Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

How iPad Language Apps are Making me Lose my Religion

Photo: Monarchcreative

I tend to be a bit anti-technology when it comes to my kids, who are three and five. I grapple with what the right amount of technology is, and whether I think technology in the classroom is a good thing. I tend to favor a Waldorf approach (although my children don’t go to a Waldorf school) of no technology in the classroom and at home. However, the iPad and its language learning apps may be changing my mind.
My anti-tech philosophy means I don’t like my kids watching too many videos (usually they don’t watch much during the week and only are allowed 1-2 hours on weekends), I don’t like them playing on the iPhone and I definitely don’t permit any sort of computer or video game. But like most philosophies and lofty ideals, reality tends to be a bit different. The reality is that some weekend nights they end up watching 2-3 hours of movies if we are at a friends and it allows us to have a long stretch of uninterrupted conversation (a rare, rare occurrence in parentland). They also frequently use the iPhone to play music and look at picture and videos of themselves.
Most recently, my husband brought home a second wife, I mean iPad. The first few days I watched my husband and kids cuddle on the couch around the screen, and decided after day four, we needed to have a talk on how much iPad use was permissible. I voted for zero, as with all things tech, kids quickly get addicted and want more and more. If they can’t have it at all, there is no whining and no more “five more minutes.”
My husband showed me the app he was using to teach them Arabic letters—both recognition and writing. Being a tad bit stubborn at times, I maintained he could do that with a pen and paper. But the next day, I observed the kids use the app. I watched my oldest daughter trace “alif” and smile when the sound indicated she was correct. I saw her try repeatedly to trace the letter correctly when she got it wrong. On paper, she gives up much faster when she can’t get a letter right. Plus, I notice she tends to lose interest a lot faster. With the Arabic app, both my kids loved it and continued to clamor for another turn. It held their interest for far longer than sitting down to work on the Arabic alphabet with a pen and paper.  Still a bit skeptical, I asked my husband, “Do they even know what they are tracing? Do they know the names of the letters? This could just be lines and dots on the page to them.”
“That’s alif,” my oldest responded as she traced the letter “a” with her finger.
I may just be starting to soften my anti-tech stance as I witness its benefits for language learning. Best of all, my kids probably know more Arabic letters than I do now. What’s been your experience with using children’s apps for learning languages?

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Stephanie is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent. She has two Moroccan-American daughters (ages 5 and 6), whom she is raising, together with her husband, bilingual in Arabic and English at home, while also introducing Spanish. After many moves worldwide, she currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Leave us a comment!

  1. Commentssophie   |  Saturday, 21 April 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I totally agree. In theory I am anti-technology but in reality, my kids use it and I am starting to see the value. But I do limit it to apps/programs that have some educational value, not just mindless games. And it is pretty amazing for language learning. Last year I put together a list of apps to help kids learn Chinese. It needs to be updated but here it is:

  2. CommentsMatthew Ho   |  Monday, 23 April 2012 at 6:54 am

    Technology can help augment and enrich learning experiences, particularly with languages since it can be interactive and immersive. Multi-sensory learning has a higher rate of recall and recognition.

    At Native Tongue, we make language learning apps that are games which are engaging and addictive to play. We try to engage multiple senses in delivering our learning experiences – touch, sight and sound.

    I invite you to check out our apps, Mandarin Madness and Smash Smash on the iPad. You can contact me on for further information.


    Matthew Ho
    Native Tongue

  3. CommentsJen   |  Saturday, 28 April 2012 at 10:06 pm

    It’s hard to strike a balance, that’s for sure. We don’t have an iPad but my kids have handmedown iPhones that are only loaded with games/learning experiences I approve, and of course only at times I approve. There are some amazing learning apps out there, but I think time with them has to be limited and they should never be the only method of learning. It does help clue my kids and me into modern Canadian/US culture which I am a bit lacking in!

  4. CommentsCordelia Newlin de Rojas   |  Friday, 25 May 2012 at 7:57 am

    Lovely post and can I say how impressed I am with your screen regimen. I’ve been failing miserable at mine.

  5. CommentsThe Editors   |  Friday, 25 May 2012 at 8:40 am

    Thanks Cordelia!
    And yes, Jen, that balance is so hard…
    Thanks Sophie for sharing your Mandarin resources.

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