👏🏻 Method 👏🏻 Review — Drops

Some months ago, I tried my hand at learning the Maori language, made more accessible through the release of learning applications developed in New Zealand, as well as the addition of Maori to several language learning applications we discussed, particularly Memrise. However, other than Memrise, there is another application which I am rather fond of, not just because of its rather unique spread of supported languages, but also its appealing visuals curated for the visual learner. However, a fair amount of its features are locked behind a subscription paywall. This app is none other than Drops, available on the App Store and Google Play store, though you could also try it out in browser.

With an icon of a colour scheme reminiscent to that of Instagram, Drops feature a sort of flashcard-like system for learners to pickup new words. While its principle function is likened to that of Memrise, the aesthetics Drops has used in its graphics, lesson format and interactivities may have well taken what Memrise sought to develop to a new level. However, there is significantly less community interaction in Drops, as compared to the leaderboard system and user-developed flashcards that one would often find in Memrise.

So how does it stack up against similar competing applications? This review would be split into similar sections to Memrise, due to the similar goals and methodology these applications share. To recap, these intentions include:

  • Learning new words in a user’s target language
  • Learning basic phrases
  • Familiarisation with pronunciations of new words and phrases, through audio or video playback
  • Engaging learners in learning languages in a fun way

Drops, like Memrise, is not made for:

  • Learning grammatical patterns in the target language
  • Building reading and writing skills, except in vocabulary expansion and familiarisation
  • Developing conversational skills
This shows an explanation screen in the Drops language app. When you're learning a language with Drops, you only learn vocabulary. You do not learn grammar or other aspects of your target language.

That is correct, Drops does not intend to teach grammar or sentences, though they acknowledge the importance of these aspects. This sets it slightly apart from Memrise, which does try to sneak in a few opportunities to teach some bits of grammar, especially from their own designed courses.

Thematic vocabulary

For each language, words are organised into intuitive thematic units for the learner to use. In the free version, only the first unit of each theme is available to learn from, and upon completing each unit, the user would then unlock subsequent units. This limit is lifted in the premium subscription, however.

Unlike Memrise, community users on Drops could not compile word banks to share with the wider community. Nevertheless, this organisation of words is clean and easy to follow, and seems to outshine some other competing applications in this aspect.

While Drops lacks the function to teach the learner how to read and write other scripts, they do have a partner application called Scripts that serves this exact purpose. Personally, I have not really tried Scripts out, partially because the languages I have learnt so far using Drops generally use writing systems I am already familiar with. I might, however, give Scripts a try when the need arises.

There is no mention on the type of flashcard teaching methodology used by Drops, but it does seem as if the spaced repetition method is used, a method similar to that in Memrise. Newly introduced words are shown to the user, as the target word and the icon, while a further tap on the target word would show the translation of the word in the user’s set language (most likely system localisation). Depending on the user’s ability to memorise and familiarise themselves with the words, those easier ones (marked by more correctly answered questions) will appear progressively less often, while more difficult words (marked by fewer correctly answered questions) will appear more often. However, unlike Memrise, the free version of Drops allows the user to learn as many words as they can in a short five-minute time frame, as compared to a set quota of words per session. In the paid subscription, however, this may be extended to 10 or 15 minutes, and even unlimited time period.

There is also a travel section called Travel Talk, where the user could learn some basic phrases in their target language. Note that Drops is not designed to teach whole sentences, nor does it intend to teach grammar. Yet, it is interesting to see how this app could be used for travel purposes. Each language course contains a list of at least 200 words, neatly organised into 11 travel topics encompassing food, shopping, and getting around, basically the practical vocabulary one would expect to use when travelling in a foreign country.

Audio / Visual integration

The interface is clean and intuitive, with few clutter and words getting in the way of a nice user experience. For each word, there is a unique icon used to represent the word, providing a nice visualisation linking the word in the target language and the user’s native language(s).

For tonal languages like Thai, the pronunciation guide through the audio also helps the user learn the correct tones for the said word. Similarly, pitch-accent languages could also let the user know about intonation patterns, and stress patterns for languages like Russian.

Within each short exercise, the word’s pronunciation is played at the start and the end of that activity. While it can teach the pronunciation to the learner, there is no way for the learner to reciprocate to practice speaking, or test their accuracy of pronunciation. Additionally, as the session progresses, this repetition of audio being played could make the experience seem a little bit rote.

