I’ve written before about whether or not you can learn a language well using smartphone apps. The short answer? It depends.

Some language apps can help, but none can replace the primary tasks that will actually get you fluent: tons of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Moreover, most language apps teach languages indirectly and out of context. Not exactly a recipe for fluency.

But there are a few apps that do a pretty good job of providing contextual, direct practice. Clozemaster is one of them.

Instead of trying to teach you words in isolation as many apps do, the gamified app teaches you vocabulary in context through mass exposure to complete sentences.

Or as their tagline puts it:

“Learn language in context. Get fluent faster.”

So how does Clozemaster work? And how can you get the most out the app and ensure that you aren’t wasting your time? After thoroughly testing the app, here now are my best tips for how to use Clozemaster and maximize its effectiveness.

How Clozemaster Works

Each Clozemaster exercise includes three steps:

  • Step 1: You are presented with a sentence in which a single missing word. You can either read or listen to the sentence first depending on your settings (I prefer listening first as this provides more of a challenge).
  • Step 2: You see a translation of what the complete sentence means to provide context.
  • Step 3: You choose the correct word to fill in the blank by either 1) choosing from a multiple-choice list of words, or 2) typing in the correct answer (I highly recommend the latter; more on this below).

Such fill-in-the-blank exercisesknown as cloze tests or cloze deletion testsprovide a much richer learning environment than isolated word lists, and help you see how words or characters are used in context and which other words they tend to appear before or after (e.g. collocations).

Side Note: Cloze exercises were first presented in the 1950s by W.L. Taylor. The word “cloze” was derived from the Gestalt Theory concept of “closure.”

While filling in blanks might seem like a boring endeavor, the makers of the Clozemaster app have done a great job gamifying the experience with a retro 8-bit video game design, game levels, learning streaks, leaderboards, sound effects, and funny animated GIFs when you level up. Even the button that you tap to start a lesson is labelled “Play” instead of something boring like “Start.”

How to Get the Most Out of Clozemaster

While the app is fairly straightforward, here are a few quick tips to get the most out of the tool and ensure you make more progress toward actual fluency and not just meaningless points:

Focus on listening instead of reading

Many language learners find listening more difficult than reading. This makes perfect sense: when reading, we have more time to think and more clues to inform that thinking.

To overcome this problem, we should try to get as much listening practice as possible and use our eyes to confirm what we hear.

To that end, I recommend using Clozemaster’s “Cloze-Listening” activities which present the sentence via audio first, and then display the sentence on screen so you can check your understanding.

Further, I recommend listening to the sentence one or two more times as you read along so you can make sure you are pronouncing words correctly that you’ve only read before. Listening as you read a text can also help you read more quickly than you otherwise would.

Write or say your answers

To get maximize benefit from each exercise (and to reveal what words you can actually produce, not just passively recognize), I highly recommend that you use the “Text Input” setting instead of relying on “Multiple Choice.” Selecting an answer from a bank of options is certainly easier, but it’s faaaaaar less effective. Such an activity only tests and reinforces passive knowledge, but to get fluent in a language, you have to develop active ability. And having to type or pronounce the answer from memory will help do exactly that.

This is especially true for languages with non-Latin scripts (e.g. Chinese and Japanese). If you are learning Chinese, for example, try turning on the handwriting keyboard on your mobile device so you can practice writing out the mission word for each sentence. This helps you practice the proper stroke order of Chinese characters and identifies which characters you can recognize but not yet write from memory.

Another tip is to use text-to-speech on your device so you can practice pronouncing words properly (e.g. getting the tones right in Mandarin Chinese).

Tap the question mark icon when you are unsure of the answer

You will occasionally encounter ambiguous cloze exercises when using the Cloze-Listening + Text Input combination that I recommend.

For example, the example sentence may want you to input (“she”), but you try to enter (“he”) since both are pronounced the same in Mandarin Chinese: . If your inputted text is incorrect, you will see a pop-up saying “Off by __ letter(s)!” In such cases (or when you need a little extra hint), simply tap the question mark icon (?) to reveal multiple choice answers.

Just try not to rely on this crutch too much for all the reasons I mentioned above.

Focus on the most useful vocabulary first

Most languages in Clozemaster include decks that focus on the most common or useful vocabulary.

If you are new to a language, start with the “most common 100 words” deck and then move on the next list once you’ve mastered these.

They also have lists for levels of common proficiency tests (e.g. the JLPT for Japanese and the HSK for Mandarin Chinese).

Repeat a sentence 4 times to count it as “mastered”

You will see two percentages shown in the stats:

  • Played
  • Mastered

To be considered “mastered,” you must repeat each sentence 4 times.

Be patient; depending on how many sentences are included in a given list, the “Mastered” row might stay at 0% for quite a while. Just know that you are learning and progressing nonetheless!

Upgrade to Clozemaster Pro

The Clozemaster app provides plenty of value for free, but I do think it’s worth upgrading to Pro is well worth the $8 a month. Pro users get:

  • Unlimited Cloze-Listening exercises.
  • Offline learning (great for airplanes or distraction-free learning).
  • Upgraded stats.
  • The ability to favorite sentences and make your own “Cloze-Collection.”
  • Customized game play.

 


 

For those who are already using Clozemaster (or want to give it a try), I hope the above tips help you get more out of your time and progress to your fluency goals more quickly. Just remember that no app (no matter how well designed), will ever get you fluent alone.

At best, a good app can act as a useful supplement to your language diet, but it should never be your primary source of linguistic nutrition.

Instead, do your best to flood your brain with authentic, interesting, comprehensible exposure via podcasts, videos, books, stories, etc., and then activate what you learn by communicating with native speakers.

 


 

Photo by Alexa Suter on Unsplash

 

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