Drops Language App Review: Dripping with Potential or Running Dry?
Drops is an app that’s unique in that it provides a language learning experience that limits your intake so you don’t get overwhelmed.
But can you learn a language using just this app?
I took a deep dive into Drops, via its beginner Japanese course, to seek out both the app’s strengths and weaknesses.
- What Is Drops?
- Pros of Drops
- Cons of Drops
- Final Thoughts
What Is Drops?
Since its creation in 2015, Drops has garnered a pretty positive reputation as an educational resource.
One look at the app’s download count and user ratings can inform you of its esteem and popularity. Drops has also received positive attention from a number of press outlets, and it even joined the business magazine Fast Company’s 2019 list of 50 “Most Innovative Companies.”
Drops offers lessons for 45 languages. These include the most popular ones spoken widely throughout the world, such as German, Chinese and Spanish. However, more obscure ones are also available, such as Ainu and Igbo.
The free version gives you daily five-minute learning sessions.
Within each learning session, you learn the lesson vocabulary with micro-games. These games are done in quick succession and vary in format, taking on forms such as mini-crossword puzzles, word construction, text and image match and more.
Some languages may feature other unique learning material. For example, since I’m learning Japanese, I get access to a “Foundation” section that helps me learn some of the Japanese alphabet and kanji!
How It Works
Once you download the Drops app, you’re immediately asked to pick your target language to learn. However, this can be changed any time after you actually start your studies.
Through repetition and mnemonics, Drops attempts to make you quickly memorize vocabulary. Within a given category—which are like Drops’ versions of “lessons”—you’ll encounter words over and over in text, visual and audio format. During exercises, you can also manually choose which words you feel you don’t have to review, and the app won’t test you on them as frequently.
After your session is over, you’ll have to wait 10 hours for your next round of learning.
You can download and continue to use Drops for free.
The free version does have a few expected limitations, though, such as the daily cap of five-minute learning sessions and unavoidable ads. You also can’t progress to a new vocabulary category until you finish the one you’re currently on.
Drops also has an affordable premium version that’s available on a monthly ($8.49/mo), yearly ($5/mo) or lifetime ($149) subscription.
Drops Premium gives you unlimited playtime, a “Tough Word Dojo” that focuses on more challenging vocabulary, new learner features, additional tests and an ad-free experience.
Overall, the free version can give you much of what the premium has, with just a few inconveniences. But if you want the upgrade, you can get it at a reasonable price.
Drops’ “Sibling” Apps
Drops has “sibling” apps that are also educational but targeted at different users.
Droplets is targeted at kids who are roughly seven to 17 years old.
This app is quite like the main Drops app, down to the five-minute daily limit, but it’s notably easier and more colorful in nature. The vocabulary topics are also more basic, focusing on the essentials. Think the alphabet, foods, drinks and family.
Scripts is another app that focuses on the written forms of languages. You learn the alphabet of a language by manually drawing the letters on your screen, thereby training you via muscle memory. Currently, only eight languages are available.
Pros of Drops
There’s plenty to like about Drops, but here are the features that I personally find to be the app’s major stand-outs.
Beautiful Minimalist Interface
“Less is more” is a sentiment that has a growing presence within the realm of modern technology. Drops is an example of how appealing this trend truly can be, even in an educational context.
Drops’ sleek and simple visual design is a major draw for many, even those who aren’t language learners. The single-color screens, tinged with a slight gradient, matched with the stark white text and images create a mellow but appealing appearance.
My eyes were at ease as much as they were hooked to the screen.
There are no visual distractions while you’re spending your few daily minutes on the app. Save for the unavoidable ads, Drops doesn’t have other attention-grabbers, like big text bubbles, that fill up the screen.
The minimalism goes beyond just the looks, though.
From the get-go, Drops doesn’t provide many instructions for your exercises, just a quick phrase to get you started. However, the format makes it easy for anyone to quickly figure out what to do. After you learn how to navigate through exercises, there really isn’t anything else to learn.
