How I'm Using My iPad To Learn Languages

There has been a lot of talk about the iPad since it's announcement, but it's been a lot of reaction and uninformed opinion, and very little helpful advice for using the iPad to learn languages. 

I'm out of town for three days, and I left my laptop at home and brought only the iPad. Instead of writing posts in advance and scheduling them, I'm writing this post on my iPad. I'm putting this device to the test.

Ok, so that's how I'm using the iPad to write about learning, but...

How am I using it to learn?

First, there are tons of apps available for language learning. From phrase teaching apps to flashcard apps, to dictionaries and translation tools, there are endless options in every language. All the iPhone apps plus the new iPad apps.

The iPad has a full size web browser. This means that all the web sites I use to learn, look up vocab, or even chat in other languages are all here. And the compact, lightweight iPad is much handier than a laptop and the battery lasts much longer. It even fits in the seat-back pocket!

I filled it up with Italian movies before my trip. This way, that four hour flight could be spent getting my ears more accustomed to hearing the Italian language spoken. And occasionally I'll notice a word that comes up a lot, which I don't know, and I can go to the Notes app and make a note of it. 

And finally, on top of everything else, the iPad is also a big iPod, so I also have hours of Italian lessons, music, and conversations that I can listen to in the hotel or at the airport, or wherever. I also have several foreign language podcasts that I can watch or listen to. 

What could make it better?

The iBooks app needs more language books. Granted, there are apps to allow loading PDF files, but those I have tried so far leave something to be desired for user experience. I'm sure given a little more time, those apps will mature. But none of this makes up for the iBook store's need for more language learning content. 

But I also think the idea itself of language books could be replaced by feature rich apps, allowing lessons to be read, exercises to be completed, and audio to be heard where it applies, without the need for pause, fast forward, rewind.

I would love to see an app make use of the touch interface as a way of teaching people how to form the letters of various alphabets. In particular, an app that helped me learn to draw Arabic characters would be awesome.

Are you using an iPad?

Well, that's a good summary for now, and a good place to end my first post written entirely on an iPad. Are any of you using an iPad? Have you discovered any interesting apps or other ways of using this device to help with language study? Let me know in the comments!     


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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • The iPad is on my list of toys-I-definitely-don't-need-but-wish-I-had. Glad to see it does indeed have some language potential. Still beyond my budget though...

  • I use the Notes app on my iPhone to note down words I don't know (an upgrade from the little notebook I made much use of in the past). When using iAnki, I also use Notes to note down items that I'm confusing with other items, so I can differentiate them later through example sentences, better definitions, etc. (you can't edit in iAnki on the iPhone).OK, now it's time for a question barrage…You wouldn't happen to know if iAnki works on the iPad, would you?Can you "write on the books" in the iBooks program? I have in mind the notes I'll sometimes make when reading books in foreign languages.Can you highlight? When reading in a foreign language, I'll usually finish reading some chunk of text, highlighting what I don't know, and then look up those words later. I'd love to be able to mimic that.Can you copy and paste words from those books? Here I'm thinking of getting the words into an online dictionary. With real books, this is a big hassle in Chinese or Japanese if you don't know the word's pronunciation. If you can't copy and paste, the hassle will be exactly the same.So I gather you can import just any old book (PDF, epub, etc.) into iBooks, huh?How is the audio without the earphones? We were thinking that one of these might be useful for our kids to use (load it up with audio books, etc.), but we're pretty sure that they'll destroy any earphones we give them pretty quickly. (Our iPhones have thus far survived mistreatment from them, so we're hopeful that an iPad would as well.)

  • I'm more in the "don't think I need it, don't want to spend the money, but still looking for an excuse" boat.

  • I am using my iPad right now. And it's definitely a toy no one needs. I happened to win mine. So, it did't come out of my pocket book. My children seem to find much joy with it, but I have not found my keen spirit for it.However, we are driving out of state and I think it's going to keep my kids busy on their long drive with ITune movies and games.Thank you for bringing up podcasts. I've been wanting to learn German. Might be a good way to get some use in my iPad.

  • Well, instead of arguing the "is it a toy" debate, I'm just interested in how it can be used as a tool. I'm glad you found something useful in my post!

  • I can't answer anything about iBooks, since the only books I read are about language, and those are still missing from iBooks. I think some of those features you ask about are missing, but a few might be there.Audio is pretty good. Even without headphones.As for iAnki, if it works on iPhone, it will work on iPad. Though that often means just a zoomed version of the iPhone interface.

  • I think your particular opinion of the iPad tends to be colored by the fact that you're traveling for extended periods of time. You need some features that require a laptop. But for people who travel for only a few days, or a week, I can see how the iPad would be a more than adequate stand-in for a laptop... and more convenient for the traveler.

  • Your most recent post seems to confirm my suspicions that it's not that great and that has nothing to do with extended stays vs brief travelling. In Europe too, when they offer you Internet, it means by cable a lot of the time even in this day and age. When PCs are offered in a lounge, I just ask if I can plug one out and use its Ethernet on my own laptop and they usually say yes.If you had wifi trouble in those places you went to, think of travelling to South America & Asia! I had also guessed that the keyboard would be cumbersome for anything more than quick messages.Also, in SA & Asia you would be making yourself a target by wipping out your shiny huge expensive Apple device. With a laptop, I'm only going to use it when plugged in somewhere safe, never out and about. Studying languages on a bus in a poor country on an iPad is an impossibility unless you genuinely want it taken from you. I didn't even take my iPhone with me in Rio if I was venturing outside of the Urca-Ipanema stretch.The travel world isn't ready for the iPad yet. I stand by my toy comment, sorry!

