Wednesday App Review: DuoLingo

Learning a second language is an incredibly valuable skill. Although schools require students to take at least a few classes in a foreign language (usually Spanish or French), very few Americans are bilingual. Fortunately, learning a language isn’t actually something that you have to go to school for and there are plenty of apps which are designed to help with this. One of the most popular is DuoLingo and I decided to give it a try. For the purposes of reviewing this app, I decided to try two different approaches. I would spend two weeks with the app, learning a different language each week. The first language, Spanish, I had actually already studied in college (it was my minor) but I am far from fluent anymore as I have had no way to practice. I was hoping it would be a refresher and strengthen my language skills. The second language I picked was Irish, because I’ve always wanted to learn it but somehow never really got around to it. I didn’t speak a word of Irish Gaelic at the time, although I’d heard the language many times in movies and music. The first week went by smoothly. I spent fifteen to twenty minutes every day and flew through the lessons. I even tested out of quite a few of them. The app did a good job of helping me strengthen my vocabulary and reinforced my understanding of the grammar. There were a few frustrating things, including having to remember to type the accents and the app requiring unnecessary words in a sentence. Regardless, the app did exactly what I expected it to, although there were a few lessons that were a little confusing. The second week, however, I crashed and burned. I tried to spend fifteen minutes learning Irish, but I became so frustrated by the middle of the week, I wasn’t even doing that. The app simply threw me into the language which is said to be the best way to learn, but it was also extremely frustrating and I found myself making blind guesses as often as not. While I did eventually get to the point where I recognized some words (úll means apple, for example), I never felt very confident. There was also absolutely no assistance for pronunciation in either language. I didn’t notice it with Spanish because I already had the foundation of pronunciation from my formal classes. However, with Irish, I found myself simply repeating what the audio said without really understanding why the word was pronounced that way. I couldn’t have sounded it out if I’d wanted to. It’s worth noting that all languages are frustrating at first, and if I had stuck with it, there’s a good chance that perhaps it would have worked. However, I personally became so discouraged that I didn’t even want to do it, and I found myself translating the sentences based on the English words provided instead of trying to puzzle out the Irish words or understand the grammar. In short, if you are looking to brush up on a language that you knew once upon a time, this is a fantastic program. If you want to learn a language you’ve never touched before, then be prepared to just muddle your way through for a long time. This isn’t a good choice for someone who gets discouraged quickly or for people who want to start speaking immediately. Eventually, your brain will catch up with the instant immersion technique, and there are plenty of studies claiming it’s the best way to learn a language… but personally, it didn’t really do it for me. If you want to give it a try for yourself and out-language me, you can download DuoLingo to your mobile device or use it online. The app currently supports more than 20 languages and it’s possible to learn multiple languages at once. You can download the app for free from Google Play, the App Store, or the Windows App Store. You can also check it out online.]]>

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