My family and I recently returned from a short trip to Disneyland Paris. Although not strictly necessary (nearly all cast members at Disneyland Paris speak English), in the run up to our trip we all attempted to learn some French to help smooth our visit along. I had been using Duolingo for several months already, but when the team behind Flash Academy offered us all a three-month premium subscription back in August, I decided to spend some time using both apps in order to see which helped me improve my French the best.
Flash Academy is a full language learning program which takes users through over 270 lessons in 25 categories to help boost your language learning skills. The lessons are interspersed with helpful tips regarding both the language itself and French culture and are broken down into three levels.
- 9 Beginner Categories, including Food & Drink, Holiday & Travel, Work & School, Health & Body
- 8 Intermediate Categories, including Career & Studies, Family & Relationships, Everyday Life
- 8 Advanced Categories, including Politics & Religion, Economics & Business, Global Issues
Each category is divided into approximately 11 lessons. For example, the Food & Drink category in the beginner’s section is divided up into 10 lessons:
- What’s For Lunch?
- Likes & Dislikes
- What’s For Dinner
- The Delicatessen
- Quench Your Thirst
- Feeling Fruity
- Cooking with Vegetables
- Dessert Treats
- Having a Snack
- Around The Kitchen
Each category also comes with Word Games that can help users memorize the words and phrases in that category.
In addition to the app, Flash Academy also produce sticky notes called FlashSticks which can be stuck around your home on relevant objects to help memorize words. These notes also come in three levels (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) and each pack contains approximately one hundred color-coded notes: blue for masculine nouns, pink for feminine, and green for verbs and others. Whoever said language-learning can’t incorporate gender norms? We were sent the beginner and intermediate packs and have spent the last few months with the notes attached all over our home, on the appropriate object where possible and with others collected on doors because it’s rather hard to stick a note on the doctor or on a fish. While the notes are great at first, I found that we soon began to tune them out as they became just part of the house. Right now I have over a dozen attached to my front door and couldn’t begin to tell you what a single one says.
I have to admit, I struggled to get along with the Flash Academy app–as did my husband and seven-year-old son–and I used Duolingo far more. I struggle to explain exactly why I felt the way I did. I think part of my problem was with the audio recordings of the words and phrases, which always felt abrupt and almost condescending in tone, especially when compared with the far more conversational tone of Duolingo’s speech. Somehow, Duolingo always felt more approachable and even funny compared to Flash Academy’s strict classroom tone. I even set up a Tumblr for all the odd things Duolingo had me learn that reminded me of my fandoms, and there’s the always funny @sh*tduosays twitter account full of bizarre and hilarious sentences people have been taught on the app. Seriously, go do a Twitter search for Duolingo right now, I dare you not to be laughing in seconds. I’ll wait…
I also found it difficult to stay motivated with Flash Academy. Without a streak feature, I often skipped a day which would then turn into three… or five. I’ll happily admit keeping my streak going is one of the things that drags me into Duolingo daily and, yes, I have paid to maintain a lost streak there. With no reminders to practice previously learned lessons in Flash Academy, I would never find myself returning to categories I had already completed. The Scan Object function which allows you to take a picture of any object and have it translated is surprisingly accurate but only really works as a novelty. I always found it much quicker to simply type the word into my Google Translate app rather than taking a picture and waiting for it to upload and be translated.
Of course, Duolingo is not a perfect solution to language learning either. I much preferred Flash Academy’s lesson system, which allowed me to pick the categories I wanted to learn in my own order. This meant I could prioritize lessons about travel and food prior to our vacation when Duolingo was busy teaching me about past tense verbs, a useful lesson, no doubt, but not as much immediate use when I needed to ask someone directions through a train station. Duolingo also demands that you immediately learn to spell French words from memory whereas Flash Academy gives you blank spaces and a choice of letters to choose from. This made the latter a much better option for my son who is still very much learning to spell in English and, understandably, found memorizing entire sentences in French from the get-go near impossible.
There is little to choose between the two apps beyond personal preference, and so, unfortunately, in a straight fight it all comes down to cost, and this is where Duolingo soars ahead. While Flash Academy is available to download for free and offers a few lessons for all users, premium use (required for anything beyond lesson one at each level) costs $8.99/monthly with cheaper deals available for longer subscriptions. When placed alongside Duolingo’s completely free system, there’s simply no contest for most casual users. Homeschoolers and language students may well opt to pay for what is a very well-designed language program, but for those who just want to be able to ask directions and read a menu, free will nearly always win out. Even if it does mean being forced through Duolingo’s often bizarre lesson order to get there.
With so little between them, I created a quick comparison chart to help examine the two apps at a glance. Personally, I will be sticking with Duolingo for the meantime, but I would certainly not rule out a return to Flash Academy, especially if my French learning were to become more serious. Au revoir, mes amis!
|Choose Lesson order?||No, must follow a set plan.||Yes, can learn in any order you choose.|
|Practice Reminders?||Yes, previously completed categories change color when you need to practice them again.||No, once a lesson has been completed you are not prompted to practice it again.|
|Lesson Types:||Speaking, listening, and reading. Speaking and listening lessons can be switched off in preferences.||Reading and listening. Videos.|
|Games?||No, can only complete boosters of previous lessons in order to practice.||Yes, word games available for each category.|
|Extra Features:||Bots – chat to an AI (only in some languages)
Set daily reminders via phone notification and/or e-mail
|Translate any nearby object via the camera
Scan FlashSticks post-it notes (available separately or with a 12-month premium plan)
|Number of available languages for English speakers:||19
Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Turkish, Esperanto, Norwegian, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Welsh, Hebrew, Vietnamese, and Hungarian.
|4 Full courses (French, German, Italian & Spanish)
57 others available for object translation/scan sticky notes only including, British Sign Language, Hebrew, Maori, and Welsh.
This is likely to improve as the system is still young.
|Play offline?||No||Yes – must download lessons in advance|
|Cost:||Free (option to pay to maintain broken streak)||1 Month – $8.99/£6.99
3 Months – $19.99/£14.99
6 Months – $29.99/£22.99
12 Months – $45.99/£35.99
Subscriptions to the Flash Academy system and FlashSticks were provided for review purposes.