Learning a New Language is Fun and Easy with Duolingo

Looking for a fun and effective tool to teach you a new language for free? Duolingo is a little app with big goals: teach users a new language and use this data to translate the web. The interface is a game with levels to pass, points to earn and other users to compete against. Currently the app offers courses in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and English, with more to come.

Learn a new language while standing in line, riding the bus or during your lunch break with an app that uses pictures, audio and text delivered in short lessons. Keep reading to find out more about the most unique language tool in the app store today.

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Getting Started

Launch Duolingo and set up a profile by creating a username and password or using Facebook or Twitter. Getting started is quick and easy – simply pick a language (you always add another language by tapping on the top right corner or going into your settings). English speakers can learn French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Spanish. There are also options for non-English speakers to learn English. The Home screen is a flow chart of skill levels and themed exercise sets. Here you can see your progress as you unlock levels, beginning with the Basics then moving on to Conjunctions, Determiners and more.

The Home screen is a flowchart you can use to chart your progress through each level, left. Each level includes several Lesson notebooks you must work through to move on, or Test Out, right.

The Home screen is a flowchart you can use to chart your progress through each level, left. Each level includes several Lesson notebooks you must work through to move on, or Test Out, right.

If you already have experience with a language, you don’t have to start out at the Basic level. Scroll down the screen to the golden keyhole icons and complete the test and move pass the skill. If you’re in a lesson and it’s too easy, tap the Test Out button in the top right corner. Passing the test allows you to move on to the next skill set.

It’s All Fun and Games

The game-like interface Duolingo makes learning a new language fun. For every skill set there are a number of Lessons worth points (indicated in a gold circle on the top right corner of the notebook). Begin a lesson by tapping on the blue notebook and work through a series of exercises. Duolingo gives you a new word accompanied by the translation, photos and a play button for audio pronunciation. Tap the green Continue button to move on to the next screen, where you’re asked to perform a translation task.

I’m learning French. New words are shown with pictures, text and audio translations, left. The simplest tasks provide a picture and ask you to translate a single word, right.

I’m learning French. New words are shown with pictures, text and audio translations, left. The simplest tasks provide a picture and ask you to translate a single word, right.

Let’s say you’re learning French. Duolingo keeps learning fun and interesting by constantly changing up the format of tasks from screen to screen. Tasks vary in difficulty, from a photograph and English translation, like “the bread” and a prompt to type in the French word, to an audio sample with instructions to “Listen and type in French.” You may be asked to type in a sentence translation based on total recall or fill in the blank by dragging and dropping text from a collection of words. Duolingo helps you commit new words to memory by asking you the same question over and over again in different ways.

Duolingo tests users in many different ways, from fill in the blank to total recall.

Duolingo tests users in many different ways, from fill in the blank to total recall.

Some people say that Duolingo isn’t a good tool for beginners because it doesn’t lay out rules and concepts for you, but the app gets around this by giving you exercises that focus on different parts of a sentence, masculine and feminine descriptors and sentence structure. These are the hurdles that get in the way of learning a new language, and learning by doing seems easier than staring at a textbook.

The Rules of the Game

In any game there are winners and losers. Duolingo has done a great job of making the game challenging at every level without being too difficult. As you work through a lesson, notice the bar across the top of the screen fills in with green as you progress, giving you an idea of how many more questions you need to complete before moving on to the next skill. You start out with four red hearts, and every wrong answer takes one away. Lose all your hearts before getting through the session and you’ve got to start that lesson over.

Duolingo is a game with winners and losers. Note the heart in the top right corner — every wrong answer takes away your life and when all the hearts are gone you’ve got to start over.

Duolingo is a game with winners and losers. Note the heart in the top right corner — every wrong answer takes away your life and when all the hearts are gone you’ve got to start over.

Points are awarded after completed lessons and you get bonus points for the hearts you didn’t lose. It’s a game, there are points, winners and losers — so there must be other players, right? Duolingo brings the element of competition into play by allowing you to invite friends via email and Facebook or search for friends who are on Duolingo. This function can be found under Settings.

Learn From Your Failures

How does Duolingo manage to strike a balance between challenging users without defeating them? For starters, every test includes a lesson. For words you may not have learned yet are highlighted in yellow, tap on the word for its definition. When asked to translate audio the app provides a companion button shaped like a turtle to slow the speech down and help you out.

The app provides hints when words are highlighted in yellow, left. Even failure is a chance to learn, as Duolingo can identify mistakes within a sentence, give the correct answer and remind you of a rule.

The app provides hints when words are highlighted in yellow, left. Even failure is a chance to learn, as Duolingo can identify mistakes within a sentence, give the correct answer and remind you of a rule.

The app is smarter than you would expect. For example, when you’re asked to Listen and Type in French, type in as much of the answer as you can. If you get the question wrong, Duolingo will let you know which word was missing in the middle of your sentence, or help you out with improper use of gender or other modifiers. The full correct translation is also displayed to help you learn.

Conclusion

The creators of Duolingo worked long and hard to make a language-learning tool that’s intuitive, challenging and fun to use. Every time I expected a glitch in the user experience, none occurred. Duolingo is a smart, crowd-sourced app that can accept multiple variations on correct answers, pick out areas where users are struggling and address their mistakes with corrections. The use of photos, audio and a variety of question types address all types of learning styles for a well-rounded educational experience.

This language project began Carnegie Melon University with a higher purpose than teaching users a new language, though. In exchange for playing the game and helping Duolingo in its mission to translate the web, the creators promise users the app will always be free and contain no hidden fees or advertisements. In their own words, Duolingo is truly “changing the way people learn languages.”


Summary

Learn a new language while helping to translate the Web with Duolingo, a teaching tool designed like a game.

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