This week I finally spent some quality time with Duolingo
. Launched back in 2011, Duolingo is a free language learning app that has generated a lot of buzz.
I’ve heard a lot about Duolingo from friends and other bloggers, and I’ve been interested in language learning ever since I spent a summer in Japan
as a teenager. I never did learn to speak fluent Japanese, but learning (other) languages has remained a hobby of mine for the last two decades.
That being said… If you’re born and raised in an English-speaking country like me, you probably don’t really need
to be bilingual or multilingual. And I accept that. Usually speaking English is good enough
when traveling throughout much of the world. That’s why native English speakers often stay on one language and frequently struggle to learn a new one because, hey, it’s not like they really need it. Right?
Right. But being multi-lingual has its benefits. Besides the obvious one of knowing another language, it makes you smarter (according to this study
), and in some cases can even open new job opportunities.
Learning a new language can be a struggle, especially if you don’t need the skill to survive and you aren’t putting in enough time each day. So how do you bring new languages closer to people? I remember watching a Ted Talk
by Jane McGonigal on how to make the world a better place, and her main argument was – gaming. Work through games, through achievements, makes people want to work harder, get better results, because in today’s world, it’s hard to measure those results.
How Duolingo Works
Simplifying measurement through achievements, experience points and levels will make your everyday activities more interesting, she argues. The boys and girls behind a language learning app Duolingo have probably seen the same presentation. Their app, available on multiple platforms, including the iOS, Android and Windows, offers to teach you a new language through gaming – completely for free. No ads, no strings attached, just plain and simple – free.
It offers some other features that need to be paid for to be used, but the language learning is free.
You start by setting up an account, and choosing which language you want to learn first. There is a number of languages you can choose from, including Italian, Esperanto and Spanish, which I’ve heard is pretty popular among Americans.
The app then offers you a number of mini-games such as quizzes, through which you can gain experience points and levels. There is an entire skill tree, with skills like Basic, Phrases, Accusative, etc. which you can level-up individually. It also offers a fairly large amount of free lessons on each skill.
There are a few other elements, all designed to keep you interested and keep you going forward, which is probably the hardest thing to achieve when learning a new language. One of those elements is an in-app currency called Lingot – which can be acquired in a number of different ways, like leveling up. These Lingots can be spent in the in-app store for things like additional quizzes and extras, just to help you along the way. There’s nothing ‘physical’ you can buy from the shop and take with you in real-life. Everything remains within the app.
How Effective is Duolingo?
I can’t really go down to the nitty-gritty and say how good this app is in actually teaching you a language, as that would take me months to find out, but from what I’ve seen, the app does not teach you real conversational skills – it teaches you how to form and translate basic sentences from one language to another. That’s basically like a first-aid kit for when you’re abroad, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Searching the web for other people’s experience with the app leads me to conclude that Duolingo is actually quite good at holding your hand during those first new language baby steps.
It’s fast, it’s fun and it can teach you things like “Hi, where’s the bathroom?”, or “I’m terribly sorry you lost that basketball game against the Dream Team but, oh well, maybe if you had actual players like we do, and not complete amateurs, maybe you could have won”. OK, maybe it didn’t teach me that second sentence, but you get my point.
I’ve come to the conclusion that using Duolingo consistently would a great part
of any language learning program. But the app alone is not going to be enough. Combine with copious reading, listening, and conversation practice in your target language for best results.
Did Duolingo help you improve in a foreign language? Share your story! I’d love to hear about other experiences.
I’ve been using Duolingo for years, and it works great. Whether you’re a beginner or want to brush up on some old skills, this app is extremely helpful.
It helped a lot with Swedish but has been a bust with Dutch, mostly because that course is badly organized and managed. The people who put the Dutch unit together do not have a good grasp of idiomatic English and insist on literal translation even when what they come up with is a joke. For example, a Dutch word that really should be what even Americans call a bistro ends up as “eating cafe.” Lesson after lesson there are phrases, concepts, sentences that are not idiomatic English, and if you challenge them, you usually get treated snidely, and buried with Google references which supposedly prove the point. They don’t. So I’d give this app 3 stars because while it was good for Swedish it’s been terrible for Dutch. The annoyance factor and the poor pedagogy outweigh real learning.