Language Learning with Duolingo

When I was in college I spent some time serving in Mozambique with my church, where the national language is Portuguese. Because of my background with Spanish, I could pick up some words, but I always wanted to learn more so that I could go back and talk with the people. Last summer I spent a great deal of time using Rosetta Stone after our school purchased a subscription. I was amazed by how much language you could learn without any direct instruction. 

Since then, we've chosen to stop subscribing to Rosetta Stone (extremely high cost for little school use). With that decision (and with the busyness of school), I stopped pursuing it. But then I met, fell in love with, and married a Portuguese man, and we're headed to Portugal for a few weeks in August, so I decided to pick it back up, this time with Duolingo, a FREE language learning app.

Things I like about Duolingo:

  • It's FREE!
  • It's competitive! I really feel like I want to log on each day to have the sense of winning. It gives a gratifying ding every time you get an answer correct, and you get bonus points for keeping a daily goal streak. You can even wager some "lingots" (fake money) that you'll keep your streak for a week in hopes of learning more. You can even compete against friends, but I'm challenged enough competing against myself. 

  • It's constantly teaching & reteaching. There are a few times that it actually gives you some direct instruction in a little blurb, which has been really helpful for me (unlike Rosetta Stone). However, it mostly relies on practice. If you aren't ready to learn new skills, it's easy to click "Practice" in the upper right-hand corner of the app, and it will give you words and phrases that you need to review in order to "strengthen" your skills. When I first started I was going through multiple skills a day, but now I'm finding that I need to slow down a little and spend more time just practicing. 

  • It's effective in only 5-10 minutes a day! I don't need to practice all day, but daily practice is helpful. It only takes a few minutes to complete a practice round or a skill, so it's easy for me to do when I'm cooking or waiting for something. Because it's easy to jump on and do for only a few minutes, I'm going to be using it as an activity in my classroom for when students finish their work early. 

Things I don't like about Duolingo: 

  • It's easy for me to rely on my reading abilities. Because I studied Spanish growing up, I can figure out most of the Portuguese just by reading it. Most of the exercises include the written words, even if you're listening to it. I'm trying to train myself to not look at the writing but to do most of it by listening. 
  • I'm not practicing speaking. I have yet to practice saying the words. It seems like this ability isn't available for all languages (but hey, it's free, so I won't really complain). And honestly, this is probably good for in my classroom. However, I did just find that you can always turn speaking off so that it doesn't offer those exercises in the classroom. 

So to the folks at Duolingo, thanks for an awesome and free language learning app. I'm excited to have my students use it this fall (even though I'm not a foreign language teacher). I'm also excited to see a Duolingo for Schools option, which gives me some great options as a teacher, including being ad-free and hiding mature words (check out their help page for more info).