MosaLingua is a mobile app that uses spaced repetition (SRS) to help language learners efficiently learn words and phrases in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian and Portuguese. It’s suitable for absolute beginners and more advanced language students.
For this MosaLingua review, I decided to use MosaLingua to study a language I had virtually no prior experience in: Italian.
I say “virtually” because I knew a few Italian words, like Allegro! Crescendo! Fermata! Di capo al coda! I play a couple of musical instruments, so I’m used to seeing these terms on my sheet music. But that’s not too useful in the real world!
I’ve wanted to study Italian for a while, so I jumped at the opportunity to study it with MosaLingua.
As cool as any new app looks, it’s only good if it actually works. I wanted my review to be as in-depth as possible, so I tried out MosaLingua for 10 hours and then recorded myself speaking Italian with an advanced speaker. You can watch my video at the end of this review.
MosaLingua: More than “Just” a Flashcard App
Flashcard apps that use SRS are a really efficient way to learn difficult vocab in a new language. SRS is a proven technique, and you’ll find lots of advice here on Fi3M about how SRS works, and how to use it for language learning.
In the past, I’ve used Anki as my SRS tool. If there’s one downside to using a really customisable app like Anki, it’s that you have to do all your own research and make your own flashcard decks, or else download decks from other users and hope they’re accurate – and relevant! I created an audio flashcard deck a few months ago during my Portuguese mission, but it took me two months to get around to doing it, and I only made the one deck. I found the process tedious, even though I knew it would be helpful in the end.
Enter MosaLingua. I found it to have all the benefits of a general flashcard app like Anki, with a lot less work.
How to Get Started with MosaLingua
It’s easy to get up and running with MosaLingua. Just download the MosaLingua app to your iOS or Android device. I put links for the different languages at the end of this review so you can find the right one for the language you’re learning.
When you first launch the app, you can take an assessment test to calculate your level in the language (or bypass this step if you’re an absolute beginner). Then, you select your reason for learning the language. Options include travel, socializing, exam prep, and more. After that, it’s time to get started learning flashcards. You can tap the ‘Learn’ tab to see which flashcards you’re about to learn. If you’ve already learned some, then the Learn tab becomes the ‘Practice’ tab (look at the bottom of these screenshots):
When it comes to which flashcards to study, MosaLingua does the heavy lifting for you. It has a built-in directory of thousands of flashcards for you to choose from. Tap the ‘Explore’ tab to search for flashcards, and select ones that are relevant to you. You can browse cards by topic, level, or by typing in a keyword to find a specific card.
Each flashcard contains a recording of a native speaker saying the word or phrase. You can also create your own cards, just like with generic flashcard apps. The Italian text on your homemade flashcards will be read by a computer voice.
If you don’t create or search for your own flashcards to learn, MosaLingua will choose for you. It does a pretty good job of picking suitable cards, too. I LOVE this option, because if I’m too lazy to browse the directory, or am just not sure what to study next, it’s nice to let the decision be made for me. So I never have an excuse not to study with MosaLingua.
Studying Flashcards with MosaLingua
Learning New Cards
When it’s time to learn new flashcards (such as when you first launch the app, or when you’ve finished reviewing cards that you’re due to be tested on), you’ll see a ‘Learn’ tab at the bottom of the screen.
MosaLingua gives you new flashcards to learn in groups of five. If you want to learn more, just tap the + sign below the list. The flashcards in the list will be ones that you’ve chosen by searching for cards in the ‘Explore’ tab. Or, if you haven’t picked any yourself, they will be chosen automatically for you by the app.
There are four steps involved in learning new flashcards:
- Listen and pronounce. You hear the word (or phrase) spoken by a native speaker, and repeat the sounds even though you won’t understand the meaning yet. If you want, you can tap the record button and record your voice saying the word, to compare your pronunciation to the native speaker’s.
- Memorize. You see the English side of the card and try to remember the translation.
- Write. You see the English side and a jumble of letters. You arrange the letters in the right order to spell the word in your target language. For longer sentences, you arrange each word rather than individual letters.
