Contxto – I’ve got to be honest with you. I’m pretty sure most of you know Duolingo. I understand how it works, the memes are great and make me chuckle, I’ve seen funny stories, even my dad uses it. But, I’ve never used it myself. Until now.
Duolingo is a world famous app that saves you time and money when learning a language. It was created by Guatemalan Luis von Ahn back in 2012. Duolingo is downloadable for both iOS and Android mobile devices, free and easy to recognize. Recommended for curious beginners or advanced polyglots.
The little green owl has made it into my phone where I am looking to practice my rusty Japanese. I might even learn Portuguese. I tried it out for a week, to see how it would go. So, without any further due here’s my very own Duolingo review:
When I first opened the app, Duolingo had a very user-friendly interface with good UX (user experience). The app has a bunch of big colorful buttons that make you want to press them all. But it is also very intuitive. Duolingo knows exactly where to draw your attention and make the first impression a more wholesome experience.
I have no doubt that a week might not be quite enough time to learn a whole language, because it just has so many courses that would actually take months to complete.
The first downside I did encounter was that the App Store says Duolingo is available in Spanish, but when I downloaded it, the default instructional language was English.
I couldn’t change it, which was sad since I wanted to encourage my mom to start using the app. She’s not a very fluent English-speaker. It seems redundant to feel the need to learn English on Duolingo just to understand what Duolingo is saying to you.
After some research, and only by goofing around through all the available languages, I found there is an option to change the default language.
But as you can see, a lot of them have very limited course options. This was a feature not as easy to find. Especially, since the FAQ section said it was an adjustment that could only be done through the website.
What’s in there?
First, you choose which language you wish to study.
Then, Duolingo asks what goal are you trying to achieve with that language (job purposes, hobby, travel) and proceeds to ask if you wish to start from scratch or do a small test to prove your knowledge. That’s what I did for Japanese.
Problem was, when my lessons were ready for me to start, I realized I had to begin with pretty basic stuff I already knew. Maybe I didn’t do so great on that sample test?
Here are the four main sections of the Duolingo app
First, the current lessons and progress section. Above shows 4 icons:
- The flag of the current language you’re studying.
- A crown icon which stands for your skill level. The more lessons you finish, the more crowns you acquire.
- A flame icon that stands for your everyday streak record. Got to keep it alive, so schedule a reminder every day so you don’t forget or lose track.
Duolingo has small automatic reminders that say your “hearts” (which I mention below) are refilled again (and for some reason I even got them at 1am), but not exactly a study reminder. I had to schedule that one.
- Lastly, a heart icon that is basically your life during lessons. You lose hearts every time you make a mistake. I didn’t know what happened when you ran out of them, but since this is a review I did it so you don’t have to: You have to start the lesson over and your progress is lost.
Sometimes, Duolingo gives back a heart if you re-do a long lesson, but the main way is by buying them with the gem currency (I’ll explain later on). Duolingo is very strict and leaves no room for mistakes with accent marks, which can be a bit discouraging when learning a new language.
You just have to know that the whole learning experience can be scary and be aware that it is a skill you haven’t perfectioned yet. Don’t take Duolingo too seriously. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.
Next section, your profile page. It shows you the badges you’ve earned for each achievement. There’s even a badge congratulating you for uploading a profile picture!
I have a feeling somebody’s watching me
I must admit; it was at this point that I realized I wasn’t alone on this platform. What do I mean? I mean, I thought my profile and progress would only be visible to me.
Little did I know, Duolingo is also a community where you can see stats from others and add strangers as your friends (or if you really want to, your real-life friends) and where you stand compared to them.
Show me the money!
Like I mentioned before, besides the badges, you also get rewarded with a bunch of crystal gems, which is kind of the currency in there. You can also use this currency to skip lessons. A very helpful thing if you feel ready enough to level up.
I actually did skip some lessons on both Japanese and Portuguese courses, and it was very helpful, since I didn’t have to go over the same things multiple times.
