Telling stories in many languages

Published October 16, 2019

Many moons ago, I wrote about Duolingo, the language learning app that uses short lessons, goals and badges to encourage you to reach your targets. I’ve dipped in and out of that app over the years and for some reason, just recently, the obsession grabbed me once again. I downloaded the app and was impressed with some of the new content since the last time I looked at it.

Not only are there the standard lessons – with each topic of the language broken up into a specific area where you can learn and gain skills via typing, speaking and listening – but now there are stories and audio lessons too.

The stories are the best bit, in my opinion. Now you’re using your skills to follow a short, and often lightly humorous, conversation between two people. The subjects can vary from a mother trying to encourage her son to go shopping, or a first date going slightly awry, but as you work your way through the conversation you’re given small questions and little challenges to make sure you’re following what’s going on.

Duolingo screenshot

It’s nicely immersive for a short burst of time, and I think they’re a really good way to learn or at least reinforce your learning. The only downside is that I wanted to rush through them all because they’re so much fun, but I’ve levelled up to a place where I’m finding them more challenging so my pace has slowed drastically.

Meanwhile, there are also a handful of five minute audio lessons, where a short conversation is broken down in depth and then you are challenged to respond as if you were part of it. This is more like a normal audio lesson you would get but is still useful and fun.

Finally, something that I think might have been there for a while but I have never paid attention to before, is the leagues. You earn experience points by completing lessons and your score for any given week is totted up. The more you earn, the higher up the league you go. If you finish within the top ten, you get promoted to the next tier, or if you finish in the bottom few, you are demoted a league. So far I’ve gone up a few tiers but I’m finding this week a struggle so may have to work harder if I want to progress.

I can’t promise that I won’t end up dipping in and out of this app again, but the combination of the above innovations – plus the existing daily streaks and longer term badge goals – has captured my attention for the foreseeable future.

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