App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
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iStart Spanish is one of a series of foreign language apps intended for English speakers by Mirai Language Systems. This is an app for beginners containing five hours of tutorials on fundamental introductory topics such as the alphabet, vowels, basic grammar and vocabulary.
The app isn’t intended as a complete path to bilingualism, but it successfully targets its demographic – newcomers to Spanish – providing the necessary skills to continue studying at a higher level, or to get by in situations where basic Spanish is sufficient. Mirai claims they make language learning fun and logical and while I can’t say I felt like I was just playing a game, I did master the alphabet in a single pass with minimal pain.
iStart Spanish has 50 lessons, starting with the alphabet, pronunciation of vowels, and stresses through to basic Spanish conversation. The lessons are grouped into sections of five topics, and then fun part – such as it is – is that completion opens a master quiz where users can test their progress.
The lessons emphasize native pronunciation, including both European and South American voices, even highlighting the differences as they emerge. Aside from the audio/visual lessons there are flashcards and short tests that compliment each topic. There are a total of 250 mini quizzes, 10 master quizzes and success even earns badges.
It’s important to pay attention to the details in the tutorial as the quizzes test not only mastery of the subject, but also the topical information that is presented by the English-speaking guide. Users can even create their own vocabulary lists and - crucially - there is a profile page with enough statistical information for users to easily track their progress.
The iStart interface is inviting and intuitive without being childish, and the overall design is, as promised, logical. The only nit I have to pick is that the app isn’t universal. There is a free version, however, for those who want to try before they buy.
I’ve covered a lot of second language apps recently and the Mirai System has everything I look for in terms of coherence and quality. The lessons are well ordered and contain details that not only educate, but also engage users in what could otherwise be dry subject mater. There are virtual rewards for progress, no information overload, the app facilitates focusing on trouble spots, and provides meaningful feedback.
While I can’t say it’s actually fun forcing my 40-something year old mind to wrap its head around another variation on how to pronounce X, iStart Spanish makes it far more enjoyable than most language apps aimed at a general audience.