• Stessie Fertier

What Digital Tools are Best for Learning a Language?

In a world more and more connected, digital tools and streaming platform usage spread like fire, and no one can avoid them. But would you use them to learn a language? That’s the question we asked ourselves (and a bunch of nice people) in a survey for the Fall 2021 Design For Startups Shumka Centre program. The program gave us a fantastic opportunity to work with a design student to help us mock up our language learning prototype. The broader purpose of our study was, of course, to learn more about our thoughts and behavior as human beings, but also to better understand the needs and troubles of the growing community of digital language learners.


Survey Sample

We surveyed people living in four different countries: Japan, China, Taiwan, and Canada. All of them did not already speak English as their first language and were interested in learning it. Participants were aged from younger than 12 years old to 74 years old. We wanted to have a range as wide as possible so that we could have a representative sample.


A graph showing the age percentages of respondants in a bell curve, with most respondents being between 35 and 44 years old

Do you use digital tools for English learning?

That’s the first question we asked our sample. The results were that half have already used applications to learn a language: that’s the most popular of digital tools being used in all the countries we surveyed, before e-learning courses, webcam tools, and desktop software. It’s also the favorite tool of the respondents, but by a shorter margin, right next to e-learning courses.



Two bar graphs, one sowing which tools respondents use for learning a language, the other showing what platforms they use.

Let’s take the time to have a deeper look into e-learning courses, because the data is really interesting! Only 1/3 have already used e-learning courses to learn English, but ¾ of participants declared that it’s their favorite digital learning tool. We have the same phenomena for webcam, while applications and desktop software have a much lower satisfaction rate for those who are using it. Here appears the first gap between applications or software and e-learning courses and webcam tools.



More data on the previous two bar graphs

A third of respondents have never used a digital tool to learn English: and surprisingly, there is no direct link with the age of the respondents as we first could have believed.



The age of respondents compared to the tools they use

Have you tried to learn English through watching clips from movies, TV shows, or animations?


A large majority of our respondents already tried to learn English by watching videos: and once again, the age isn’t a significant factor.



Pie chart of responses to whether participants use media to learn english


Participants Who Have Tried Learning Through Media

To enhance our understanding, we asked respondents who tried learning through watching media on a scale of 1 to 5 if they think it has helped them with learning English. What do you think the results were? Personally, I would put a penny on a large “Yes”, but the answer is much more nuanced: the average of the sample is 3. Slightly positive, but not entirely convinced.



Chart showing how helpful watching media is for learning English


Respondents who responded with a rating of 5 are mainly people who like to use mobile/tablet applications. They don’t think that it’s hard to focus on the learning part when watching the content. On the opposite side of the spectrum, respondents who chose a rating of 1 never use mobile/tablet applications to learn.


Participants Who Have Not Tried Learning Through Media

Some individuals have never tried to learn English through watching clips from movies, TV shows, or animations: but would they be interested in doing so? That’s what we asked our sample, and most participants said yes.



Overall, 93% of the respondents have tried or are interested in using media to learn language: that’s more than all the previous digital tools we asked about earlier. Watching media is a tool to be reckoned with.

What is the movie genre the most people are interested in? The sample is divided, and comedy comes first by a short head, followed by documentary, adventure, action, and several others. The audience definitely would like to have the possibility to choose the genre, since not everyone has the same taste.




Willing to learn English through clips from watching movies, TV shows, or animations: Motivation and discouragement sources

What has or would motivate someone to learn English through clips from watching movies, TV shows, or animations? Being a film-lover? Discovering other ways of thinking? Let’s see.

Responses show the main motive of the respondents is not to enjoy the content itself, but to discover foreign cultures and to immerse oneself in a unique language experience.





And what about the reasons not to do learn English by watching media clips? Every reason to get discouraged seems understandable: it’s hard to focus on the learning part, the content is too difficult or too long, and the process takes too much time. Yet, the results show that keeping track of what one is learning is not usually the key factor of someone’s interest.







How long is someone willing to spend on a digital tool to learn a language every day?

Everyone will tell you that working on a language’s knowledge a little every day will be more efficient than once a week for a longer period at once. Is it true, or false? That could be another study to do in the future, but still, we asked our sample this question.

The answers are distributed in a nice gaussian: 10 to 15 minutes a day is the most chosen option. It can explain why in several language learning applications the content of a lesson is around 10 minutes.





Conclusion

We distributed this study via personal contacts, and only among 4 countries, so widening the sample would perhaps be the area of greatest interest for future studies. Even so, these results still provide us fascinating insight into what might influence the way someone decides to learn a language. As apps and software for learning English continue to grow in popularity, we will be keeping an eye on similar research aimed to learn more about this area.

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