Sunday, January 19, 2020

Duolingo: Lessons Learned after Three Trees and Beyond

If you aren't already being nagged by the little green bird hundreds of millions of users like me affectionally know as Duo, then you might not be familiar with the incredibly popular language learning app Duolingo. Duolingo offers 94 free courses in 23 different languages. What's unique about the app is that it gamifies the language learning process. By taking language lessons, you receive points. If you use the app every day, you can maintain your streak. You can even compete with other users in leagues.

I have spent a lot of time on the Duolingo app myself over the years. Through it, I've studied 6 languages for a total of 21,776 points, known as XP. I have completed the trees (meaning all of the available lessons at least once), in three of those languages: Arabic, French, and Korean. In all that time, I think I've learned a few things, so I thought I would share them with any readers out there who may use or be thinking of using this free and easy language learning tool:

  • Not all languages on Duolingo are created equal. I found the Arabic tree in particular to be quite weak and low-level, while French is extremely detailed and well-developed.
  • You can lose a trophy even after you complete a tree! After you complete a language tree, you get a special golden trophy for that language. I did this for French a long time ago, but when they did a major update and added more lessons I lost my coveted trophy! The worst part was, there was no way to test out of any of the added portions. So now I am painstakingly going through all the French lessons again so I can get my trophy back. I'm still bitter about this.
  • I find the lessons best for intermediate learners to maintain. I think starting Duolingo as a true beginner is hard, especially in languages like Korean and Arabic with a different alphabet. Very advanced learners might find most of the lessons too easy, so I recommend it most for learners who have had just some basic education in the language. It also works well for those of us who need a refresher on a language not used often or recently.
  • If you're competitive, the leagues can be a major motivator. I am amazed at how much time people have to spend on Duolingo when I see the high scores of the leagues I'm in, but then again they always push me to do more and more to stay in the upper ranks myself.
  • There's no correct number of languages to study. I've seen users start a ton of languages or go all in on one language for years and years. I'm clearly somewhere in between, but I think it all depends on your learning goals. I will say I've never seen someone succeed at learning multiple new languages at the exact same time.
  • It's totally worth submitting corrections. A lot of my corrections have been accepted when I get a question wrong but feel that my answer should have been accepted (just tap the flag icon when it says you got an answer wrong). They've been pretty quick to respond in multiple languages, so I think they're pretty agile with user suggestions like those.
  • The app is better for vocabulary than grammar. The app generates unexpected sentences (like the one from the screenshot at the top of this post) and does a good combination of exercise types to help you retain vocabulary, but I find it a bit lacking in grammar explanations. Other apps like Mango have great grammar explanations, but they're not free so it is what it is.
  • Lingots have become useless. The in-game currency of lingots used to be valuable, but now inflation is so high they're pretty useless. If you do just a small amount of Duolingo here and there, you'll still have enough lingots to buy whatever you want.

So what's been your experience with Duolingo? Love it or hate it? Feel free to let me know in the comments, and happy language learning!

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