Every time you skip lessons, there’s a warning saying leveling up will basically be a test, but the tests get harder every time.
The third section is a ranking divided by Leagues. I started out at the Bronze League.
This is where you can see random people’s stats and if they’re checking in daily or not. A bit creepy, but reminds me of the good ol’ times with QuizUp.
I even made it to #1 in the Silver League (by doing non-stop Japanese lessons)! Of course, this lasted only a few minutes, so I had to take a screenshot to prove it.
This is apparently a very active and competitive ranking worldwide.
And last but not least, there’s the shop. Where you can always upgrade to the Premium plan (as the ads won’t stop reminding you).
Here is where you can buy costumes for your owl avatar. (I still don’t know what’s going on with that.) And use your gem currency to refill your hearts or get some free gems by watching an ad every 20 minutes.
The more advanced your lessons are, the fewer gems you receive. So better watch those ads.
“Wait, weren’t you also learning Portuguese?”
As for the Portuguese lessons, since I chose to start from scratch, the app became way friendlier and gave me very different exercises.
For example; they added motivational characters who react whenever I score something right. A smart feature since you need users to feel motivated enough to come back to the app for daily lessons.
I had oral practices to check on my “pronunciation” (something I didn’t get with Japanese lessons, probably because Portuguese is more developed in the app). And they even offered me stories in Portuguese once I reached a certain level.
You never know when you might need to understand what’s going on at a blind date and step in to stop a possible romantic confusion.
Now, about the content
I haven’t talked about the elephant in the room. What type of exercises actually make up a lesson? The type of exercises I’ve been getting are quite different depending on the level I’m at, and apparently the language I’m studying too.
Mainly, you get matching, listening, writing, and vocal exercises. Pretty easy, right?
- Matching exercises: You match characters or words with their pronunciation, or match pictures with the according meaning.
- Listening exercises: You either listen to an audio and translate what you hear, or listen to an audio and write down exactly what the audio says.
- Writing exercises: Sometimes no audio is given to you, and you must translate the picture or sentences shown on screen. Either translate to the language you’re learning or the default one for instructions.
- Vocal exercises: You have to say a sentence that appears on screen, based on how you remember its pronunciation.
Am I really learning?
I have very little experience as a teacher, but I do have a lot as a student. Duolingo’s lessons have reminded me of things I can improve on both fronts. For instance, the constant repetition of words sticks in one’s mind, but it does get a bit tiring and doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. That’s what drove me to skip some lessons.
Not only that, but for the oral exercises, since there’s no human interaction, there’s no way to know if you’re pronouncing things correctly. What you do is only repeat what you see written on the screen. But not necessarily learning proper speaking skills.
Also, I started out by learning how to spell sushi multiple times, and the next thing I know I need to make sentences with more complicated grammar. A bit of a jump in there. I must admit it’s a pretty different learning process compared to offline courses with real people.
The app does give you feedback and tips. But, there are some things that can not be taught just like that. Like simplifying what complex words mean or what they actually stand for in different scenarios.
For example, how to be properly formal with the way you speak. There’s nothing like a native-speaker teaching you what’s the most formal or informal way to say things. Duolingo kind of misses the mark in there for me. Since I recognized informal phrases taught as normal ones.
Duolingo Review: Is it good?
I think it’s a very functional, practical, all-age-friendly app to spend your time doing something that might actually come in handy.
Duolingo’s goal is to make language learning a lot easier and cheaper, and it does the job. However, I’d still recommend having offline classes.
Why? Because there are very specific things only another person can teach you. Especially with languages that are completely out of your immediate surroundings. My human Japanese teacher at the time, taught me details that the app couldn’t. Forever thankful, Inoue-sensei.
So, do I recommend Duolingo?
Sure! But I mostly recommend it to complement offline courses. So remember to watch, read, and write stuff on your own. Just to try to experience the language for yourself. Or maybe the app alone works just fine for you. Who knows? See you at the top League rankings!
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