Duolingo free language learning review
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Duolingo Language Learning Review

*A totally free language learning website

Website: duolingo.com

Courses taught: Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese for native English speakers; English as a second language and some other courses for non native English speakers.

Format: online program, mobile app

Users: 25 million (12.5 active) (Jan 2014)

I. OVERVIEW

A good complement to a beginner’s primary program, Duolingo helps its learners increase their vocabulary and learn useful grammar. Moreover, learning with Duolingo is fun like playing games.

II. HOW DOES DUOLINGO TEACH YOU A LANGUAGE?

Right at the beginning and until you finish the course, you will learn by doing.

  • Translation exercises
    • There are a lot of questions that ask you to translate sentences from your native language to your target language and vice versa.
    • You can always go to the “immersion” section and translate real life materials such as news, Wikipedia’s articles, etc. The materials are uploaded by Duolingo or other learners.
  • Transcribing exercises: type what you hear
    • Recording your own voice pronounce phrases.
    • Duolingo’s voice recognition technology will tell if your pronunciation is good enough or not.

To help you do these exercises and to learn from them Duolingo gives you:

  • Instructions.
    • Click on a word and you can see its definition, pronunciation, and related grammar. The instructions are just enough to help you answer each question. Duolingo ensures that learners will not feel overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge introduced.Duolingo translation exercises
  • Chances to strengthen your weaknesses
    • By doing computer statistics, Duolingo knows which kinds of questions you struggle with. Later in the lesson, there will be questions which target your mistakes. Thus, if two learners learn the same lesson, the order and content of questions could be different. Duolingo tailors their lessons to fit each learner’s needs. This is a really good feature. It sets Duolingo apart from many computer assisted language learning programs.
  • Enjoyment & encouragement
    • Learning with Duolingo is like playing a game.
    • At the beginning of each lesson, Duolingo gives you three or four hearts. You lose a heart when you answer a question wrong, lose all the hearts and you have to restart the lesson. If you finish lessons without losing a heart, you will receive gems called linglots. You can use linglots to buy fancy stuff such as clothes for your character or to unlock new skills to learn.

    duolingo skill tree & store

    Duolingo Skill Tree & Duolingo Store

III. HOW FAR CAN YOU GO WITH DUOLINGO?

Each course contains a vocabulary of around 2,000 words. The vocabulary covers various subjects.

In general, Duolingo can take you to lower intermediate level (in European CEFR framework).

Duolingo Vs. college courses, Duolingo Vs. other self-study programs

A research from Dr. Roumen Vesselinov (City University of New York) and Dr. John Grego (University of Carolina) concluded that “a person with no knowledge of Spanish would need between 26 and 49 hours (or 34 hours on average) to cover the material for the first college semester of Spanish.”

A college semester of Spanish usually takes more than 34 hours, this means that Duolingo is more effective than college classes.

Duolingo is not good at teaching you to speak the language

The research conclusion mentioned above comes from analyzing the test scores that students get from the WEBCAPE test, and this test does not assess speaking skills. This is where Duolingo is not really good when compared with audio based programs like Pimsleur or Michel Thomas.

In these programs, you are taught a relatively small amount of words/ phrases. These words/ phrases are the most common and useful in speaking. As you progress through the course, you will be frequently asked to recall them. With memory aid systems like mnemonic and gradual interval recall you can retain all the phrases taught. Then you can use them confidently in conversations.

In contrast, Duolingo emphasizes the understanding of vocabulary, grammar, and translating tasks. However, knowing a lot of words and grammar or knowing how to translate sentences is not enough in helping us to speak the new language.

IV. THE GOOD

  1. 100% free.
  2. Very effective in teaching vocabulary and grammar.
  3. Fun like playing games.
  4. Good web design.
  5. Convenient: with Duolingo’s mobile app, you can learn anywhere you go.
  6. Does not emphasize speaking skills.

V. THE BAD – THE LIMITATIONS

  1. Does not emphasize speaking skills.
  • Sentences used are optimized for vocabulary and grammar teaching. Thus, some are not practical in real life communication.
  1. Some people said that after a while using Duolingo, they felt bored. This is because if you are a serious language learner, your real motivation is the progress you make in the language itself, not external rewards like points or linglots that you get. Many of them feel more motivated if a program helps them to speak more confidently. Duolingo is not so good at that.
  2. In the past, courses were developed by professional bilingual people who were hired by Duolingo. Since October 9, 2013, Duolingo allows volunteers to contribute to courses in some languages. Although volunteers must go through an application process, it is not certain that all courses will have high quality.

VI. CONCLUSION

Duolingo is very good at helping beginners learn vocabulary and grammar, but it does not teach speaking well, so it cannot be a heart and soul source for serious language learners.

Duolingo is a good supplement to a primary program.

Using Duolingo also helps students to improve their test scores.

VII. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

1. Duolingo is the winner of 2013 iPhone App of the year chosen by Apple.

2. The story behind Duolingo: why is it free?

The man who invented Duolingo is Luis von Ahn, a talented IT professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Luis saw that there were millions of people who daily learn language. Although they are learners, they actually can use their new acquired language skills at some level. The question was how to use the brain powers of those millions of people to do something useful.

Luis thought about translating the web’s content, and because bilingual translation is always a good way to learn languages, eureka! Duolingo was born.

Duolingo will teach for free with a focus on translation skills. People will practice their language by translating the content provided for them. One learner might translate badly, however if many learners translate the same document, the translation will be better.

Duolingo will charge its customers, such as CNN and Buzzfeed in recent contracts, for their document to be translated.

This is really an ingenious business idea, a win – win solution for both Duolingo and its learners.

Go to Duolingo.com

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About the Author

Posted by

A Vietnamese. An English Learner. A Language Lover. I enjoy learning languages. I believe that self-study can be a lot more effective than class study (if you learn in an effective way) My favorite quote: “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.” - Aristotle *To write the content for this website, besides my own experience in language learning, I collected and synthesized the experiences of other highly effective language learners.

6 Comments

  1. Melchior

    HOW DO DUOLINGO TEACH YOU A LANGUAGE? ->should be : How DOES Duolingo teach you a language? That is fairly BASIC grammar.

    I understand that this is a click-on-my-link-and-I-get-some-cash site, but not that good of a good review site, yet. All the best.

    (Helping passers-by)

    • Bao Kieu

      Thanks. It should be “How does….”
      You are right. I would like to make money. However, I have tried my best to give people honest information for decision making.
      Thank you again.

  2. noveerago

    Just an update. Duolingo has been dumbing down the app and making it less and less effective. It is really more of a game app than a language learning app at this point.

    Sadly, your point:

    “There are a lot of questions that ask you to translate sentences from your native language to your target language and vice versa.”

    no longer holds true. DL has removed the majority of the exercises where you translate into the language you are trying to learn. I see no way for someone to get much use beyond some simple basic words and sentences at this point.

  3. Clyde

    Seems like a crowd-sourced translation website.
    First they supposedly “teach” you the language (while in reality they simply redirect someone else’s translations verified by others to you), and when you’re doing well, you start being a part of their ant farm, doing translations for them, for which they get money later, and you’re extending their dictionary databases which they can then use on some other website to get some more money from ads.

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