In some activities, the user may be played an audio clip of a word, and is instructed to match it with the corresponding visual. This tries to test the learner’s listening for each word, as well as their ability to link it with a visualisation of the word. I find this a rather unique aspect in flashcard learning, that cannot really be emulated or paralleled using more conventional flashcard methods. You can find an example of the activity below:

The visuals in this application are rather minimalistic, yet representative of the word introduced. As a user who is attracted to clean and simple graphics, this really appeals to me. There are some visuals which got updated at some point, making some of them more detailed, or hopefully, more representative of their respective words. Overall, these visuals integrated well to provide an engaging experience during the short five minutes I have on the application daily.

Language diversity

Drops offers vocabulary courses in at least 45 languages. While there are some commonly learnt ones like French, Spanish, and German, what Drops also offers is a unique selection of not-so-well-known languages like Yoruba and Igbo, and even indigenous ones like Ainu, Hawaiian, and Maori. Each language is accompanied with their own respective audio integration as pronunciation guides, including stress patterns and tones in the languages that feature them.

Due to the lack of community-generated word lists, however, the diversity offered by Drops may seem to pale in comparison to Memrise. Nevertheless, what the app could not do in community-based approaches, it does make up for it in standards and organisation. The user does not need to worry about what a language course may or may not have (such as visuals or audio accompaniment) when using Drops.

Interactivity

For free users, the accessibility to the exercises are quite limited. Five minutes is pretty much all you get daily to check out the exercises, and learn new words. While the visuals are quite cute, engaging and things like that, free-to-“play” users would have a more blitz-like experience learning these new words, and after the five-minute period cuts off, the user is pretty much done for the day. There are advertisements users can watch to get a little extension to their practice time, it is still quite limited.

These caps are lifted with the premium version, but for now, I would like to focus on the accessibility to users who might not have the financial means or will to upgrade to the premium subscription. For an app which markets itself as “Speak a language in 5 minutes a day”, there is actually a whole lot of interactivity a learner can do within that period.

Exercises are more visual-oriented compared to the ones one would see in Memrise, which tend to be more text-oriented. While some of these include the more conventional “is this correct” kind of activity, each one of these are intuitive, simple, yet really engaging and fun. For an application tied with Kahoot, Drops does seem to excel at providing a gamified, but also educational experience. The gallery shows some examples of these activities, which usually involves matching word to visual through different styles.

If time does run out for the day, the learner could choose to explore the words they have learnt so far, just that they could not engage in a new exercise session for the day. Interestingly, it does show you if the illustrations have updated or changed between updates, allowing the user to familiarise themself with the newer icons with the corresponding translations and words in the target language.

Overall, these activities really serve well to engage and educate the learner, ticking off the goals Drops was intended for that were mentioned at the start.

Final remarks

To summarise, Drops offers a really unique spread of languages to learn new vocabulary from, with practical thematic units that are quite neatly organised. It is definitely worth complementing this application with other methods to enhance the language learning experience, since Drops is not designed to teach grammar or actual sentences. However, this should not discourage learners from trying this out; vocabulary is absolutely crucial in language learning, and might even outweigh in some contexts, the importance of some advanced grammar bits. I do recommend this application, despite the key faults it has especially when it comes to accessibility to functions for free users.

The goodThe not-so-good
Perhaps the best-looking visuals I have seen so farFree users only get five minutes daily to check out the exercises or learn new words
Diversity, especially for indigenous languages like Maori, Hawaiian, and AinuSpeaking and pronunciation is limited, since there is no opportunity to practice them
Engaging activities like spelling, matching etc.
Nicely-organised vocabulary topics

The Language Closet Rating: 8/10 (the free version)

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Note: This rating is based on user experience, criticism and evaluation through this post. It is in no way an objective stance, nor is it a static rating. This can change if Drops undergoes marked improvements or changes, which will warrant another review here in due time.

How would you rate Drops? How has Drops shaped your learning experiences? Let us know through the comments!

Afterword

When I first tried Drops, I was rather surprised at the coverage of languages, since it featured very popular languages like Spanish, alongside endangered and indigenous languages like Ainu, Hawaiian and Maori. It is thus amazing to see the diversity of languages featured on learning applications like these, created generally by developers instead of the community, as you would see with Duolingo and Memrise.

When using the application to learn new words, however, I found that the allowance of five minutes or practice a day was quite restrictive, since it meant that one could only pick up, at most, five to ten words per day, alienating users who would want to learn more words per session, but are unable to afford a subscription plan. In any way, this method of learning, while catchy, is not meant to teach learners how a language works, but to introduce everyday terms and words one would tend to use in daily life. Feel free to check this app out at https://languagedrops.com/. I hope you have enjoyed reading this review, and I will see you in the next post.

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