This app has an 80% success rate in making you a novice Spanish speaker
After three months, participants’ speaking abilities ranged between exchanging greetings and providing basic personal information to discussing activities and future plans in the new language. Source: Shutterstock

Want an app with research-backed proof of success? If it’s Spanish you want to be fluent in, a new study by Yale researchers has found one with a 100 percent success rate in helping learners develop some measure of oral proficiency.

Babbel, the commercial language learning app, had close to 80 percent (79.5 percent) success in bringing learners’ proficiency to Novice level. Another 20.5 percent achieved Intermediate level of proficiency. Oral proficiency refers to how well a learner can converse and interact with native speakers of a foreign language.

“Due to the lack of available research on language learning apps, there is a fair degree of skepticism regarding their impact on learners’ speaking abilities. The results of our study, however, strongly suggest that Babbel can be an effective tool for learning basic conversation skills,” says Dr Nelleke van Deusen-Scholl, the study’s co-lead investigator and Director of Yale University’s Center for Language Study in a statement.

“Statistical results confirmed a correlation between using Babbel and effectiveness of learning Spanish, showing a progression in initial proficiency levels in line with current linguistics literature on speaking skill development. It was shown that Babbel can help learners get to a conversation in a new language.”

Researchers analysed 117 US-based participants who were absolute beginner learners of Spanish (though some had learned it decades earlier), have access to a smartphone, tablet or computer.

More than half (52 percent) of the learners were over the age of 55. Many were retired and studying languages to improve their mental fitness. On average, participants used Babbel for 48 hours over the duration of the study. They spent considerably more time learning with the app in the duration of the study, clocking in between 10.3 to 274 hours.

After studying four of Babbel’s Beginner’s Courses (76 lessons) for approximately three months, they took the Oral Proficiency Interview-computer version (OPIc) on their home computer and completed pre- and post-surveys.

The OPIc includes a live simulated interview and an assessment of learners’ performance by certified and trained assessors, according to the criteria outlined in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language’s (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines 2012 – Speaking. Proficiency is then rated with the following major levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced or Superior.

Three-quarters of respondents felt they had met their language-learning goals. Nearly all (95 percent) found Babbel to be a convenient way to learn a new language.

The majority of learners achieved scores around the Novice range, described as being able to use chunks of language memorised in highly predictable contexts (such as talking about oneself and very limited surroundings). Their speaking abilities ranged between exchanging greetings and providing basic personal information to discussing activities and future plans in the new language

Of those who scored in the Intermediate range, two-thirds reported having studied another Romance language (eg French), which researchers said could explain their better scores. Having prior learning experiences with studying another language, the fact that the exam was not proctored
and the use of other learning resources are other factors that could have contributed.

Babbel founder and CEO, Markus Witte, believes such research is essential for creating transparency regarding the outcomes learners can expect from using the app: “No matter which method or tool you use to learn a new language, the time you invest is incredibly valuable–it’s essential to know your time and effort are well-spent.

“The results of this study do exactly that, corroborating the results of an earlier study which showed that using Babbel facilitates the development of oral communication skills. It’s further proof of the effectiveness of Babbel’s teaching method.”

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