I usually find the introductory tutorial sections of learning apps a bit unnecessary, so I was pleased to see that Drops was simple enough that only the bare minimum of instructions were provided.
Consistent Repetition-based Learning
Learning vocabulary by repetition seems like a simple enough concept, but it can be difficult to pull off. It’s usually not enough to just stare at the same word over and over—the timing and format of every encounter matters for proper memorization.
Within a given session, Drops tests you on the same set of words at different intervals.
But don’t worry, the words are spaced out well enough so that they don’t seem so repetitive and clumpy. I never felt that I was seeing one word too many times or too soon.
There’s also a special “Review Dojo” that’s accessible once you learn 50 words.
The exercises within the Dojo are the same micro-games you would play dozens of times in the free version. However, the Dojo implements a robust spaced repetition system to amp up your training with the words you need to practice most.
Plus, the Dojo feature also keeps an eye on your successes. After you consistently get things right, Drops will eventually note that there aren’t any words for you to practice. Good job, you!
Ability to Skip Learned Words
It’s inevitable that certain vocabulary will make its nest in your brain much faster than others. And while it’s smart to review them occasionally, sometimes you’d rather shift the focus to the words you actually need help memorizing.
In its trademark minimalist manner, Drops provides this option to you directly within the exercises. This is done by dragging a word to either the top of the screen (to “discard” it) or to the bottom of the screen (to keep it in your session).
I’ve used this feature a number of times during my trial run and it ended up working quite well. As soon as I discarded a word I’ve confidently memorized, it didn’t show up again, letting me work on the vocabulary I was actually keen to practice.
It can be all too easy to skip out on this feature, however, in your five-minute rush. But you’ll be sure to appreciate it once you reach the point that you’ve memorized a number of words by heart.
Large Variety of Topics
Drops’ huge vocabulary bank is spread throughout a slew of topics. These include the basics of daily life, such as food, travel, greetings and business.
However, there are also categories—such as gardening, cosmetics and even prison—that perhaps aren’t ones you’d commonly see in other language learning apps.
That means there’s a lot of color and diversity to the words you learn with Drops. The upcoming categories can also be considered motivational factors that spur your daily usage of the app.
With the free version of Drops, you can access upcoming vocabulary lists only after completing your current ones. The premium version would let you jump to different topics.
Personally, I enjoy having an established learning order because it gives a semblance of structure and curriculum, so it feels a bit like how a language course would be run. I tend to get overwhelmed when I’m allowed to skip about anywhere I want. Other learners who are in a rush or are only interested in certain vocabulary may find the premium version more beneficial to their needs, though.
Appreciable Learner Accommodations
As I’m learning Japanese with Drops, I’m privy to a few extra accommodations that I think learners, especially beginners, would appreciate.
Drops’ “beginner Japanese” level primarily focuses on the hiragana alphabet, the most basic of Japanese scripts. However, I also have the ability to learn the other two written systems of katakana and kanji.
For both, Drops lets you actually practice writing out characters by drawing on the screen!
It does so with numbered guides based on the appropriate stroke count. There are also supplemental exercises to help you memorize a character’s pronunciation and/or meaning.
Like standard word learning sessions, you’re also limited to five minutes for character learning sessions. The same rules apply as well: if you don’t want to practice a word you already know, you can swipe it up the screen and move on to the next one.
Plus, I also got the option to turn on romaji transliterations of all the Japanese words. This can be great for learning proper pronunciation. Alternatively, I can turn off romaji to work on my reading skills.
It’s a win-win, either way!
Cons of Drops
Clearly, Drops does plenty of things very well. However, it does possess a few notable setbacks that should be discussed.
The Daily Five-minute Limit Is…Limited
Five minutes of rapid language learning can work excellently for those who don’t have a lot of free space in their daily schedules.
The limit is marketed as a benefit. Five minutes fits snugly in the pockets of freedom afforded by busy learners. It also works great for language hobbyists or travelers—those who didn’t plan to invest a lot of time into language studies.
However, for avid learners, five minutes may not be enough.
