Every morning in the car, I hear ads for Babbel, a “European language-learning app that teaches you conversation in a new language.” I always think to myself, “How can I learn to have a conversation when there’s no one to have a conversation with?”

I’ve used apps before. I’ve used Pimsleur. I’ve used Babbel. I’ve used Duolingo. But the same things happened with all of them. Without someone to USE the language with, I stopped. That’s why I believe that conversation practice with a real person is essential for language learning — in fact, I built my whole business around this idea.

None of that is to say that apps can’t play a valuable role in language learning. After doing 100-plus hours of Japanese conversation classes with a native instructor, I went back to Pimsleur to solidify vocabulary, phrases, syntax and more. Now I feel like it’s working. As I get conversation practice with my teacher, I can easily listen to Pimsleur in the car to repeat and learn useful phrases. That gives me more confidence when I practice with my teacher. Using an app works beautifully in tandem with my in-person language classes.

Writing for The Conversation, language instruction experts Mike Groves, Diana Hopkins and Tom Reid sum up my feelings about language apps:

We believe that apps like Duolingo can be a useful supplement when you are learning a language – but not a substitute. It can help you learn some words, and some basic constructions, but it isn’t going to allow you to leap into a conversation in a new language. It’s better than nothing, but there are plenty of more effective options out there.

How to Get the Most Out of Language Learning Apps

So here’s my recommendation on how to best use language-learning apps. If you need to learn a new language for work — for example, if you’ve just accepted an international assignment — you should work in person or online with a live instructor who’s a native speaker of the language you want to acquire. Contact us for a free consultation to learn more about how this works: getfluent@fluencycorp.com or (800) 401-3159. Then supplement what you’re learning with your instructor by using a language app.

If you’re simply curious about a particular language, but won’t be immersed in it anytime soon, it’s probably premature to invest in language classes. In that case, language apps are a great, low-cost way to pursue your interest and figure out if you want to study a language further.