Duolingo is a language-learning website (and app, although I don’t use the app as much) that –finally–makes learning new words somehow both easy and fun. Here are four reasons why I love it.
1) It works.
I love the idea of knowing another language, but I have failed to actually learn one over and over again.
With Duolingo, which I started using abroad about two years ago and have picked up again this summer, a little bit of Italian has actually stuck.
It may not be the best/most efficient/most pedagogically correct tool out there, but I can stick with it, and that makes all the difference.
2) It’s fun.
Duolingo is like a game. You can set goals and collect points (for answering questions correctly) and rack up “lingots” (for completing levels or a certain number of days in a row). It tells you how “fluent” you are. There’s a graph that shows your progress day-to-day and noises that cheer you on as you race against the clock.
For the first time, I actually enjoy learning a language after the first three days.
3) It’s competitive.
I am incredibly competitive (sorry family) and Duolingo feeds that (sorry again). There’s a leaderboard that shows how you’re doing compared to your connections each day, week and month, and now that my whole family (including my father, who dropped about four language classes in college and now does Duolingo) is playing, I have incentive to learn my way to the top of the field.
The various language skills are grouped into categories (house, people, possessives, etc) and those turn gold once you’ve mastered them, but they also decay over time, meaning that you have to constantly be practicing to keep all your skills gold as well as to learn new ones. This is referred to as “gilding the tree” and it’s serious business (here’s a blog post on keeping your tree gold).
4) It’s collaborative.
While Duolingo does bring out my competitive side, it’s also incredibly collaborative, and this is more seamless than in any language-learning app I’ve used before. Users can leave comments, so you can see what people have written about a particular phrase and discern why it tripped you up, for example, or if it has a more colloquial meaning. The other/business side of Duolingo is translating the Internet, and you can earn points by doing that too. There are also discussion boards for more general topics and advice.
Duolingo is the first program, including Rosetta Stone, that has worked for me on a consistent basis. I’m nearly halfway through Italian now, and next I’m going to give German a shot–all the better for studying theology.