Review: Duolingo makes a game of learning languages

duolingoDuolingo is part of an increasing trend of learning with gamification: In this case, learning languages. In this report from our Senior Foreign Language Correspondent, Jennifer L, she finds it exactly the right mix to keep her entertained, learning and motivated.

If you are an English speaker, you can learn five languages – French, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese. It has a curriculum of around 3,000 words (with associated grammar) structured around graduated learning of vocabulary.

The gamification part is the key for me, though. The philosophy is to do a little each day, and Duolingo keeps track of you – rewarding you for consistency, as well as learning new things. You can also compete against your friends; keeping track of who in your friend group has done the most this week, month or year.

I’m really enjoying keeping track of my friend from Israel – she always seems to do just that little bit more than me, which keeps my on my toes.

I’ve been doing it for a few months now, and I’ve found that my French (which is around high school level) has definitely improved. It has become more instinctive, and some grammar concepts that I used to have to think quite hard about have become much more automatic. I find that the app doesn’t like my pronunciation, though. That could be me, but I don’t think I’m quite as bad as it thinks I am. So my speaking practice will really need to come from elsewhere.

The Duolingo crew point out that the only way to really learn a language is to use in real life with real people, but if that option isn’t available, Duolingo is a great way to keep things ticking over.

But how do they make money? I’ll let them explain:

Learning languages in Duolingo is completely free – now and forever – with no ads or hidden fees. Wondering how that can be? It’s because you create value by translating real-world documents while you’re learning.

Here’s how it works: Somebody who needs a webpage translated uploads it to Duolingo. That document then gets presented to Duolingo students who can translate it in order to practice the language they are learning. When the document is fully translated, Duolingo returns it to the original content owner who, depending on the type of document they uploaded, pays for the translation.

If you have always wanted to learn a language, but never got around to it, or you need some practice to supplement your existing learning, Duolingo is excellent.

One thought on “Review: Duolingo makes a game of learning languages

  • February 10, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Great article Evan. I am learning Mandarin from a variety of Apps. On the rare occasions I can access a native speaker down here in Tassie, I can’t understand a single word they say, even though technically I now know 600 words.

    We are off to Chine for two weeks in a language institute and I’m sure all the App work I have done will mean that I progress extremely quickly, but without a little bit of human contact, the Apps are close to useless!


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