words, many other words (especially grammatical particles) are not available in the dictionary, which makes it tough to build fluency.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Caitlin M. , Other
Other
Harpeth Hall School
Nashville, TN
Simple language app uses gamification and real-world context to teach vocabularly

Lingua.ly is not a perfect app, but overall I think it is an easy way to practice vocabulary in context. Adding the element of gamification makes it a fun alternative to traditional flashcards. I liked that the app allows the user to choose the topic that interests them the most and then finds/generates articles to read based on the chosen topic and vocabulary words in the app. The app is user directed, so the more students use it the better it will be at choosing content and generating practice questions.

Any vocabulary words include the translation and a pronunciation, but no grammar - so this is strictly for learning new words, not conjugations, other grammar, or sentence structure. Each new word is also supposed to be associated with a picture- this feature is not always evident and sometimes shows strange or unrelated pictures. It took some clicking and exploring to figure out what each of the sections on the app was and how to change the settings (I turned sound effects off! as soon as I did!) - but once I figured it out, it was easy to use.

I think Lingua.ly can serve as a fun supplemental tool to practice vocabulary, but not as a classroom tool for teachers.

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