Duolingo – Learn Languages for Free
by Duolingo
operating system: iOS & Android | price: FREE | size: 28.0 mb | category: Health & Fitness
Compatible with iPhone and iPod touch.

This is a rather in depth review of the app Duolingo. While I know it’s rather long I felt that cutting anything out of its current form wouldn’t do the app justice. Happy reading!

Duolingo is an app that aims to teach you a foreign language. With language choices of French, German, Spanish, and Italian it has a nice list of common languages you can learn. While I was disappointed that I couldn’t brush up on my Korean I was happy with being able to start learning French, a language that I had always wanted to learn but just never got around to.

Basically Duolingo works like just about any language program/class (as far as I’m aware) by teaching you English equivalents of foreign words and phrases. The app has you translating sentences both to and from the language of your choice focusing on how to speak and read the language right away. Duolingo does give you “vocabulary” words but they are rarely presented as such. Usually you learn a new word by discovering it in a sentence you are being asked to translate. Translating isn’t done solely through typing out sentences however. Duolingo will also ask you to translate sentences to and from your chosen foreign language using word banks that contain more than just the words needed to translate the sentence. Additionally there are fill in the blank questions where you select the proper prefix and type out the word they are asking you to translate.

Duolingo also has speaking exercises. While I’m sure you can speak them into your phone’s mic I only did this while wearing headphones with a built in mic. I’m wary of voice recognition software in general. I work with voice recognition daily, and it isn’t the most reliable software out there. Despite my hangups with voice recognition it is a nice little feature assuming you take its accuracy with a grain of salt.

You can turn off speaking exercises temporarily (for an hour) or indefinitely. This is really nice when you’re in public and would like to avoid the awkward stares associated with brokenly speaking some language you’ve been learning for a week to no one.

Duolingo is laid out like a series of lessons. Each lesson contains several sections and each section laid out as a 20 question quiz. Many of the questions can be figured out through logic and knowing word etymology (at least in the beginning), but when you come across a word that you just don’t know such as, say, garçon – you can tap the word to get it’s English equivalent. You can do the same to an English word that you don’t know the foreign language equivalent to. It’s a really nice reference to have when you’re truly stuck. Words that were learned in previous lessons usually are not available via this reference so it’s not always available and has limited use – all good news if you’re actually trying to learn a language.

If you’ve already studied a language previously you can test out of lessons with a quick 20 question quiz and move on to the next set of lessons. Every lesson can be tested out of.

Each section builds upon the previous one by utilizing some of the words from the previous section. Lessons are done the same way by utilizing words and phrases from previous lessons. Learning builds up in a quick but natural way and you always have the option of going back to redo lessons (in case you don’t remember anything from your last session). At the end of each lesson you are offered the ability to go back and strengthen the grammar skills and words you learned throughout that entire lesson at anytime.

The trick to each section is that you only have 3 hearts – a la Legend of Zelda health meter (don’t worry, it won’t beep when you’re down to 1 heart). If you answer four questions wrong then you have to start the section over again.

But the thing that truly makes Duolingo shine isn’t just its varied exercises or its increasing number of languages that you can learn – it’s the gamification that’s built into the process. As a gamer I love gamification. I’m also a collector (when the game makes it worth it) which means I’m willing to do tasks over and over again until I get them just right (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed).

Duolingo has Duo the owl who is both their mascot and your coach (far less annoying than Clippy). As your trainer he works to help motivate you and keep you on track with any goals you set. You can set goals to 10, 20, or 30 minutes per day and can send you daily reminders via push notification, e-mail, or both. He lets you know how much XP you need to achieve your goal for the day.

The app rewards you for completing sections and lessons in the form of XP – culminating in leveling up. You also earn Lingots, the in game currency used to customize your Duolingo experience. Levels are somewhat arbitrary from what I can tell (but aren’t they all). However, that ding you see and hear when you level up is always rewarding. Lingots can be used to buy red potions that refill a single heart during a section or purchase a new suit for Duo the owl. It’s these fun little side goals that make me want to perfect each section.

The thing that makes the Duolingo app so accessible is the fact that it is an app. There is a website with the additional option of learning Portuguese (which I presume is coming to the app relatively soon), but the app makes it so easy and convenient to learn a language on the go. While I don’t recommend it while driving I highly recommend playing while in the waiting room at a doctors office or on the bus. It also doesn’t require an internet connection so assuming you can turn your headphones up loud enough to drown out that baby in the background you can learn on flights too.

Doulingo is probably the best language learning tool out there because it includes great gamification with the amazing mobility of your phone. I recommend it to anyone and everyone who wants to learn, maintain, or strengthen multi-language skills.