Friday, June 20, 2014

Duolingo - Learn Foreign Languages

What is Duolingo?

Duolingo is a website/mobile app that helps you learn new languages.  As of 8/20/2014 they have French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, and English available to learn.

Are there payment options on Duolingo?


No. 100% of the site and app is free, and it doesn't offer any 'payment in lieu of time' shortcuts.

How it works


Signing up


Signing up is easy, as you only need to set your name (which can easily be a pseudonym), email, and password. After that, you set your native language and select which of the languages above you want to learn.  If you get bored of one language easily, you can actually learn multiple languages at once.

Lessons


Each lesson starts at the basics, with each skill having 2-6 lessons within them.   Each lesson is comprised of 20 exercises. There are six different exercises in total:


  1. Translating from the foreign language to your native language
  2. Translating from your native language to the foreign language
  3. Transcribing the foreign language from audio
  4. Picking the correct article and spelling out a vocab word in the foreign language (nouns only)
  5. Selecting checkbox(es) of the correct translation(s) of a sentence in your native language
  6. Correctly pronouncing a sentence in the foreign language

While all of them usually appear in one lesson, the first two are by far the most common exercises.  While learning, new vocabulary is colored a dark yellow. If you don't know a word, you can always hover over a word and it will give you its translation (same works for translating sentences from your native tongue to whatever foreign language you're learning).


Hearts, Experience Points, and Lingots


Duolingo often plays like a game. With each lesson, you start out with three hearts. If you incorrectly translate one of those twenty exercises, you lose a heart. Miss more than three exercises and you "lose" the lesson and will have to start over again, redoing those twenty lessons. Personally I really do like it because, while it does give some room for error, if you really don't understand a concept you can keep seeing examples until you get it, and it's not like a classroom environment where the class continues on even if you don't get it.  

There are XP (experience points) you earn at the end of every lesson. Completing the lesson gives you 10 XP; you get an extra XP for each heart left over. Get enough XP and you gain a level. As far as I know, levels don't have much impact on what is available to you, but it's a good indicator of where you are at.

While Duolingo is completely free to use, the site does use its own form of currency: lingots.  These red Legend of Zelda like gems are earned three ways:  You complete a skill set; you complete a lesson with all three hearts left over; you gain a level.  The first two methods give you one lingot, while the third depends on the level you are at (you receive the same amount of lingots as your level).  The occasional lingot can be earned if you practice everyday and accumulate a daily streak.

These lingots can be used in Duolingo's store.  You can buy multiple hearts so that you don't have to restart a lesson.  You can purchase some outfits for your owl mascot.  You can also buy specialty lessons and different ways to quiz yourself.  So far I've only seen lessons on flirting and idioms on my account, but I've seen screenshots that have a Christmas-themed skill set as well.


Mastering Skill Sets and Practice



Each time you master a skill set, it turns golden, with a meter of five bars.  However, since language is a skill you have to practice everyday, some skill sets might lose a bar or two as time passes.  This indicates that you need to go over these lessons in a quick review to make sure you have still mastered all of the vocabulary and grammar introduced in those lessons.

You can choose one of two ways to strengthen your skill sets again.  You can click on the skill set itself and choose "strengthen skill".  This will give you a 20-exercise lesson that only reviews topics from that skill set.  The other way is simply clicking on the "strengthen skills" or "practice" button on the right of your home page.  This lesson covers a broader range of skills, and can usually strengthen more than one skill set at a time.


Immersion


This tab is only available on the website version.  Basically, Duolingo staff and Duolingo users find various articles online that don't have a translation, and give them to Duolingo users to begin translating.  This is how Duolingo is able to keep this site completely free.  It allows them to offer this site for free and to continue
expanding it, and it allows you to practice your skills on actual documents, giving you an opportunity to see how the language is used in everyday life.  You can choose to write the translations yourself, or edit/vote for other people's translations.


Review


I really love this site and app.  Both are good; while the site has more to offer, the app is perfect if you still want to learn on the go.  I feel that the way the lessons are set up, I can learn far more in a shorter amount of time than if I were in a traditional classroom setting.  So far, I've been taking Spanish (while vaguely keeping up with my poor French skills), and I feel like I've learned far more Spanish in about a month than I did in half a semester of French class.

The real golden part of Duolingo is that it teaches vocabulary in a dynamic setting, i.e. you aren't given a list of vocabulary to regurgitate for the next quiz and to promptly forget to make room for the next list of 40 words.  Instead, you are given a small list of vocab to learn for each lesson, and you get to see how each word is used in sentences.  Not only that, but during later skills and practice sessions, Duolingo often combines a number of vocabulary so that not much gets lost.

I love the immersion section.  While I'm definitely not fluent enough in any language other than English to even begin tackling most articles, I have been able to correctly translate a few sentences here and there.  If you make mistakes, people will correct you, but it's in a very nice manner and you end up learning in the process.  So far I haven't yet seen a free language learning website or tool to have this sort of feature, and I find that this makes Duolingo extremely useful and unique.

The only real downside is the limited amount of languages to choose from.  If you aren't interested in the Romantic languages plus German, you might be out of luck with this one.  However, they are currently working on other languages; so far, Dutch and Irish are very close to being available, and if you are already bilingual and want to help you can contribute to creating lessons in that language.


Conclusion


Great website, great app. If you want to learn a language, this is definitely worth your time to check out. The only bad thing is its limited number of languages to choose from, but Duolingo is showing its users that it is working on adding new languages. 




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