Duolingo makes learning a language easier

By Troy Kowalchuk

Being bilingual is an important and necessary skill. It lets you break down barriers, discover a new culture, allows you to make new friends and could be the deciding factor in getting a job. Having the ability to speak more than one language offers nothing but benefits in this world of globalization.

Yet learning a new language is not easy. For many, there is no fun engaging way to learn a new language, and studying takes time and money; the two things college students lack. Even those who have mastered more than one language begin to forget it when they do not spend time practicing.

This is where Duolingo comes in.

Duolingo is a free app that will help with those problems. Named Apple’s “App of the Year” in 2013, Duolingo was the first education application to win the award. It was created in 2011 by Severin Hacker and Luis Von Ahn, and now has over 10 million users worldwide. It offers lessons in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch (Netherlands), Irish, Danish and many more.

To begin, users jump right into translating words or phrases in a language of their choosing. There are multiple types of exercises that teach you how to write, read and speak the language. Some activities involve listening to the other language and transcribing, speaking a phrase in another language and written translations.

What is different about Duolingo is that the app uses games to make learning fun and competitive. Each game tests certain skills, and as you complete skills you progress further in each level. To pass a level you must complete a series of exercises, making less than four mistakes. When you finish a skill you receive points and experience that help you level up. For a competitive edge, Duolingo now offers a social media component so you can compete against friends too.

The games are fun, colorful and encouraging, making it seem like you are playing a game as opposed to learning in a classroom. Finishing a skill you’ve spent days trying to accomplish and learning a new concept becomes a challenge instead of a burden. What makes Duolingo so engaging and useful is the constant updates of the app with new languages or new skills. By doing this, Duolingo keeps users’ attention spans in mind.

While Duolingo does a great job teaching and practicing the language, it has its flaws. The app does not go into depth about grammar and why certain words are placed in certain areas. It leaves the user to find the answers, which can leave them struggling to complete some skills.

Many of the words are also not conversational. The app uses phrases most people would never hear in public like “we do not touch the onion” or “the cat sleeps with the penguin.” Additionally, when listening to the foreign language, you listen to a robotic Siri-like voice instead of a human which can also be very difficult in dealing with when entering a foreign country and hearing the differences in actual dialect.

Those issues aside, Duolingo still is a satisfactory app. The app is not for learning a new language entirely, but will help build on what you have already learned, or help proficient speakers stay sharp. The issues that Duolingo has are small compared to what the application has to offer. With its constant updates, new games, skills and languages it is only a matter of time before those issues are resolved. Duolingo is a fun educational way to improve your proficiency in a language, it is competitive, engaging and is the perfect application that balances education and entertainment.

Troy Kowalchuk can be reached at [email protected]