  • Your points are well-taken, but I think you're arguing a red herring, since all those places where you say having an iPad would be trouble are places where having a shiny MacBook Pro would also be trouble. In fact, moreso, because a laptop isn't as easy to conceal as an iPad.
    There are places on this earth where you are better off not taking any electronics. That is not a good argument against owning an iPad.
    And if you are plugging in a wireless adapter for your laptop, how is that different than me having to do the same for an iPad?
    I can't help feeling like your opinion about this device are not very objective. I think it's impulsive and uninformed to call something a "toy" without having even used it.
    Personally, as a developer working primarily in the web, I had little choice. I had to own one for the purpose of testing my code on a new, popular platform. I didn't buy it for it's "cool factor", and I feel like I'm pretty objective in my opinions about it.
    There are certainly some frustrating aspects to prolonged use of this device, and I will experiment more in the future to see how easily those can be overcome, but on the whole I am still of the opinion that it's an amazing, revolutionary device for those who consume content.

  • I don't have a macbook pro either...Sorry Randy, but I'm just feeling a "get a mac" vibe from this whole iPad hype over the last months. I have an iPhone and I don't think it's that great either.If I win an iPad in a competition or something then you'll bet I'll be happy to use it. But I don't feel any hole in my life needs to be filled by it. It will perhaps be useful in future when it has more context and has penetrated the market enough, but my "unobjective" opinion is that I don't see why I would possibly need it. I've seen hours of videos and I only see its "cool factor" as the selling point.As much as I hate it, after several years on the market the iPhone has indeed become more useful (despite its inherent Apple-esque flaws) due to the apps. Perhaps when someone clever has made some ingenious apps other than bigger versions of the iPhone ones, I'd give in. All I see now is potential, not practicality.If there is something I'm missing tell me. I don't see how it can be useful right now other than for having an e-book collection in one easy to read place.

  • I wonder what it is that you don't like about the iPhone? If I remember correctly, I think I read that yours is jailbroken... I wonder if that has any effect on what apps are available to you.Personally, I find my iPhone utterly indispensible, though I think Apple has really dropped the ball with regard to worldwide partners. I expect that the iPhone experience is probably superior in the US to that in the rest of the world.Sure, there is no hole in your life that needs to be filled by an iPad. I think a lot of people probably feel the same way. It is, after all, a brand new computing paradigm, and it's probably far too early for many people to get good use out of it.But just as the iPhone began it's life as a rather crippled device ("it's just an iPod with a phone in it") and has now turned into a mature, elegant, extremely useful device, I think also the iPad ('it's just a big iPhone") will grow and mature into an indispensible tool -- particularly for casual travelers.Unfortunately, as I've said, I think it's got a long way to go before it fits your paradigm. Even if all the blogging problems are wrapped up, it is still completely useless for video editing.In response to your last paragraph, though, I think there is something you're missing. It's not just an e-book platform. In fact, I've had mine for almost two months and I have yet to use it for reading a book.On an average week, I use it for casual web browsing, twitter, and email every night, and I use it to check the weather every morning, and I manage to go more than one week on a single charge. The point isn't that it can be used for browsing or email... the point is that I can use this thing for a whole week without access to electricity. That's significant.As I said in my most recent post, it's the perfect form factor for use on an airplane, or in any other tight space... and it's small size also makes it the potential of this device, and I think that given a modest amount of time to iron out a few flaws, other people will begin to see that as well. Maybe one day even you will come around... :)

  • Hmm waiting for the price to drop, because I really want one, my IPod Touch is the most amazing language learning tool.Yes to the things you mention, but also radio, for example the ooTunes app gives me access to huge array of international Internet radio, anywhere I can pick up a network I can listen to a whole variety of international radio, this app even gives a recording cache of the last few things you listen to so if you accidentally come accross a really good show you can save it off after listening in real time and play it again whenever you feel like it.Pick up the the earphones with included microphone and you can record yourself speaking for practice, conceal the device in a bag or pocket (bag for the Ipad I guess) and you can pop one ear phone out, leave the other in your ear (thus looking like a average music junkie who has paused briefly to talk to someone), and you can actually be recording a brief conversation you have with a native speaker for later reference) that little microphone is actually very good for this.Heck use the device as tool, pretend you have language homework and have to briefly interview and record a native speaker. Or just ask them to add to your collection of recorded example sentences.

  • I wouldn't go holding any hopes of the price coming down. With 2 million units sold in under 60 days, there's not much incentive for Apple to lower the price. And Apple historically doesn't lower prices often anyhow. Besides, there's nothing else on the market like it!Great tip about recording conversations with the earbud microphone. I'm going to have to try that!

  • I've blogged a few times about how my iPad has helped me learn Turkish a few times.
    Here's a link: https://www.istanbulexplorat...Try out the TRT and Kitaplık apps. You'll have access to free Turkish TV and books.

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