- Self-evaluation. Similar to the Memorize step, but now you get to rate how well you answered. More on the ratings below.
Reviewing Previously-seen Cards
Practising flashcards you’ve already seen is just like the self-evaluation step you do when you first learn a new card: you see the English on side one, and have to guess the translation before flipping over the card. Then you rate your answer with the tap of a button:
- Perfect (you recalled the word almost as if it was your native language)
- Good (the word was pretty easy to remember and you’re confident you got it right)
- Difficult (the word took you a bit of time to remember)
- Again (you forgot the word or guessed wrong. The card will be shown to you again during this review session.)
To make the MosaLingua SRS algorithm work correctly, it’s really important to be honest in your self-evaluation. The easier a card is for you to remember, the less often you’ll see it. The maximum possible time before seeing a card again is one year. Some SRS apps can’t show you a card any less often than every three months. I like that MosaLingua is in it for the long run.
My Experience with MosaLingua: The Good
There’s a lot to love about MosaLingua. The flashcards cover tons of different scenarios and can get pretty advanced if you want. Some of them contain individual words to help build your vocab, and others have entire sentences, which improves your conversation skills.
Beyond just the flashcards, you can also study entire dialogues!
I found this feature really useful, as it lets me see sentences in real-world contexts. Some days, I just don’t feel like studying a stack of flashcards. Dialogues are a great alternative because they tell a story. To study dialogues, just tap the ‘More’ tab, then the ‘Dialogues’ icon. Browse them by subject, select the one you want, and follow the steps to study the dialogue:
- Audio only (just listen actively and look at the accompanying images, even if you don’t understand everything.)
- Audio with foreign language subtitles (listen again, and read in your target language as you go)
- Audio with English subtitles (listen again, and see the English translation)
- Memorize (select which cards you’d like to add to your deck for your next learning session)
I also liked unlocking bonus material after completing a review session. A bonus item could be a joke, a fun fact about the language or culture, learning advice or a popular expression or quotation in your target language. You can add each of these items to your flashcard deck if you want.
Another great aspect of MosaLingua is its incredible customer service. On virtually every screen in the app, you can tap the ? icon in the corner to get an explanation of what to do, followed by options to rate the page or send a suggestion. You can also report problems with individual flashcards. And the response time is fantastic. I left a lot of feedback on pages and flashcards, and I nearly always heard back from an actual person within 24 hours, to either confirm that there was an error that they will fix, or else to ask me more questions to better understand the issue. I’ve never had such good customer service on any app, ever. Kudos, MosaLingua.
One of my favourite features about MosaLingua is how it doesn’t shove grammar down your throat. I don’t like to study grammar when I’m first learning a language. Often grammar rules just fall into place after I’ve learned a good number of phrases and their meanings.
If you want to learn about grammar (and sometimes I do, too), you can go to the ‘Lessons’ category in the ‘Explore’ tab, and browse for specific grammar rules.
Finally, I need to give a shout-out to MosaLingua’s non-spammy reminders. There are very few apps on my phone that I allow to send me push notifications. They always seem to abuse it with notifications like “Here are some tips to better use this app!” or “Looks like you haven’t logged in for a while. Why not see what your friends are up to?” Argh!
I must admit, I only turned on MosaLingua notifications so I could comment on them for this review. But the developers were telling the truth: they don’t abuse the feature. You get one notification when you're approaching 24 hours since your last review session. Since the app works best when used daily, this is definitely not overkill at all. I left notifications turned on the entire time I was using the app for this review.
My Experience with MosaLingua: What Could be Better
As with any product that has a lot of functionality, MosaLingua has a few areas that could use some work.
