I recently started using the app Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish. To give you a feel for my aptitude of Spanish, I had it in high school and 4 semesters in college. Since then, I’ve brushed up on it before going to Costa Rica and before two separate trips to Mexico. I would say I’m fairly good at learning languages and they come relatively easy to me when learning them.
Duolingo is a free app that incorporates reading, listening, and speaking the language you want to learn or get better at. You are graded based on how many answers you get correct and hearts help keep track of how many questions you answer incorrectly. You start each lesson with 3 hearts and lose one heart for every incorrect answer. If you lose all 3 hearts, you’ll be directed to start the lesson over, but if you make it all the way through with at least one heart, you can finish the lesson. You can also test-out of a subject or language area. If you test out proficiently without losing all 3 hearts, you can move on to the next category.
Lingots are the “currency” of Duolingo. You earn lingots by finishing a skill, maintaining a streak by using the app for seven days in a row, and inviting others to use the app. There are also bonus skills such as flirting and idioms. Honestly, I didn’t do much with my lingots, so I can’t personally say much about them. My daughter seemed to enjoy them, however, and she told me about various things she would “buy” with her earned lingots.
Currently, the most options for languages are for native English speakers who want to learn another language. You can choose from 22 other languages, including the usual German and French, but also Swahili, Esperanto, and Welsh. If you speak a language other than English and would like to learn another language, your options are more limited. For example, for German speakers, your options are English, Spanish, and French. There are more languages currently in development such as Japanese, Korean, and for you Star Trek fans, Klingon.
Personally, I feel like the app is helping me brush up on my Spanish, but I do think it may be giving me a false sense of security. Most of the exercises are multiple choice-style so the correct words are on your screen, with some incorrect words thrown in. You just touch the correct words to form a sentence and you (hopefully) get it correct. This is much easier than when a sentence is in English, and they ask you to type it in Spanish, with no words on the screen to choose from. I’m sure my progress would be much slower if had to proceed with no prompts. The flip side of this is many people would give up in frustration earlier without any prompts on the screen to “help” you along.
I still have many more exercises before I’m considered “fluent” and am finished with the Spanish module, so I’ll see if it gets harder. So far I’ve been able to test out of many of the sections, which means my progress has been quicker than if I were to go through all ten lessons for each skill (example, past tense verbs).
Also, each skill has a strength bar that corresponds to the program’s estimate of how well the user has retained certain words or verb conjugations. Over time, strength bars fade, and the user is supposed to go back to refresh their memory and strengthen weaker skills or words. I’ve found when I’ve done this, I whizzed right through very quickly so I’m not sure how much those words had faded in my memory, but I figured it didn’t hurt to go back over them.
I’m not sure how well Duolingo would work for someone learning an entirely new language. I suppose if the person combined the app with other learning tools as well, it would work out well. I don’t think the app by itself would be sufficient on its own to learn a new language, however. But then again, there are very few language learning systems that would be enough on their own.
My bottomline is Duolingo is a good app to help brush up on a language you may have learned years ago or to learn a few key words and phrases for a new language spoken in a place where you are about to visit. I doubt you could go from not knowing a language at all to being completely proficient by using Duolingo alone, but I suppose it’s possible.
Has anyone else tried Duolingo? What did you think?