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New: A Free Language-Learning App (That Works)

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Duolingo Home ScreenWhen I tell people that I’m learning German via an app, Duolingo, I usually get a blank stare or a chuckle. It seems unlikely to some that learning a language on an iPhone, on a free program and for under 10 minutes per day, could show results. It isn’t until I take out my phone and show the naysayers the streamlined design, helpful features, and game-like structure that they begin to understand my new Duolingo addiction. For those who like to learn a bit of the local language before they travel, this app could be the perfect tool.

It really does work. According to a study conducted by the City University of New York and the University of South Carolina, the first 34 hours spent on the Duolingo can have the same effect as as 55-60 hours on Rosetta Stone, or a first-year college semester (130+ hours!). I chose to study German to support my dream of traveling back to Köln, but the app has other options to prepare even the most basic beginner for their next trip. Duolingo has learning tracks for Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Italian, as well as English for non-native speakers.

Duolingo QuestionsThe service is designed so that users progress through a map, completing skill sets that build on each other. Each skill set is composed of several smaller lessons – game-like questions that are a combination of written tasks and dictation practice. For example, for the “food” skill set, you might rearrange a words into a correct order, listen to a sentence in German and then translate into English, or read an English sentence to translate yourself. You can even use your phone’s microphone to practice your pronunciation. Each word that is used appears in a word list on your profile, so that you can literally watch your vocabulary grow. The entire program teaches more than 2,000 words. Points are earned for every lesson completed so that users can compete with their friends. Bonus points are given for logging in multiple days in a row. If your friends are like mine, they’ll take this challenge to heart.

The app can be accessed via iPhone, iPad, Android, or computer on Duolingo.com. Within the first few days of lessons, I was able to speak in very basic sentences. Du bist ein Kind (“you are a child”), for example, or Ich esse Brot (“I eat bread”). After completing a few skill sets over the course of two weeks, I could conjugate several verbs and had a vocabulary list of over 50 words. Even though I’ve never had much luck learning languages through other means, I already have a feeling I’ll be speaking German (in Köln) in no time.

Have you tried Duolingo? If so, leave your opinion in the comments below!

2 Comments

  • Allison Doran says:

    Thanks so much for this article! I’ve began to use the app to learn german and I am really enjoying the challenge.

  • Tyler Muse says:

    Very interesting perspective on Duolingo. I’m wondering…did you find as much success in conversation while traveling? Apps like these can definitely help us in terms of reinforcement, but nothing can replace face-to-face interaction with a native speaker! Do you agree? It’s my opinion that apps such as this are more useful for brushing up or learning the basics.

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