Accessible Language Software Provides Alternative to Traditional Classes


Abe Frato

The Cooper International Learning Center provides students with online and onsite tools to facilitate language learning.

It may seem irrelevant, but online language-learning softwares have begun to take over, with user statistics increasing rapidly. Cision PR Newswire suggests the industry will grow to $10.5 billion by 2025. It’s become clear: People are done with in-person language courses.

Online softwares offer several benefits, most notably that they are incredibly cheap. Most of the highest-rated softwares offer yearly subscriptions between $80 and $120. In 2022, the cost of a single college credit was approximately $367 on average. Of course, this number can be adjusted according to whether a college is public or private. This places the average cost of a language credit at a public four-year college at $110 on average. At a private four-year college, the average price increases to $625. In addition, online courses operate yearly, and can be completed whenever the student feels like it. College courses occur at a set time, and the learning is not self-paced.

Additionally, online softwares can offer a more immediate, foundational basis for a language, as most college-level courses incorporate grammar, spelling, reading, and writing, as well as basic vocabulary learning at the same time. For traveling, online courses can provide quick and easy vocabulary. Online softwares also offer a multitude of languages. Rosetta Stone, a top online language program costing just $96 a year, teaches 25 languages. Duolingo, another top program, is free but offers a premium subscription for $84 yearly, and teaches over 40. This sort of fast-paced, wide-spread exposure can only exist on an online format. The rapid dissemination of information that can be accessed virtually anywhere in the world is impossible to replicate in person. Duolingo and other such digital formats are ever-evolving and ever-changing. They are expanding to incorporate pronunciation guides and tests, reading and writing tests, and other practices that increase comprehension.

It’s also worth pointing out that many online language softwares are created by a broad range of experts and reflect an accurate portrayal of the language, while many language courses in the United States are taught by white teachers and professors, many of whom are not integrated into the culture that the language they teach belongs to. This can potentially lead to inaccuracies, biases, and missed nuances during instruction.

Still, there are some problems with online language learning. Online courses can be isolating, and an important part of language is actual communication between people. During in-person classes, most teachers require speaking and communication exercises to strengthen comprehension. While online courses are being taught by programs and algorithms, the structured assignments and on-demand help that in-person classes provide can be vital to the language-learning process. Also, many in-person instructors incorporate lessons on the history and origins of the language. These sorts of assignments foster an inclusive community wherein students are more sensitive toward differences between people, particularly if they ever intend to travel abroad.

Perhaps most importantly, online language-learning courses represent yet another threat to teaching positions. While accessibility and ease are important, jobs and the livelihoods of some of the most underpaid professionals in the workforce are equally important. Not only that, but language softwares are indicative of a larger phenomenon: technologification.

Technologification, the effects of which have been increasing rapidly through the years, is the process by which technology becomes more ingrained into society, often subtly, and becomes a primary part of a person’s subconscious. The tendency to go on one’s phone when there is a sudden lull in a conversation is an example of technologification. The instinct to constantly be listening to music, watching a show, or texting are other examples. It’s rather unsettling to imagine how complacent society is in the face of these language-learning softwares. Language is how we communicate with one another, and with an online interface, we completely remove the essence and nature of language itself.

While technology has brought numerous benefits, it has many proven health disadvantages, including lowering our attentiveness and perception and making us lazy. So while online language courses can be easy alternatives to intensive college classes, the in-person option is still important.

In my experience, language-learning softwares are incredibly effective. I have been learning Spanish on Duolingo for over a year, and the results have been great. Despite practicing for only 10 minutes a day, I was able to communicate in Spanish when I visited Mexico several months ago because the conversational language-learning features on the software had made it easy to develop a passable accent. Conversely, in my five years of learning French in school, I retained little to no information year-to-year despite attending one of the top public high schools in my area. While this may not necessarily be comparable to a college-level language course, many high-school courses are structured based on material taught at the college-level.

Though in-person language courses did not work for me, I don’t completely disregard their usefulness. Instead, I suggest a balance between the two. Taking college-level courses to provide a foundation for the language, skills and tools for comprehension, and an understanding of culture and history while using online softwares to supplement learning, especially during breaks and when classes are less regular, seems ideal. Technology has made so much possible, but it’s important not to discredit the advantages of non-tech forms.