Enter the Doki…an app that uses a games-like approach to great effect

One of the interesting developments in the past couple of years has been the proliferation of apps for language learning, and it seems everyone is getting in on the act. We have peripheral products, such as OUP’s rather over-priced and inanimate readers; Dictionary apps; Exam practice apps, such as Macmillan’s IELTS Skills. Such products, focusing on the minutiae of language learning, can be successful as long as they have a sound business model, such as IAP (In App Purchase, where the customer has the opportunity to try a a free sample before making a purchase decision), and are appropriately priced. However, many educational apps seem to have been rushed to market without a great deal of care or forethought in their execution, and represent an exceedingly dull journey for the user.

One which really breaks this mould is the latest language learning app to hit the market; called Doki (don’t ask!) it’s well worth checking out. Available from launch in Spanish, Latin American Spanish, German, English and French and in most of the leading national app stores worldwide, Doki is one of the very few language learning apps that is actually great fun, whether used for self-access (its original target market) or in the classroom. By the way, don’t confuse it with DokiDoki, a rather saccharine range of kids’ manga character apps…

No stereotypes there then…the Doki English app. Luckily the app is far better than its icon.

Two units of Doki are available as a free download for iPad, with additional units for IAP. The free version demonstrates something of the “games” approach used in the programme, though this only really comes out in scenarios such as the Bar and Supermarket. Two levels – Basic and the oddly-named “Further” – which appears to mean lower intermediate – are currently available. Unlike the majority of language learning self-teach programmes, Doki is non-linear, which makes it more relevant for the learner, and more motivating. A further innovation is the extensive use of cartoon-quality animation – with a unique design style – throughout. On opening the programme the user is invited to choose an interface language from a choice of 17 – including Polish and Chinese – and then given a choice of two age ranges (7 – 14 and 15+). I understand the mild “adult” references in the 15+ version have been excised from the kid’s edition, though I’m certain any youngster using Doki would automatically opt for the grown up version…

One the language has been selected, users are taken to a “cityscape” which is a nice way of navigating through the various scenarios – restaurant, hotel booking, emergencies, shopping and so on. Only two of these (Greetings and Travel) are actually open on the free version. The full version is available via in-app purchase for a modest $1.99 for three units (or “Chapters”, as they are called), or $7.99 for the package of 12 units. Learners can therefore follow their own route through the “city”, choosing the language scenarios – and learning sequences – most appropriate to their needs. Picking up on the interactive Bar sequences, for example (where else would you go first?) I had a presentation session and practice conversation with animated barman Luigi. I was then swiftly able to pick up the language needed to order those all-important beers, and an orange juice with ice for the kids – despite having no prior knowledge of Spanish at all. I could even be a Madrid barman myself. Pretty impressive.

The new app offers a basic vocabulary loading of 400 words and over 20 hours of learning, more than enough to assimilate the basics of a language for casual holiday purposes. From the teaching point of view, I tried Doki out on an interactive whiteboard and the bright Technicolor and lively animation come across beautifully – the scenarios would make for excellent additional classroom practice if used on an IWB or with a projector. The developers, Eazyspeak, clearly have taken a leaf out of games developers’ books, and are to be congratulated for making the most of this crossover approach, which is the way I think all Educational apps will be going.

Byron