Studycat is a language learning app for young learners. It aims to ‘revolutionise the way kids learn a foreign language, by making it fun and engaging’. According to the Studycat website, the app has been downloaded by 11 million families, it is multi-award winning, and it provides opportunities to learn more than just English – Chinese, French, Spanish and German too.
The main approach is learning through play. It aims to ‘create gameplay that naturally leads to language acquisition’. This very brief video from the Studycat subscription channel should give you a feel for the app:
As with many edtech tools, Studycat is currently free to support home learning (Corona), so it’s a good time to check it out. It comes with a LMS and book resources, although I am reviewing this product based mainly on the app as it appears to be the driving force of the product.
It is aimed at young learners I’d say ages 5+, mostly complete beginners or A1. There are three levels of study, with each including 24 short units of study. Topics are things like colours, animals, numbers, possessives, use of ‘can’, etc. There are usually around five lessons per unit. Each lesson has five parts too, but these are all very quick.
Vocab is normally introduced at the start of the unit through flashcards then the rest of the activities practice that vocabulary through songs and games. All these resources have been created in-house, including the songs. It’s worth mentioning that the voices and audio are pretty good. There seems like a wide variety of game types on the app, although they are often the same game just with a similar interface. For example, there are quite a few takes on matching pairs! Listen-and-select tasks also common, again with varied interfaces (didn’t want to screenshot from the app as no permission given, so sorry for lack of visuals to explain this more).
The app is aesthetically pleasing and the games are indeed fun. The use of familiar characters throughout the units is a plus. I felt that this might be a useful tool for self-study, and many of the activities come complete with teacher notes (often linking to activities in a student book though), which might help parents as well as teachers who are looking to use the app. While there are plus points, I do feel there are limitations with this app, and a couple of issues worth addressing before I feel it has optimum value. These include…
Limited items – most of the games have a very limited amount of trial items. For example, in the above example, you might hear a prompt for each item once, then… that’s it. In matching pairs, you might start off matching two pairs, then three, then… that’s it. The short lesson parts sometimes feel like they end before they begin, but I feel young learners have slightly more of an attention span than some activities make out. This links to…
Challenge – I felt there could be more challenge in some of the tasks. There were maze hunts to find the correct letter (or sound) when either a) the maze was easy, b) the discrimination between two possible letters (or sounds) wasn’t that hard. There were some cool ‘chop the right sound/letter’ games where these blocks fly into the screen fruit ninja style, but then the challenge only goes so far.
Instructions – at times I felt like some games weren’t self-explanatory. Some games or activities took me a tad longer than expected to work out (even as a teacher). If learners have the same issues then there may be problems. I got an EYFS/Primary specialist teacher to look over this app with me and they felt the same.
Some things are ‘nice try, but not quite…’ – I like that they’ve tried to use voice recording in some tasks, so learners can hear their own voice played back to them. In one task, you record yourself saying each word, like ‘hers’, ‘their’, etc. Then once you’ve recorded each word, your voice becomes part of the ‘listen and choose’ game. So, you hear yourself saying ‘their’ and you choose the correct item. Problem 1: what if you say it incorrectly – then you might be hearing your own wrong modelling of the word, which doesn’t really help. Problem 2: You can actually say anything you want. I’m not gonna lie, I had some fun with this!
Gamification – I don’t get the points system. Just felt a bit arbitrary.
But look – This app is clearly very popular. If the creators have 11 million families with it on their iPads (best format I’d say) and just half of them have paid a dollar for it then wow, they must be doing something right. For me, it has more potential than value. But the good news is that the fundamentals are there – it looks good, there are quite a lot of solid activities in place already, it just needs a) enhancing a bit, b) a bit more pedagogical underpinning in places.
One definite positive for this app is that there are accompanying webinars to support teachers and parents in using this. It’s good that these are aimed at parents too – I mentioned the importance of this in another post recently.
Okay. Not a game changer for YL teaching or anything, but it is engaging in parts. Looks good. I’d say download it while it’s free and let your YLs trial it themselves.
ELTplanning rating: 3.5/5