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Use Of Language-Learning Apps Spiked During The Pandemic. Will It Last?

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A young child and a young woman sit at a table and look at a phone.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels CC0: https://bit.ly/3wnX3fU

Despite what you've heard, it's never too late to pick up a new language and many adults started doing just that in 2020.

What are adults' motivations for learning a new language and why did the pandemic jump-start those efforts? Will it last?

It's been established that young children can generally pick up a first or even second language with relative ease, but more recent research shows that learning a new language as an adult is entirely possible and actually rewires the brain.

One of the most popular language-learning apps is Duolingo, which uses gamification techniques and offers more than 30 languages to choose from. Other in-demand platforms include Rosetta Stone, Kahoot! and Babbel.

What are the pros and cons of various educational styles and software for language acquisition? Have new technologies and digitized, personalized learning experiences changed the game forever? How do you know which approach is best for you?

While children use both hemispheres of the brain when learning a new language, adults only use one side or the other due to the brain becoming more specialized to handle everyday tasks, known as lateralization.

Is childhood really "the critical period" for acquisition or can adults learn a second language just as quickly and easily?

How can language learning help with brain development and cultural competency? Are there other benefits? What are the biggest challenges?

What is the state of language learning in the U.S. and worldwide? How do language choices and study habits differ around the world?


  • Cindy Blanco, Ph.D., senior learning scientist for Duolingo and former college instructor of Spanish and linguistics
  • John Grundy, Ph.D., assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience at Iowa State specializing in bilingualism and the brain
  • Shawn Loewen, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Linguistics, Languages and Cultures and director of the Second Language Studies program at Michigan State University

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Thursday, July 8.

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