While MosaLingua's specialty is SRS, and they do it very well, there are times when I would like to have the ability to “override” the SRS by studying my flashcards more often. For instance, a while back, I took a trip to Burma, and I wanted to learn about 20 Burmese words and phrases for my trip. I didn't have much time (I had only created my flashcard deck a few days before departure) so I studied my cards many times per day leading up to my trip. I used a fully customizable flashcard app (similar to Anki) and was able to open up my deck to study any time I wanted. But with MosaLingua, you must stick to the SRS schedule that it calculates for you. MosaLingua is meant to help you get words and phrases into your long-term memory, and “cramming” your flashcards won't accomplish that (I forgot nearly all of my Burmese flashcards about a week after getting home). While it's best to stick to MosaLingua's precisely-calculated SRS schedule if your goal is fluency, for those times where you need to get some vocab into your short-term memory for whatever reason, you'll need an alternative app.
My next comment only applies to the Italian version. I found that a small handful of native-speaker recordings were not of very good quality. They were muffled, or too quiet, or the speaker’s tone didn’t really match the “mood” of the phrase on the card. This didn’t happen too often, and I used the “report a problem” feature on the card to send a comment about it.
My Results with MosaLingua After 60 Days
You can see from my review so far that I’m a pretty big fan of learning with MosaLingua, even if it has a couple of flaws.
I easily put in a bit of study time every day. Study sessions are really nice and manageable. If you learn ten new flashcards a day, then you’ll probably spend an average of 10-15 minutes per day in review. I defy anyone to assert that they don’t have 15 free minutes per day! In my case, I reviewed flashcards with MosaLingua right before bed for about ten minutes per day for nearly eight weeks – so a total of about ten hours. I learned an average of nine new cards per day.
Obviously ten minutes of study per day isn’t a very well-rounded routine. But MosaLingua doesn’t pretend that it’s the only thing you’ll ever need. In fact, in addition to flashcards, dialogues, grammar and bonus items, the app also has a lot of advice for how to keep studying when you’re not using the app. For instance, it gives tips for starting a conversation with a stranger, and offers a list of movie and podcast suggestions in your target language.
In my case, I chose to use only MosaLingua to study Italian, followed by three conversations with native speakers. I wanted to be absolutely clear about what MosaLingua can do, and what it can’t. If I watched Italian TV or went to frequent language meet-ups, I wouldn’t be sure if my improvement in Italian was really from MosaLingua. I did do three conversations with native speakers the week before recording my result video, to get a bit of speaking practice. I strongly feel that whether or not I use a single product like MosaLingua for my language studies, it’s still essential to occasionally use the language with native speakers.
The Video: Me Speaking Italian After 60 Days with MosaLingua
So, how was my Italian after using MosaLingua for 10 minutes a day for 60 days? I haven’t taken any placement tests, but I feel like I’m still an A1, though a strong A1. According to MosaLingua’s ‘Progress’ section, I have 264 cards stored in my long-term memory (out of 416 cards I’m currently learning). Many of these cards are complete phrases, not just single words. So I know quite a bit more than 247 Italian words.
Although I’m still an A1, I know enough Italian to converse about a few basic topics, as you can see from my result video:
The video is only six minutes long, but Shannon and I actually talked for nearly 20 minutes, exclusively in Italian! Yes, I had to look up several words before I could say them, and Shannon had to repeat herself a few times, but our conversation was absolutely a success.
I must admit I was a little worried at first! When I called Shannon on Skype and it was ringing, I felt minor panic when I tried to recall some Italian words and couldn’t think of a single one! But once we got talking, I gained some momentum and the words came to me as I needed them. Speaking the language with a real person is the only way I can overcome that mental block and start using the language naturally.
MosaLingua Review: The Bottom Line
Would I use MosaLingua again? Absolutely. Especially in the early stages of learning a new language. It’s a fast, efficient way of building up a nice foundation of vocab and phrases.
No matter what your level is, I recommend including MosaLingua in your language studies. It requires a small enough time investment that you could even squeeze it into your existing routine without changing anything else.
MosaLingua alone can’t make you fluent, but no single method can. But if you use MosaLingua correctly, you’ll store tons of useful material in your long-term memory, where it will be easily recalled when you need it. This recollection is the key to progressing in your target language toward fluency.
To use MosaLingua to help you learn your target language, click the links below to find the app for the language you’re learning: