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A World of Language Learning—at Your Fingertips

New UMD-Developed App Offers 420 Immersive Lessons in Seven Languages

By Annie Krakower

Illustration of two smartphones saying "Hello" in different languages

Lectica, a new language-learning app developed by UMD’s National Foreign Language Center, features 420 lessons in seven languages: Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Persian.

Illustration by Valerie Morgan

Say hello—or hola, bonjour, привет or 你好—to a new tool that transports you to cultures across the globe while fitting in your hand, pocket or purse.

Lectica, a free language-learning app created by the University of Maryland’s National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), is available now in the Apple App Store. It features 420 lessons in seven languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Persian) with material prepared by native speakers, helping beginner to advanced learners work toward proficiency through examples that may be fun, but aren’t a game.

“Learners are drawn in by the real-life materials, things that you’d see if you were immersed in the target language culture,” said Kathy Kilday, director of product development at NFLC.

Language apps surged among COVID-19 quarantiners looking to learn to order a drink or ask about the weather in Buenos Aires, Paris or Seoul. Lectica adds subscription- and ad-free options to the mix. And instead of racking up points or losing lives in games, its users explore text, audio and video clips—like news reports, TV shows, interviews, advertisements and announcements—that native speakers read, watch or hear themselves in their daily lives.

In one intermediate lesson, for example, after reviewing vocabulary in prep tasks and watching a real news report with vendors at a Christmas market in France, users can speed up, slow down or loop video segments to boost understanding. Comprehension activities follow, asking: Why do vendors like to exhibit at the market? What are they selling? A translation tool, glossary and detailed cultural and linguistic notes are available for help along the way.

Lectica learners can then track their progress and time spent on each lesson and mark items for later study as they work toward defined goals.

“Compared to other apps, our goals are pretty sturdy,” Kilday said. “We’re talking about hours per week of study as opposed to a few minutes.”

Assembling all that content took time: The NFLC team first started exploring the idea of a comprehensive app in 2015, created an initial prototype, then refined it during the past year. The staff got some help promoting Lectica from RedBlack Consulting, part of UMD’s chapter of the American Marketing Association. A four-student team last spring came up with the app’s name, playing on Greek roots relating to “words” and “speech,” and crafted posts for social media outreach.

“(We wanted to) show how this app is for people who are really serious about language-learning,” said RedBlack Consulting Account Manager Faith Chisholm ’22, “and who really want to get that higher level of fluency.”

Lectica will hit the Google Play store later this year, when NFLC will publish 720 lessons in 12 additional languages. The team will also beef up the lessons in the original seven options.

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