How to Learn a Language With Your iPad

I became a vastly better student once I started using my iOS products to better my studies instead of allowing them to simply distract me. We are in an unprecedented digital age: the phones in our pockets and tablets in our hands are ten times more powerful than the computers that could barely fit on planes fifty years ago. And we have the power of the Internet.

A bit less than a year ago, I took a Spanish course at the university level. In Canada, our second language is French, and I haven’t had a lot of experience with Spanish. I quite explosively failed the course. You might be wondering why that makes me a good candidate to teach you about how to learn a language with your iPad. In all honesty, I’m going to tell you what I didn’t do, because what I did do certainly didn’t work. So let’s get started.

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Get Organized

It’s amazing how easy it is to get organized with our digital tools these days. Give us twenty years and nobody’s going to know what an agenda is anymore. That being said, we’re still going through the transition right now, and I’ve got a few app suggestions you should try out.

If you like keeping your iPad as clean as possible and want to use the stock apps wherever possible, then you can get by with Calendar and Reminders. I’d set a reminder to go off a day or two before something is due and then make an assignment’s due date an all-day event in Calendar. Even if you’re not taking a course, you owe it to yourself to set some deadlines. Otherwise, most statistics (and personal experience) suggest you’ll never get around to doing it.

If you’re looking for alternatives to the stock apps, I’ll recommend a few for you: Wunderlist is a great free tool for cross-platform work, particularly if you have an Android phone and an iPad. You might also want to consider apps like Evernote for organizing checklists.

iStudiez Pro is an essential tool for any student.

iStudiez Pro is an essential tool for any student.

There’s tons of great to-do lists out there, but if you’re taking a course or in night school, I highly recommend iStudiez Pro. The app allows you to set due dates with built-in reminders, keep track of grades, catalogue your professors/teachers and set up exam schedules. It comes with iCloud built into it and it’s a universal app, so if you have both an iPhone and an iPad, you’ll be able to take it everywhere with you. iStudiez Pro is also available for Mac, and it’s great there too (and has the same features). For busy students, it’s easily the best organization tool I’ve encountered.

Stock Up On Dictionaries

This sort of thing is obviously language-dependent, but if you want to get serious about learning a language on your iPad, you’re going to need a second language dictionary. I haven’t searched the App Store for dictionaries in every language, but I’m not having trouble finding any dictionaries for popular languages (think Spanish, French, Italian, German, etc).

My advice is to take your time looking for a good dictionary app before purchasing. The free ones aren’t always bad, but I wouldn’t necessarily trust a free app with my grade in a university-level language course either. Interface isn’t everything either. Considering the Spanish language, I’d recommend Spanish-English Dictionary (but there are an abundance of dictionaries and you should always weigh your other options as well). It’s developed by Accio, so you know that it’s likely more accurate than a simple free app. And because it’s not free (it’s $3.99), it comes with offline access (a must-have if you’re travelling), no ads and no in-app purchases. Bottom line: it’s worth splurging on your dictionary.

Get a Couple Basic Courses

Similarly to finding a good dictionary, this is also dependent on the language you plan on learning. Referring back to Spanish again, since I have some experience in that regard, it’s easy enough to find apps that start with the basics and work their way from there towards full-length complex sentences.

This is the first lesson in the app, but it's worth downloading. It only gets more complicated from here.

This is the first lesson in the app, but it’s worth downloading. It only gets more complicated from here.

The app that I started using towards the end of my course (too little, too late, as they say) was Learn Spanish by Brainscape. This is a universal app that costs $9.99 and covers much of the basics of Spanish and some of the complexities with a simple user interface and an enjoyable user experience that guides you towards “mastery” of a language. I can’t speak for courses like this for every language, but if you’re learning Spanish, it’s a good place to start.

Not unlike dictionary apps, these are worth spending a little bit of money on. Consider it a course fee. Learn Spanish is $9.99. If you buy just a few great apps like that one (and I do recommend that app if you have an interest in learning Spanish), you could learn most of the complexities of a language for under $100, which is cheaper than my Spanish textbook alone was when I took a class.

Get Flash Cards

Flash cards are essential tools for learning languages. You would think that flash cards would be an easy thing to accomplish on iPad, but I haven’t seen a lot of great uses for it. There are two apps that pull it off, and one pulls it off significantly better than the other: Evernote Peek and Index Card.

If you don't have a Smart Cover, don't expect to make use of this gimmick.

If you don’t have a Smart Cover, don’t expect to make use of this gimmick.

Evernote Peek is an interesting concept. You’ll need a Smart Cover to use it, but if you have one of those, you’ll be good to go. You slowly roll the Smart Cover up to “peek” at the question and as you roll it up more, you see the answer. I’m not a big fan of the app, seeing as it takes a while to create your “flash cards” and the use of the Smart Cover feels gimmicky to me instead of clever. Plus, there’s no real Evernote integration. I’m actually not sure what Evernote’s interest is in an app like this. That being said, it’s free, and one person’s gimmick is another person’s “wow” factor.

Index Card isn't perfect, but it relies only on a finger tap.

Index Card isn’t perfect, but it relies only on a finger tap.

My preferred flash card app is Index Card. The app is universal for iPhone and iPad and can sync with Dropbox. It has a bit of a learning curve, but once you get it down pat, it’s much faster than Evernote Peek and much more intuitive. Syncing up to iPhone is a plus because you might not always have your iPad on you when you want to do some quick studying (you’re not likely to have your iPad with you while doing some last-minute studying before an exam, for example, but you’ll probably have the iPhone in your pocket). Beyond that, Index Card functions how you would expect a flash card app to: tapping the card flips it over and you can go through them by swiping. Way easier than Evernote Peek and a lot simpler.

The Rest Is You

Like any app, I can only help you so much. If you want to learn a language, I don’t want you to think that the apps can do the work for you. Learning a language is a lot of work, and it’s never easy. Hopefully, these apps can assist you on your journey of learning. I know I’ll be using apps like them as I delve further into my mastery of French over the coming semester. I’m giving another language course a shot, and you can bet I’ll be putting the lessons I learned from my Spanish course — and my iPad — to good use throughout the next four months.