Language learning the Duolingo way

Published September 8, 2013

When I was younger, I moved from one school that hadn’t started teaching languages yet, to another that were already a year into their studies. I was an entire year behind in learning French, and I vividly remember spending a few weeks beforehand driving around with my mother, listening to some French tapes to try and catch up.

In the end, I did a couple of years of French, but studied Spanish more intensely and took exams in that language instead. I did reasonably well, but since then almost all the Spanish has dropped out of my head. French, however, I have managed to retain some knowledge.

I’ve perused some of the language learning options that the internet has enabled, listened to a few podcasts here and there, and bought a book or two. But apps is where learning a new language comes into its own. I tried out the Rosetta Stone iPad app which was great fun, but the trial period only goes so far, and a full course is quite a price to shell out for something I’m just playing around with.

Step up Duolingo, which is a brilliant language learning app (and site) that is amazingly free! There are several languages on offer, French, German, Spanish and more, and you dive right in to the learning straight away.

The language is split into chapters, and lessons within those, and each lesson contains a rotating set of questions. Things like translating from French to English, and vice versa. Picking the right words to complete a sentence, selecting the right picture to match the word, even trying your hand at saying the phrase into the microphone.


The real benefit to an app like this is the achievements and objectives. You get three hearts at the start of each lesson, and they disappear if you get things wrong. If you lose all your hearts, you fail the lesson and have to start again. You get trophies, badges, achievements, things unlock as you work your way through, and there’s a social element – you can tweet your progress and sign up your friends to battle it out on the leaderboard.

I’ve found it to be a lot of fun, my only thought is that I don’t find it to be teaching, so much as playing. Things must be filtering in as I keep racking up the lessons, but there’s not much in the way of instruction. You just dive into the phrases and hope you start getting things right. It’s not a complaint, in any way, but just something to think about if you want more of the instructions, whys and wherefores.

Otherwise, it’s a free app, it’s a fun way to spend some time, and you get a bit of extra knowledge along the way. What’s not to like?

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