If you want to learn a new language, you may think you need to spend hours studying alone with an app or textbook. While those methods may work, the tried-and-true method for mastering a new language involves speaking that language with other people, ideally native speakers. But depending on where you live, finding native speakers to chat with in person may be a challenge.
Before you book a plane ticket to Paris to practice your French, there is a much easier way to learn a language without leaving your couch. Social language learning apps allow you to find a native speaker to chat with virtually via real-time engagement (RTE), which includes messaging, voice, or video chat, to practice a new language socially.
The benefits of virtual social language learning
Social language learning offers a more informal and fun way to gain proficiency speaking a new language, with the opportunity to make new friends along the way. Using a social language learning app has a wide range of benefits, including:
- Practice: You can practice speaking and listening to the language with other people, better enabling you to speak the language in common scenarios.
- Immersion: You can immerse yourself in the language by talking to native speakers about their lives and culture.
- Access to foreign language speakers: You can connect students in distant communities with native speakers from all over the world.
- Building community: You can build a community of language learners and make new friends.
So what specific apps offer these benefits? One great example is Tandem, a social language learning app (based in Germany) available for 300 languages with millions of members all over the globe from Brazil to Japan. With the ability to speak with native speakers in real time, apps like Tandem are an effective part of the puzzle to learning to speak a new language naturally and confidently with others.
Tandem lets users chat with native speakers via chat, voice, and video. They offer “language parties” in audio chat rooms that allow users to practice their language skills and be immersed in natural conversations within larger group settings. It’s less intimidating for users than video chat with strangers and Tandem’s social learning approach builds community—connecting learners and fostering personal connection beyond just learning.
The technology behind social language learning apps
Virtual social language learning requires the use of real-time engagement (RTE) technology to power the video, voice, and messaging functionality. For example, Tandem uses Agora for real-time audio to build an immersive environment for global language learners.
Because users are often conversing with someone from a different part of the world, it’s also essential that the RTE technology used works well globally to avoid issues like dropped calls and stuttering audio. For Tandem, Agora’s globally distributed real-time network allows users from remote locations thousands of miles apart to communicate seamlessly with crystal clear audio and video.
Tandem reports that over 1 million language parties have been started on their platform within the first year, with over 50 million participants.
In order to retain users, it was also essential for Tandem to maintain low latency and high audio quality. Studies show that users are more likely to abandon an app if the audio or video quality is poor. One study by Convivia found that users who experience buffering are three times more likely to abandon a video.
The future of social language learning technology
With interest in generative AI booming while interest in the conceptual metaverse fades, what’s next for social language learning tech?
Here are a few innovations that Tobias Dickmeis, CPO and co-founder of Tandem, thinks have the potential to improve the experience for language learners:
- Real-time transcription and translation: This technology can be used to enable automatic captions during a live call and transcripts after the fact, which can help reinforce language speaking practice with reading. It can also be used for real-time translation, which could make conversations easier for beginners in a new language. It can also be used to provide feedback to learners, such as highlighting key points or correcting errors.
- AI chatbots: AI chatbots can be used to provide additional language practice or to answer questions from students about the language they are studying.
- VR and avatars: While the jury is still out on if and when VR will be widely adopted, it has the potential to create a more immersive language learning experience. The combination of VR and avatars that mimic users’ real movements can provide an environment closer to an in-person interaction while still being less intimidating than video chat.
Through social language learning apps like Tandem, the journey of mastering a new language transforms from a solitary endeavor into a global adventure. The convenience of connecting with native speakers from around the world, the immersion in diverse cultures, and the camaraderie with fellow language enthusiasts all contribute to an enriching learning experience.
Looking to build your own social learning experience? Check out Agora’s education solutions to collaborative learning tools like real-time video, voice, messaging and whiteboards to any app.