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Google Drive and Docs for Language Learners

My first language learning application was developed in 1990. A lot has changed since then. But the good ones – the really useful ones – have a lot in common with that 1990 oldie. Click through for a quick overview of how Google Drive and Google Docs fit into that category.

Intro: You don’t need an app for all that

Language learning apps and programs today seem to have got the wrong end of the stick. There are exceptions, of course, but here’s the general recipe for a foreign language app:

  • design a bloated piece of software
  • make it functional
  • add in lots of distractions (Facebook and Twitter connectivity is a must!)
  • slap on a hefty price tag
  • profit!

The reason I use Drive and Docs almost every day is simple: it gives lets me do four things which language learners should at least attempt to succeed.

1. Focus

No, I won’t connect my Facebook. No, no games today please. I don’t care what my friends are learning right now, and when I do – I ask them. I’m not really into advanced settings and customized themes. I want to do this one thing: sometimes, when learning a language, it’s cool to monotask.
Docs has one of the easiest and clearest interfaces I know of (and I’ve tried tools across 3 operating systems and 20 years now). It has no ads, no pop-up windows, no annoying screens to get through. This truly is a zen-like work environment.
Which is good for my next point.

2. Create

The essence of many foreign language apps is learning and memorizing. This is cool, and many of them do so incredibly well (see Memrise or Duolingo). But what about creating something? What if I know a language well enough to attempt fresh, creative thought? Gasp! This is not in the program code!
Docs lets you write, present and edit. Its unobtrusive design makes it easy to focus on what’s in your head. And once that’s accomplished, your creativity can pick all the words, graphs and formats it needs.

3. Store

I’m writing this article on Docs. After several hard disk meltdowns – and a few recent database hiccups – I’m not taking any chances. The best and most reassuring thing my computer can display right now appears, infallibly, above the page of text: “All changes saved in Drive.”
Drive’s good for text. It’ll handle your German vocab mindmaps scanned into images. It’ll store your Spanish mp3 recordings and your Italian grammar presentations. It’s good with converting, uploading, backing-up. Sure, there are other platforms for it. But the combo of Drive & Docs – being able to create and store in one go, without having to power up Dropbox and text editor separately – it just frees up time to do other stuff.

4. Share

Your teacher sets you an essay for homework. At home, you write the first draft and email your tutor the link. She’s free to help right now, so you spend 15 minutes chatting about it – and editing the draft together.
No paper, no red pens, no delay. You learn about the language you need, as you work on the thing you need it for. That, in brief, is the definition of mobile language learning.
It gets better: you can choose what to share and who to share it with. This means that instead of photocopying the exam notes, you can simply email them to your classmates. And that amazing Chinese calligraphy article you had scanned? Just email your class the link!

Final verdict: apply generously

Drive and Docs are not the best language learning tools ever invented. They were probably even not designed that way. The thing is, they work amazingly well: letting you create when you feel like it, focus when you need to, store without worry and share without hassle.
My advice is simple: you need something like that in your language learning arsenal. Choose an alternative if you like. Design your own if you’re good enough. And once you’ve got it, get in the habit of using it often.

Did Docs or Drive help you with your language learning? I’d love to know about it – share below!

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4 Responsesso far.

  1. Bell says:

    Some your arguments are good, but I think we also
    create what we want to learn with language apps instead of just learning and memorizing.For example, my flashcard app is Superflashcard. I can create card myself or use premade cards. My vocab could be improved with various functions it
    supports. We can learn with the approach setting priority for what we get
    trouble to remember. I think some apps like Superflashcard so cool

  2. Sure, some apps are great for creating – and each comes with its own way of limiting your creativity – saying “you can’t do that here.” Personally, I prefer Docs for simplicity and the “white canvas” effect – lets me do an awful lot.
    Thanks for the Superflashcard tip!

  3. I heavily utilise Google Docs for an online programme I am involved in. We have access to Adobe Connect, which is fine if I want to do a lecture style lesson and/or present Powerpoint but for flowing interaction, instant responses and collaboration, a Google Doc in tandem with a Skype call just offers so much more flexibility.

  4. Thanks for this David – I hear you on the “flexible” part – another thing must be the memory / power used by these resources (I have yet to see a fast and agile Adobe piece of software)!