**Note** These were my views as of April 2014. I may do an update at some point.
From time to time I hope to review language learning products- be they websites, applications, old-fashioned software, books, or other (who knows what the future holds)- to try to give my fellow polyglot consumers some guidance as to what tools to use and, just as important, to NOT use. Of course, these are just one gal’s opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.
Product Name: Duolingo
Type of Product: Website/App
What’s it do: Let’s you learn a specific language through a semi-game like format. You pass certain exercises, which opens new levels and vocabulary.
Languages it offers: Currently it offers Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese.
They are working on adding (hatching as they term it) Russian, Dutch, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian, Romanian, and Irish. All of these are in target language to English formats.
Available Formats: Website: duolingo.com
Also available as an app in the iTunes store, Amazon, and Google Play. The website doesn’t mention Amazon, but I have it on my Kindle so there ya go.
Strengths: This format has quite a few strengths. Here are some of my favorites:
- IT IS FREE.
- It offers practice in all skills- that is speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
- It gives you a chance to help translate real articles online, contributing to the polyglot community as a whole and giving authenticity to what you are doing and learning.
- Friends can follow you and you can compare each other’s progress and help cheer one another on.
- The game like format, a simplistic as it is, does tend to keep you motivated. It gives a concrete amount of practice per session and earning the gem for exercise and the trophy for each level is akin to stickers back on our grade school homework- inherently meaningless but we love them anyhow.
- It also keeps track of your streaks or how many days in a row you practice. It can be super motivating to see how long you can go without breaking your streak.
- It is available on mobile devices as an app so it can easily go with you in a functional format.
- The speaking practice grades you on your ability to imitate the inflection of the speaker, not your actual pronunciation. (They’ll deny this if you ask them, but trust me. I’ve done nonsense sounds with the app in the same cadence and pitches as the speaker and it has passed me. Other times I did the correct words but in a monotone and it could not tell that it was right.) To be fair, speech recognition software is difficult and expensive to design, so for free this is still giving you some benefit.
- Some of the translations are awkward. They give you an option to challenge an answer, but it will still count you wrong in the meantime.
- This alone will not make you fluent. The activities are very prescribed, aside from the translations, and thus are not geared toward promoting conversational speaking and writing abilities. It is a great start for basic vocabulary and grammar, but you’ll need to seek out other options beyond that to improve.
- You can talk with other people via forums, but the site is not set up particularly well for social networking. It’s a start for sure and my guess this portion will improve with time, but if you are looking to meet and interact with native speakers, this is not the best format to do so.
- No Asian languages (or African for that matter)are currently included. (I will tend to note Russian as an European language due to its similarities with some languages in that region.)
My Overall Rating and Thoughts?
This is a GREAT site for BEGINNERS who A) are unsure where to begin and B) need to form the consistent study habits essential to quality language learning. That said, in its current format, Duolingo only takes you a small portion of the journey. Consider this the taxi ride to the airport, not the plane to the great land of Polyglottia.
Still the gaming set up is creative and can help keep you motivated, especially when you are first starting. And of course, major props to the creators for managing to keep this site and app FREE which is a major plus. Most of us Polyglots would rather spend our money on travel than stuff!
Give it a try if you are just starting out or maybe need to review a language you learned a while ago but has fallen into disuse. It’s fun and free, so it’s worth your time. Just plan ahead to open yourself up to more authentic language use in the future.
This is your trusty Polyglot Products Private Eyes, signing off. Hope this scoop is useful to you!
Original Article Posting can be found here. Originally posted 04/14/14.