When it comes to free online and mobile language learning programs its hard to find one that trumps Duolingo. What makes it so special?
In this article I’ve outlined for you the reasons why you need to be taking advantage of the services Duolingo has to offer!
While Duo does come with a few drawbacks – namely the relatively short (but expanding!) list of languages offered – it still reigns supreme as one of the most valuable language learning resources you’ll never pay for.
1. Solid Foundation
Duolingo starts out by offering language learners of any age a rock solid foundation upon which to build their lexicon and grammar. The words it chooses seem more appropriate for beginning learners than the beginning words of many other courses – such as Rosetta Stone.
With Duolingo users begin by learning how to construct sentences in their new language, basic articles and genders. No time is wasted learning unnecessary words like “horse” and “airplane”; there’s plenty of time for that later!
2. Properly Packaged Vocab
Unlike many other systems that simply lump vocabulary together somewhat arbitrarily, Duo groups words together into like categories and gives users the ability to pick and choose the words they’re most interested in learning. Want to learn your animals? Clothes? No problem!
3. Spaced Repetition
Spaced rep has been an essential component of language learning for decades, but not all programs get it right. Duo codifies each word you learn with a colored meter that gradually ticks away as a word is left un-reviewed, reminding users when it’s time to revisit old material lest it begins to fade from memory.
I go into a little bit more detail about spaced repetition in this Review of The Pimsleur Approach.
4. Test Out of Beginner Content
Already an intermediate or advanced learner? Tired of starting from scratch and spending too much time the basics every time you check out a new language resource?
Duolingo allows you to test out of any level you think you can pass, unlocking the next tier. This feature allows Duo to remain relevant to learners among the upper echelons of competency in their second language.
5. Penalties For Mistakes
Typicaly I’m all about positive reinforcement; success should be rewarded and failure should not be punished too harshly.
But when it comes to language learning sometimes what you need is a little bit of a kick in the butt to keep your mind on guard and your recall up and working.
Duolingo provides you with three hearts per lesson. As mistakes are made, hearts are lost. Upon losing all three hearts a learner fails the level and is forced to repeat it. I find this incentive to be personally beneficial as I am often prone to becoming complacent with my mistakes.
6. It’s Free!
This right here should be all the reason you need to give it a shot. What do you have to lose? It’s not like it’s going to make you worse. Duolingo is dedicated to the idea that education should be readily accessible to everyone – a sentiment shared most wholeheartedly by LATG.
7. There’s an App For That!
If you know me at all yet, you know how much I adore mobile learning. Like most programs that also come with mobile versions, Duolingo’s mobile app does come with the minor drawback of having fewer features than its web browser counterpart. The core program remains the same though and that’s what really matters!
8. Duo’s ‘Immersion’ Feature Is Great For Improving Literacy Skills
I’m not sure ‘immersion’ is the word I’d choose, but Duolingo does offer a pretty awesome feature that allows users to upload documents in the languages they’re learning and share them with the community.
Anyone looking for reading material for their languages need only explore whats offered. To top it off this feature allows users to highlight segments of the articles and translate them, A great way to practice reading comprehension.
9. Track Your Statistics
Duolingo makes it easy to track your progress. The system keeps track of how much time you’ve spent each day and how much progress you’ve made so that you can work on improving your leaning habits. Each word has its own colored meter indicating how fresh in your memory that word should be. As the colors dim you are encouraged to review these words and further cement them in your long term memory.
Duo makes it easy to see where you are and how far you’ve come – an important attribute in maintaining personal motivation in your language learning project.
10. It Actually Works
According to actual independent research performed at Queens College CUNY and the University of South Carolina; Duolingo has been shown to outperform introductory college level language courses in both rate of language acquisition and confidence.
Just 34 hours spent on your own, in the comfort of your home, office or my personal choice – lying in bed, can yield greater results than a full semester of introductory level college language coursework.
You can read all about the study here.
As with all things; it wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t mention any shortcomings.
- Chief among them is that despite its effectiveness, the program doesn’t offer very much by way of actual speaking practice. There is a verbal component to each level but it consists only of speaking to an AI rather than a real human being. The AI frequently seems shaky and doesn’t always seem to accept user input, even when it is more or less spot on.
- Furthermore you aren’t given much to start with. Duolingo doesn’t teach you the definitions of the words prior to the lessons leaving you more or less guessing, hoping, and blowing hearts.Ultimately though it isn’t a major drawback. If you get the word wrong the first time you’ll know it the second time, it’s just something of an inconvenience.
- The course selection is highly limited. Only a very small selection of languages are currently offered. While this list is slowly growing it could still be a while before we see some languages. The current course offerings are Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish and Italian. If you’re looking for a much wider selection of courses, I’d highly recommend checking out Memrise. Also offered are English courses for speakers of several different languages.
Duolingo is a solid fit for any learner pursuing the eight European languages currently offered. As time passes I expect that we’ll see an increase in the number of courses offered, including hopefully some languages from other continents.
Regardless of this and the other drawbacks, Duo remains a tried and true means to supplement or even spearhead your language project.
You can check out and start using Duolingo here.
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