Cat Academy

Learning new languages as an adult seems hard. We have the conception that it’s more natural and easy to do this as a child. There’s a lot of literature around how the optimum time for learning a foreign language is between birth and 7 years old.

Don’t stress too much though, as this isn’t necessarily a hard and fast rule.

“Adults have a more developed understanding of how language works. Adults already know the more advanced elements of grammar, such as how conjugation works, or what an adverb does,“ wrote Anne Merritt an EFL lecturer in the Daily Telegraph.

There’s a new app on the block which hopes to help with language learning, and is targeted at both kids and adults. It’s Spanish… with cats.

The app is called Cat Academy and comes from app companyMemrise, that owns a language learning app of the same name. Memrise (yup, a pun on words),teaches language through gaming. Basically, think Farmville for languages, where you grow your garden of verbs. (Note: I am a Memrise user)

The idea of Cat Academy is basically taking what Memrise already did well and breaking it down into bite sized chunks. The psychology behind the app is that learning language with associated images helps it stick in your brain, and it has drawn support from numerous investors, including ICanHasCheezburger.

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CAT ACADEMY USABILITY

The app is very easy to set up. Click, install, ready to go. It uses the touchscreen to let you select language options and you swipe left to right to move from one level to the next. There are numerous CatAcademy levels which take you through the basics of learning Spanish.

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Each level shows cat pictures and has a word or phrase next to them. Thus, a sleepy cat might say “buenas noches” (good night) and you would tap the cat to hear the phrase. Different stages make you reference the Spanish phrase, spell it out phonetically and use it as a reply to questions.

When you click away from the app it saves your place. If you have call, want to check emails, etc., there is no fear of losing you level. Adorably, when you go back to the app you see a pawprint and the words “Pawsed” display on the screen.

CUTE FACTOR

The app features a built-in music track which is a little annoying, but you can toggle that off. There are two choices for audio, the sound made when you tap the cat, and the background music.

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It loses points for lack of cat noises though, as I was expecting some sort of "meow" every time I tapped the cat. When you get a question right you hear a purr, but every wrong answer gets an angry kitty yowl.

Cat Academy offers a cute screen between different levels which features a “cat” fact or “cat” pun. The standard of these is low. Example:

“What do you call a cat that was caught by the police? The purrpatrator.”

The choice of phrases learnt is also pretty adorable. I learnt tidbits such as “I am vomiting” and “My name is cat.” Maybe not all that useful, but certainly entertaining for the demographic they are targeting.

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LEARNING PROCESS

Level 1 lets you take on three challenges that include vocabulary teaching, responding to conversations and spelling out words. There is a lot of repetition, but that is actually useful as going over the same words again and again really helps it stick in your head.

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When I got tired of the audio test, I liked that there was an option to skip it and jump to a cat matching phrase game which let you match the cat to the related phrase.

This was fun, but it took me a little time to realize you were matching the cat that WAS PICTURED WITH THE PHRASE, rather than the cat that corresponded to the phrase. For example, “good luck” had to be the same chinese good luck cat, NOT a cat that looked well and happy, which felt a little backwards.

The app also encourages you to share each level challenge completion on Facebook.

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The app has built in motivational elements. Each cleared level awards you a trophy and on completion of level 1 I was told I had learnt 4 Spanish phrases. These will prove useful as they cover “I’m hungry”, “please” and “what’s going on” and "good day."

APP FRUSTRATIONS

There were a few bugs with the app. Some of these may be due to the fact that it’s just been released. Occasionally the audio levels were strange. On different tap the cat stages, the audio volume would rise and fall, so I needed to keep adjusting the volume button. Response time also lagged, as occasionally when moving from one word to the next the sound would overlap, and that made vocabulary learning difficult.

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The app also isn’t as cute as it continually tell us and giving us screens saying”cuteness has been shown by Japanese researchers to enhance cognitive function does not make the cats any cuter. They're sweet but gimmicky.

CONCLUSION

If you are looking to learn Spanish and want to do so in a straightforward and simple way, Cat Academy is helpful. If you are looking for something more complex, or hate cats, it won’t be the one for you. As someone used to their previous app, Memrise, I found this a little simplistic and not as cute as they clearly wanted it to be. Concept wise I like it, but I want to see more innovation, get more cat noises and have more language options.

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The app costs 99 cents and is currently iOS only.