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Faculty develop apps for learning Spanish, German, mathematics

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Associate Professor Sandra Alfers developed an app for students of beginning German. | Photo by Lillian Furlong/The Western Front
Associate Professor Paqui Paredes Mendez developed "Everyday Spanish: Basic Grammar Review" to help students learn Spanish. | Photo by

People all over the world who want to begin learning Spanish or German now have a chance to learn from two Western professors.

Modern and Classical Languages associate professors Sandra Alfers and Paqui Paredes Mendez both released language-learning apps this year through Study by App.

Alfers' "German for Beginners" includes three hours of lectures and images to introduce users to German language and culture through the life of a fictional German teenager in Berlin. "When I designed it I had it with someone in mind who hasn't studied German before:' Alfers says. It may also be helpful as a quick reference guide for students whose classroom instruction is all in German, but want help in English, Alfers says.

Paredes wrote "Everyday Spanish: Basic Grammar Review" to help students who need a handy refresher to brush up on essentials they learned in previous courses. She got the idea from her partner, Western math instructor Eric Kean, who last year developed apps for pre-calculus and AP statistics for Study by App.

Paredes thinks more and more teaching materials will come in digital form. "I do think 10 or 15 years down the road, we'll be seeing purely online textbooks," she says. "For a lot of courses, students won't be buying a paper textbook, they'll all have a tablet and will have textbooks downloaded to that tablet."

But at least for now, it's difficult to require students to use the apps in class, says Alfers, because while the apps themselves cost only $3.99, they can only be used on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices, which not all students can afford. But that doesn't keep scholars from exploring new ways to use technology as a teaching tool.

"We're always trying to look at ways to incorporate technology into the classroom so students can achieve better proficiency in the skills we teach," Alfers says.