Language Learning Made Easy with Duolingo

For those who have ever taken a Spanish or French class, you know that language learning can not only be a bore, but very challenging. But the rewards of speaking many languages exceed just that of being fluent in more than one tongue.

So, when I first stumbled upon Duolingo about two years ago, I was very interested. While I don’t remember how I exactly discovered the service, I do know that I am glad that I found it. And today, I’ll be reviewing its iPad app, which was released just this summer. Find out what makes Duolingo so great right after the jump.

Like this article? Stay up to date with the latest changes by subscribing to our RSS feed or by following us either on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or App.net.

Getting Started

So, what exactly is Duolingo? It is an interactive, social, and completely free platform to learn a new language. That’s right — everything is free: the app itself is free, you won’t have to pay to keep an account running, nor are there any ads. This by itself sets Duolingo apart from many language learning services on the market right now.

Duolingo gives little pointers as you're starting to learn a new language in order to make things a bit easier for you.

Duolingo gives little pointers as you’re starting to learn a new language in order to make things a bit easier for you.

For English speakers, Duolingo currently has programs to learn Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese. There is also the option to learn English as a second language for native speakers of French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. More languages are added every now and then, so you can continue to expand your knowledge of language even after mastering a language.

To change the language you’re learning, simply tap the flag displayed at the upper-righthand corner of the “Duolingo” column.

The only thing required of you to do is sign up for an account, so after creating a username and password for the service, you’re ready to go. Oh — and make sure you have an internet connection, too, otherwise you won’t be able to make progress.

Social Skills

Sure, you’re able to improve your speaking skills in other languages using Duolingo, but the service itself has a lot of social networking integration. You’re able to add friends using their username or email address, or you can connect your Facebook account to find friends a little bit easier.

Friends you have added appear under the Leaderboards section in the left column of the app. There, you’re able to see how you stack up compared to your other friends who use the service by metering how far immersed into the service you are compared to them. This offers a little bit of friendly competition that can be used as a motivator to help you learn the language.

Your progress is saved throughout all platforms, too, so you’re able to pick up exactly where you left off the last time you used Duolingo on your iPhone or computer on your iPad. I have found that this feature works flawlessly.

Effectiveness

Like all language learning services, Duolingo starts out teaching the basics of a language and progressively gets harder as you get a grip for the language at hand. It covers basically every facet of a language, including not only skills needed for conversation, but grammar technicalities, such as usage of pronouns, that are needed in order to be fluent in both reading and writing the language as well.

Already somewhat familiar with the language you’re learning? You’re able to test out of single levels and entire tiers by taking the lesson or checkpoint tests respectively.

Each level covers one general group of words, whether it be present tense verbs or food or sizes, which I found kept my learning organized and less confusing. Within the levels, there are a lot of different lessons — the number of lessons depends on how much content needs to be covered within the level itself. Each lesson introduces a handful of new words, and the exercises within help you master each word before the level exam. The level exam tests you on all words learned in a level, and only by passing it may you unlock newer levels with new words in the app.

Pictures are great visual aids that help you remember the meaning of new words.

Pictures are great visual aids that help you remember the meaning of new words.

Duolingo uses many different methods in order to teach a language. Most exercises automatically play audio of the words in the new language, which teaches you how to pronounce them properly; there are exercises that make you say a sentence or phrase out loud — a feature that I usually disable because it is a bit awkward to be talking to your iPad, especially while you’re in public. Pictures are sometimes used as a visual aid as well, and writing is used prolifically to test your skills.

One method that I think is overused to the point where it impedes on the effectiveness of the service itself is matching. I have found myself doing the exercise where you have to match each word in a sentence to its equivalent in the opposite language too many times, especially since I feel as if its one of the least effective exercises. When faced with this exercise, I often rely on the process of elimination to pass the exercise, which is very easy to do with cognate-heavy languages like Spanish. As a result, I felt less familiar with the new words tested with that method than the methods that actually require you to write out the words.

The matching exercise requires little skill or thinking to complete, making it relatively ineffective.

The matching exercise requires little skill or thinking to complete, making it relatively ineffective.

Duolingo encourages daily use in order to strengthen your skills in the language you’re studying, which makes sense as it is easy to lose your bearings on a language if you are not using it often. If you don’t have time to complete or simply aren’t in the mood to learn a new lesson, there is a Strengthen Skills mode that reviews everything you have learned thus far. This is a quick and easy way to brush up on your skills when you’re tight on time.

Graphics

Duolingo definitely does not lack in the design department. Color is used very well throughout the application. On the map, similar words share the same color: verbs are teal and nouns are green, for example. And once you master a category, it turns gold, so you know that you don’t have to spend a lot of time practicing it.

Duolingo's interface is both effective and beautiful.

Duolingo’s interface is both effective and beautiful.

But not only does the app look nice, it is also functional. The overall design of the interface is very organized and clean, which eliminates just about every learning curve needed to figure out how the app works.

The Verdict

Duolingo is definitely one of the better education apps that I have had the privilege of using. It’s a beautiful app that is easy to use, which allows you to fully immerse yourself in the language learning experience as soon as you open the app. The mix of different exercises makes you practice all facets language fluency, not solely the ability to either talk or read or write. The only mar on its effectiveness that I have found is the constant reuse of the matching game, which is little to complain about in a service that comes completely free to its users.

As a result, I’d recommend Duolingo to anyone who wants to learn a new language, whether it be for fun or just as extra help for your current studies of a language. It’s a lot of fun, and the fact that its free will save you a lot of money that you might have spent on similar services. So, vamanos!


Summary

An intuitive, multi-platform language learning system.

9