I’d previously heard about Drops on Reddit, where it achieved rave reviews and some pointed criticism.
This was my first time using the app; I paid for the premium version and started off with 15-minute daily lessons. I quickly realized that 15 minutes was too long and that I wasn’t completing lessons on time.
When I switched to 5 minutes a day, the games (which include matching, bubble popping, and a crossword-esque word map) became much more entertaining and easier to focus on.
I used this app for Spanish, Japanese, and Hebrew. I already had experience in the first two languages, but I was new to the last one. Although I learned some new words in Spanish and Japanese, I made no progress in Hebrew.
I couldn’t get past the first few alphabet lessons, as I wasn’t sure how to read the materials. Was the first descriptor the name of the letter or the sound it made? Drops didn’t tell me, and I had to look online for an answer.
Drops also doesn’t show you how to conjugate verbs. For that reason, even though I learned a few new Spanish verbs, I’m not sure I’ll be able to use them.
My biggest critique of Drops is also one of the things I most appreciate about it. The app is supposed to use mnemonic pictures instead of words to help you remember translations.
However, many of the pictures look similar, and it was hard to clearly recall which picture corresponded with which word. Sure, I could click on a picture and learn what it was supposed to mean, but that seemed to defeat the purpose of memorizing through an image.
Overview of Drops
Drops breaks its lessons into several categories, including Travel & Vehicles, Business & Tech, and Sports & Fitness.
These categories are further broken down into subcategories, like Ecology, Religion, and Fashion. Each subcategory contains several words (about 15-20), though the individual words don’t always seem to correspond to the topic.
For instance, although there is a subcategory for Geography, Africa and America are in the subcategory Astronomy.
The purpose of each lesson is to get 100% in a given category. If you get a word wrong, you’ll go down several percentage points. However, you’re given multiple chances to correctly identify or spell your word before losing said points. You can also skip words you already know in order to make your lessons go more quickly.
In total, each language offers thousands of vocabulary words, many of which are essential for daily use. While this is great news for noun retention, it’s not as useful for verbs, which are only presented in one form. Thus, even though you’ll learn the vocabulary to understand ideas, trying to express those ideas might not go well.
Using Drops is fairly simple. First, you’ll download the app on your IOS or Android device. Then, you’ll open it and create a profile containing your email and password.
If you’re using a free version, only the first subcategory of each category will be unlocked. If you’ve paid for premium, every subcategory will be available.
You’ll then navigate to “Profile” on the bottom right and choose which language you want to learn. You have two different experience options: beginner and intermediate.
I didn’t notice a big difference between these levels, but if one seems too hard or too easy, switch to the other. If you’re using a free account, your lessons will be limited to five minutes every ten hours, but if you’re using premium, you can choose a longer session under your Profile.
Next, return to the Topics screen and click on a subcategory. A picture will pop up followed by a word. You can swipe this word up to say “I know this,” or you can swipe down to say, “I want to learn this.”
If you swipe up, a new image and word will be introduced. If you swipe down, you’ll have the chance to play a game featuring your new word.
The gameplay features are pretty easy to figure out. You’ll never type out a word in Drops; instead, you’ll either swipe matching words, pop matching bubbles, find the word in a crossword, or arrange the letters of a word to spell it out.
Some of these games are more fun than others, but they’re all easy to play and figure out.
Once you’ve finished one game, either another game or another new word will appear. You’ll then follow the same steps as before, either by swiping to show you know/don’t know a word or by completing the game.
After you finish learning all of the words in a subcategory, you’ll notice a percentage appear in the bottom right corner. This percentage will go up as you continue correctly defining words, and it will go down if you mess one up.
Getting the percentage to 100% unlocks the next subcategory. If you run out of time before then, either wait 10 hours, watch an ad for more time, or consider getting premium so that you can continue with another lesson.
Drops is ideal for learning everyday nouns, and it’s especially useful if you prefer visual learning. It also teaches several fairly esoteric words, and depending upon your job and hobbies, these words might be important for daily use.
One of the most basic Drops categories is “Foundation,” which has subcategories like Numbers, Colors, and Essentials (which includes words like yes and no).
Some other useful subcategories include Weather, Traveling, and City. There are also a variety of entertaining subcategories, such as Cosmetics, Festivals, and the aptly named Fun.
At first, I strictly used the categories in order, but after a few days I started jumping around. I don’t think my retention was at all affected by going out of order. I also tended to use Drops while doing everyday activities such as brushing my teeth.
This multitasking made it easy to concentrate, but when I tried to sit down and use the app on its own, it was harder to stay invested.
Once you sign into Drops, you can use it even if you don’t have internet access. This makes the lessons ideal for subway or travel. However, you’ll want to bring headphones, since you’ll miss out if you can’t hear the audio.
The lessons themselves are simple, as they involve learning a vocabulary word and playing several games devoted to remembering that word. In general, these games are fun background activities, but they won’t hold your attention much past five minutes.
Some of the games include dragging a vocabulary word to its translation or arranging the letters of a word in order. These letters are broken up strangely–for instance, rather than break a Japanese word into hiragana sounds, they’re arranged in random blocks of between one and three letters.
In order to help with translation, Drops prioritizes memorizing pictures instead of words. For this reason, each vocabulary word comes with a drawing; in general, these drawings are cute and fun to look at. However, some of the vocabulary can become difficult to distinguish, as the images look very similar.
Each lesson will rank you on a scale of 100%. If you get a word wrong, you’ll go back several percentage points. Once you hit 100%, you’ll move on to the next lesson. Vocab words from completed lessons will appear again in later lessons, but they’ll be more stagnated and appear less frequently overall.
At the end of each lesson, you’ll see how many words you’ve learned today, how many words you’ve learned this week, and how long you need to wait until your next session.
Drops is often compared to Lingodeer and Memrise, and with good reason. Lingodeer uses a similar gamification method, whereas Memrise incorporates similar image mnemonics. However, Lingodeer teaches in a more holistic manner, whereas Memrise has multiple decks with different focuses.
Plans and Prices
Drops has several different plans. Their free plan allows you to choose one language and practice for 5 minutes every 10 hours. For me, this was the most useful option, as anything beyond 5 minutes became tedious.
However, a monthly or yearly plan provides more options, including unlocking each subcategory and the option for longer practice sessions.
A monthly subscription costs $9.99, a yearly subscription is $69.99, and a lifetime subscription is $159.99. However, if you log in often, you’re eligible for discounts.
As previously mentioned, Drops won’t help you write in a new language. However, Drops’ companion app Script will teach you how to write in character-based languages.
While there’s a lot to admire about Drops, it’s not ideal for a newbie or for someone wanting to write or speak a new language.
The sheer amount of vocab words is certainly useful, and the games make learning fun and interactive. However, the pictures weren’t especially helpful in remembering vocabulary, and the app lacks any useful writing or grammar aids.
I’d recommend the free version of this app to anyone who wants to supplement their vocabulary learning. The paid app might also be useful for this purpose, but the app itself won’t be enough if you’re trying to become fluent.
While the audio is a great resource for learning correct pronunciation, Drops’s lack of sentence structuring and verb conjugation makes it impractical for learning how to converse.
If you only have a few minutes a day to learn and you want to ensure you’ll be invested, Drops is a good choice. However, I’d recommend the free option over the paid option, and I’d also suggest looking into additional apps that focus on grammar and writing.