Having used Drops for a number of days under this limit, I did learn a number of Japanese words, but sessions were like a vocabulary “bum-rush” that ended far too quickly.
I always ended up feeling a bit unfulfilled and craving at least another five minutes of practice.
It felt a bit hollow after my minutes were up, as I was left knowing that I’d have to wait nearly an entire day for my next round. I’m sure many other learners, who work best with longer stretches of study, may feel the same.
Of course, one could pay for the premium version to get unlimited playtime. But hold fast, since I’ll be addressing my thoughts about Drops Premium later on.
Only Focuses on Vocabulary
If you’re a learner who simply wants to learn words in isolation or to review your vocabulary, then Drops can be a perfect match.
However, language learners who are looking for a comprehensive education will likely find the app lacking.
You won’t get grammar lessons, tips on how to craft functional sentences, or how to perfect your accent.
You also won’t get context for the words you do learn, making the learning you get with Drops rather “dictionary-like.”
I can appreciate the fact that Drops isn’t overwhelming by any means, but the singular focus on words (and words alone) can definitely make Drops’ lessons seem curt and vacant at times.
If there were at least a few essential sentences or phrases to learn, or even little snippets explaining unique usages of certain words, the learning experience could be greatly heightened.
Minimal Audio and No Conversation Practice
In terms of audio, Drops only provides vocal pronunciations for the words you learn.
This ultimately means that you can’t practice actual conversation in your targeted language. You can certainly learn how to pronounce individual words, but you won’t learn how to actually “speak.” In fact, there weren’t even that many verbs included in the vocabulary I learned.
This is a huge detriment that potential users should quickly be aware of.
I can imagine that users who depend solely on Drops for language learning may be able to point to and name individual items, but remain wholly unprepared for any extended chat with native speakers.
This problem may be fixed with the addition of narrated example sentences that show the word in use. That way, learners can actually see a language in action and put the individual slivers they’ve memorized into something comprehensible and usable in real-life scenarios.
Paid Version Doesn’t Have Much Extra Content
Drops’ premium subscription does offer a few extra features.
The most important one, in my opinion, is the ability to have longer learning sessions. The second most important would be the ability to skip over to different categories.
However, the paid version doesn’t provide much else that attracts my attention (or wallet).
The premium version also has two relatively basic features.
One is a “Word Collection” that lets you view all the words you’ve learned. Another is the ability to reset your progress on a topic, enabling you to redo it. I’d argue these should’ve been included in the free version.
One of the biggest draws of most apps’ premium versions is the removal of ads. Drops Premium does offer this, but rather than shooing away ads, I’d much prefer suffering through them if it meant I could get a substantial amount of extra material.
If the premium version were a little cheaper for what it currently provides, then it may be more appealing. Otherwise, I’d hope that there were more substantial bonuses.
These flaws of Drops can, admittedly, be rather large setbacks for studious language learners. That’s why I believe that Drops may work best as a supplement to a more robust learning resource that can provide what’s lacking.
FluentU is one such resource. This app uses videos (like news clips and movie trailers) from native sources and turns them into personalized language learning lesson. This gives you practice listening to natural conversation, in context.
Pairing Drops with FluentU can create a much more comprehensive education that you can confidently apply to real-world scenarios.
Drops is an all-around fun and interesting app. Over a span of a few days, I truly enjoyed whizzing through the beautifully formatted exercises and learning all sorts of Japanese words. The way the app has been designed makes using it such a pleasant and comfy experience.
However, Drops simply won’t do as a stand-alone language learning resource.
While it performs admirably as a vocabulary trainer, it doesn’t teach other key elements of a language. These missing elements would be what prepares a learner for true, natural usage of the foreign tongue they’re learning.
Therefore, Drops works best as a supplemental resource that’s paired with more substantial and comprehensive ones.
Nonetheless, Drops is still worthy of a free download. But be wary that the worth of the paid version might not match up to its price tag, since it doesn’t offer much extra content and features (unless you truly despise ads).
If future updates or iterations could add more learning content—particularly lessons pertaining to grammar—then Drops can truly quench the language learner’s thirst!