Mondly: Basic but Promising

Mondly: Learn Languages in VR (app tested with GEAR VR) – beams you into some nice environments. For beginners or travellers learning basic language, it’s just fine.


But… it’s slow… and it’s basic… and it needs properly rigging up to a full and more elaborate training program that meets all the needs of a learner.

You know, the word ‘learn’ is flashed around all over the place as digital technology as a whole continues to tackle the juicy market of folks pining to pick up a new language. Just take a look at the airy fairy Mondly website itself.

At present, bigger strides have been made with some apps (Duolingo) and comprehensive subscription platforms featuring advanced AI like Rosetta Stone etc.

However, even then, it’s just not that simple. Learning a language requires an everyday mix of the following:

  • study of the language
  • practice/use of the language
  • reading (and writing/application) of the language
  • listening to the language

That’s the hard truth. You can’t do just one of those and expect to ‘learn’ a language. You can’t do all of them infrequently or once a week. You need a sustained effort with all of them, most easily done in the country where it’s spoken, with a tutor. Everything else is really just toe-dipping.

That’s why in an ideal world the best solution – a technological one – is still some kind of VR avatar AI tutor who will guide you through all of these. Like a language fitness instructor. But hold on, don’t I just mean a Skype-based real-life tutor you can video-chat with?! Or at least a real tutor socialising inside VR as an avatar?

Ok, you would need to pay substantially more, but then you need to ask yourself this: just how self-disciplined are you to go without a tutor? And just how many years do you want to spend flapping around telling people you’re learning a language when actually your subscription has run out or your books are just getting dustier on your desk? Come on, use a tutor and get it done! Make them make you learn and study as well as practice the glorious random, water-cooler conversation that flexes a living language.

However, people will turn to VR solutions. Why? Because some people are just not comfortable with learning via a tutor or a learning program, and there is a big reason for this: speed. People want to learn at their own pace, without anyone controlling their learning and get up to speed without making complete fools of themselves, uttering incorrect words in compromising or frustrating situations. People want to fit in, without going through the process of really struggling to do so. However, sadly, robots just aren’t up to speed yet. And neither is this app.

But… VR can and will step in and simulate those situations. With Mondly we can see the start of all this. But not yet.

The future for learning by scenario is nearly here, it just needs to be quicker and hooked up to a quick, more careful and progressive etc. program.

Voice Recognition

It’s great to see the inclusion of speech listening in Mondly. You can talk to yourself in a (hopefully) locked real room and be answered by the AI in whatever virtual scenario you’ve selected. However: it’s still too slow for me and too basic. There are no options for more advanced users as yet.

Advice for now: stick to your Duolingo language-learning apps etc. on your smartphone, or try out a ‘News in Slow [insert language here]’ for audio comprehension. Hire, at least, a once-a-week tutor.

However, let’s hope things improve. Be sure to call by this category again sometime to check up on the virtual growth of ‘super-speaking’.

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