If you’ve ever thought about learning a new language, I’m sure you’ve heard of Duolingo.

The Pittsburgh-based tech company boasts over 100 million users, 27 languages, and the prestige of being the most popular online language-learning program.

It’s a free language learning program, available online and as a mobile app, and uses game-like lessons, on-the-spot corrections, and an engaging interface to assist and motivate language learners.

When I first saw the TED Talk by Duolingo’s founder Luis von Ahn, I was instantly impressed.  This start-up has an ambitious mission to make language learning accessible to the world.

Although Duolingo’s mission resonates with me, as with all language learning tools, it’s not perfect.  Here are the aspects I love, like, and wish were better.

Love

Clean Design

The program is very well designed and easy to use. No matter your age, language level, or technological abilities, you can easily jump right in and begin learning.

You Know Where You Stand

Duolingo allows you to take a placement test and begin lessons at the correct level, instead of making you suffer through modules that are too basic for you.  You are also able to test up to different levels after you get started by taking simple tests to prove your proficiency.

Motivating

Duolingo displays a progress bar so you can track where you are in the current lesson.  This visual cue lets you know how far you have to go until the end, and makes you more likely to fin

ish.

It also has built-in customizable notifications.  You can select how often you want to study and the app will send you a message, reminding you to meet your daily practice commitment.

You can also earn “streaks” – a record of how many days in a row you have studied, motivating you to spend at least a few minutes practicing each day.

Keeps it Fresh

Duolingo encourages you to frequently review words and lessons you’ve already mastered to keep them fresh in your mind. Each lesson has what look like life bars from a video game that decrease as time passes. To keep all the bars full, you can do a skill-strengthening lesson to refresh.

Immediate Correction

If you provide an incorrect answer, the program immediately highlights your error and explains why your answer was incorrect. If you miss an accent or something small, it will still give you credit and just remind you of the correct spelling.

This immediate correction is important.  At the end of the lesson, you may not remember exactly why you made the error and the correction would be less meaningful.

Sneakily Effective

Language learning with Duolingo does not feel like studying.  You get sucked into playing the games and answering the questions. It’s oddly addicting and hard to put down.  Duolingo provides a pressure-free, engaging language learning experience.

 

Like

Get Social

Duolingo allows you to add friends to your profile.  It also allows you to join and create clubs with your fellow language learners.  This produces friendly competition and allows you to encourage one another within the app.  Learning with friends and progressing together makes language learning a social experience.

 

Could Be Better

Useless Vocabulary and Weird Word Combinations

Instead of beginning with words and phrases you could use immediately in a conversation, Duolingo begins with random vocabulary and then turns those into sentences.  The first thing you say when you meet someone usually isn’t “the girl eats apples.”

Uses Translation as a Crutch

Many exercises are based on translation between English and the language you are studying. Although translation is a useful skill, it is not the same as learning a language.  Not everything translates well or has an English equivalent. A sign of increasing fluency is to begin to think and solve problems in your target language, not constantly switch back and forth between the two.

 

Chat Simluation

Duolingo has “chat bots” that are supposed to help you practice a Spanish conversation without the pressure of talking to a real person. After you have mastered 3 skills, the ability to chat with the bots is unlocked.

Unfortunately, this is nowhere near a conversation simulation.  Basically, the bots lead you through a series of questions about things you have learned. If you get stuck, you can click on “help me answer” and a series of options will appear. The scenarios provided are not normal and the answers are no different than a regular Duolingo lesson.

 

 

The Verdict

Can you really become fluent in Spanish with Duolingo?

That depends on the level of fluency you are looking for. The website states “you can achieve a fluency as high as 50-60%, which is equivalent to advanced proficiency.”

According to Duolingo’s definition, advanced proficiency basically means you can get the gist of and participate in most every day conversations.  In reality, though, I haven’t met anyone that learned Spanish exclusively with Duolingo that was able to hold a real conversation.  They would usually stumble and quickly give up and revert to English.

So will you reach expert, native-like fluency using just Duolingo? No. However, Duolingo does deliver what it promises. With dedication and consistent practice, you can definitely get a solid foundation in your language of choice.

Overall, Duolingo is a great free resource to get you started learning a new language, but it can only take you so far on its own.  Coupled with some quality conversation practice and exposure to Spanish with more realistic daily language, it’s a nice way to get started and stay motivated to make language learning part of your daily routine.

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