Duolingo Review: The Green Owl Enters

Duolingo Review: The Green Owl Enters

Today I’m going to tell you about a great resource you can use to learn several languages – Duolingo.

Duolingo is a completely free website that you can use to learn Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or English (if you’re a Spanish/French/Portuguese/Italian speaker). It’s also one of my favorites out of the resources I’ve found so far, and not just because their mascot is a green owl (though that does help a bit…).

It’s also available for iOS and Android, and it’s updated frequently – in fact, I’ve had two languages get new lessons since I started using Duolingo just a few months ago.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

How does Duolingo work?

Duolingo’s impressive curriculum is divided into skills and lessons – each skill comprises somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 – 10 lessons to give you a good overview of new vocabulary or grammar concepts.

You can test out of material you already know using the keyhole - but be prepared to prove yourself!

You can test out of material you already know using the keyhole – but be prepared to prove yourself!

Within each lesson, you can be asked to do any of the following:

  • Translate from English to your target language
  • Translate from your target language to English
  • Listen to a phrase or sentence in your target language and type it out
  • Say a phrase or sentence (if you have the mic features on)
  • Pick correct translations in a multiple choice format
  • Write the correct word to describe a set of images

Each skill has a “Tips” section that gives you a rundown of any new concepts or rules you’ll be going over, but for the most part, you will be learning through answering questions. Because of this, you end up doing most of the learning by making connections and finding patterns by yourself, which is actually pretty cool – not that you don’t have help. You can hover over words at anytime to see their translation, and Duolingo will explain any mistakes you make.

Duolingo correction

How kind of them to remind me.

There’s also an area where you can ask questions to your language community. Many of these discussions are quite helpful, expanding more on areas where Duolingo didn’t explain quite enough – and the most helpful are likely to appear at the top of the list for you to see.

Example: that first discussion is pretty important if you want to avoid weird looks when talking about cats.

Example: that first discussion is pretty important if you want to avoid weird looks when talking about cats.

The curriculum itself is huge – I’ve been rushing through the Spanish curriculum to check it out, and it covers an incredible amount of grammar and useful vocabulary. If that sounds daunting, no worries – you can also practice any skill you’ve already learned (or a quick overview of all of them) to make sure you don’t forget anything!

The ‘Words’ tab at the top lets you do the same thing with any words you’ve learned, and what’s more – Duolingo makes use of the beauty of spaced repetition, not unlike our good pal, Anki.

But Martin, I need social features on EVERYTHING!

Oh, you kids with your social medias and your internets and your lolcats.
You’re in luck, because Duolingo has a social aspect to it as well.

I don’t normally care for social features on things that aren’t directly social media, but Duolingo does a fine job – you can add friends and see their progress. You get to see how many points they have in any given language, and they can see yours. This makes competition simple and fun, which I’ve already pointed out is a great motivator.

Okay, well why is it free if it’s so cool? Are they going to charge me later?

Duolingo’s business model is actually awesome. If you go to the “Immersion” tab at the top of the page, you’ll find a section with articles written in your target language.

Duolingo’s ultimate goal is to have you, the user, translate the internet one sentence at a time using skills they provide you for free. So no, they will never charge you.

This is pretty great for immersion, giving you a vast amount of things to read and translate – the one caveat is that you may not be very familiar with some of the harder vocabulary or other concepts. As time goes on and you become more fluent, though, it will become easier for you to figure these sorts of things out without much help.

So, there it is – and if that’s still not enough to convince you to give it a shot, according to this study, Duolingo has the potential to be more effective than taking a class at your local college.

I certainly don’t have any PhDs lying around – but if that’s really the case, they’ve got my attention.

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