The growing number of language-learning software products has created fierce competition between established language software companies and newer online rivals. The trend is great news for digital language learners, who have more options than ever at lower prices.
Language-learning software is best for beginners, travelers or intermediate-level students who want to brush up on their language skills. Most programs aim to get you conversant in a foreign language by focusing on practical vocabulary while downplaying grammar and writing. Reviewers warn not to expect fluency.
The rapidly changing industry is offering consumers more than just software; many companies like industry giant Rosetta Stone (*Est. $180 and up) and rival Tell Me More (*Est. $230 and up) are instead selling packages of interactive lessons, games, exercises and services. Voice recognition technology enables students to assess and compare their pronunciation to a native speaker. In addition to flexible lessons, interactive games, audio exercises, online chat rooms, progress trackers and even web-based classes are compelling resources for budding linguists. Language software companies are also moving away from PC-based software, with many offering all of their content online or even on mobile apps.
The industry is becoming increasingly mobile as well, and reviewers appreciate having the choice of free apps, downloadable MP3 audio lessons and web-based software and tools. Reviewers generally enjoy these tools, particularly engaging interactive exercises and online tutoring which can be a great value. More importantly, many believe that while software-based language learning has its own challenges and limitations, it is also effective -- if you stick with it.
Not all companies offer all of these options, however, and the ones that do are far more costly. Consumers can expect to pay anywhere from around $100 for simple, audio-intensive web-based programs like Babbel ($7.45/month and up) and Rocket Languages (*Est. $100 and up) to well over $500 for a comprehensive, multi-level software and services package from Rosetta Stone.
While that may seem expensive, prices have dropped across the board amid a weak economy and stiff competition. Many reviewers note that software-based language learning is far cheaper and more flexible than a traditional class. And software companies are quickly addressing the shortcomings of the method -- that is, learning to communicate without any human interaction -- by offering an old-school feature: coaching. For language learners seeking proficiency, this human feedback is essential.