After years of letting my high school Spanish wither away, I decided to give it a boost with Duolingo. The app has a great deal of critical praise and popularity for being an easy way to learn a new language.
Duolingo offers common Western languages, such as Spanish, French and German. The company is working on more courses in Turkish, Hungarian and Vietnamese.
The app is a great way to learn some basic foreign language skills, especially if a user is starting from scratch.
While learning a European language is less useful in the English-speaking United States, knowing a little bit can be a godsend while traveling. What was left of my high school Spanish saved me from spending the night in a Madrid bus terminal when I visited Spain last year.
Duolingo uses great app design to make the learning process as painless as learning a foreign language can be. It uses a simple, clean interface to alleviate confusion and focus on learning.
Learning takes place through foreign-language exercises in interactive form. Users transcribe spoken phrases, translate short sentences and build vocabulary skills.
Duolingo reminds you every day to practice for 10 minutes to build comprehension. Users who stick with it can learn a surprising amount.
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This is the hard part, of course. Duolingo eases the pain of learning a foreign language, but it does not take it away entirely. The user is still being taught and forced to think.
Learning and translating sentences is an active experience that requires engagement. For users hooked on the passive entertainment of Yik Yak and Twitter — myself included — this is a noticeable change.
I confess I found myself turning off Duolingo’s notifications after a few sessions so I could study in peace. When I have 15 minutes between classes, I’d rather take a break from learning instead of memorizing more information.
Speaking of which, Duolingo lacks a lot of the rigor of traditional language classes. The user’s motivation and the app’s daily prodding are the only pushes to learn. After a while, memorizing verbs got old.
Still, people with more motivation to learn can get a lot out of Duolingo. The app is beautifully designed and does a great job teaching users the basics of a language.
The app’s creators also deserve praise for their ingenious approach to monetization. Duolingo is free for users — no upfront cost or in-app purchases. In return, users translate strings of text for outside clients during learning exercises.
Duolingo is available for Android and iOS.
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