Duolingo is a free website/application for language learning. The idea of the creator of the site to make the website free was very creative. While the users are learning, they help doing translations and Duolingo customers pay for the service.
I joined the website in July 2012, when it was not yet as developed as today, and I ended up forgetting the method after a couple of weeks. I only used it again in mid-2013 when I downloaded the app on my phone. Since then, I began studying with some regularity with it until I completed the French “tree”.
How it works?
Duolingo lessons are divided by topics/skills, ranging from animals to the past subjunctive. Each topic has between one to nine lessons to complete. When you complete a topic its gets golden, but a while later it becomes colorful again, this means that one must go back to that lesson and reinforce it.
How are the lessons?
Reading and writing exercises: There are several options, you may have to translate from one language to another; there is also the possibility of listening the phrase in the target language and write it down; rarely appears a picture and you have to write or choose the right word; there are also exercises where three sentences appear and you have to choose the correct one.
Speaking and listening exercises: listening skill is trained with the listening exercise where you hear the phrase in the target language and write it. In the case of speaking, there is the option (not mandatory exercises) to hear a phrase and repeat and the computer analyses it.
Translations: Translations are available only on the website. You enter the Immersion area and choose one from several themes available. You can also evaluate the translation of other students.
For Portuguese speakers:
For English speakers:
For Spanish speakers:
For Russian speakers:
For Germans speakers:
For other languages , currently the only course available is English.
The lingot is a relatively new feature of Duolingo, it is the virtual currency of the site and the application, but cannot be bought with money. The only way to win lingots is completing certain tasks on the website.
Change level = 1 lingot multiplied by the level reached
Complete a topic (skill) = 2 lingots
Finishing a lesson without losing hearts = 1 lingot
Use the course for 10 days in a row = 1 ingot for 10 days, 2 lingots for 20 days…
Invite a friend = both gain 1 lingot
Upload a document = 1 lingot every time someone vote for him.
What can you do with lingots?
Buy an extra heart
Buy clothes to Duolingo
Freeze the game for a day, no skill will get back colored
Doubling the number of lingots gains, playing for seven consecutive days.
Buying a topic (extra skills)
Duolingo is very good for gaining vocabulary. I finished my French course with a relatively large vocabulary for a simple course like this: 1848 words. Of course, some words appear a few times, but I know at least 90 % of that vocabulary.
The method also helps a lot in basic grammar points, without much explanation. Gradually you can see grammatical patterns in the language and patterns of errors too. I, at least, usually always miss the same points.
There are no dialogues. The lack of dialogue makes it difficult to apply the language in real life situations, you might understand someone’s question and might even know the answer, but it will take longer to answer, simply because the lack of real examples of the language’s dynamics.
The voice is not human and is always the same. Only using Duolingo to train listening would be a disaster, you would not get used to accents, speeds and different intonations of speech.
The speech recognition to check pronunciation is in my opinion the worst aspect of Duolingo. Several times the application refused my pronunciation, even when I thought it was good. Other times, he accepted pronunciation when I knew it was horrible and sometimes I passed without having said anything.
There are other two aspects that I dislike: the app only works when connected to the internet. In the past two months, he began to work offline, but only to new topics that were started and not finished. Another thing that irritated me quite a lot was redoing many lessons; I know it’s necessary to repeat the old lessons do not forget them. But there were several times when I was doing more old than new lessons, something quite tiring.
An independent study was made; according to the study approximately 34 hours of study using Duolingo correspond to one semester at the University (11 weeks). The study is available here. They did the study evaluating the tests of students who made the proficiency test before and after using Duolingo. That is, the study suggests that Duolingo would be more efficient than University. However, some points must be observed:
The test that the students did was just in reading/writing abilities, which are the strengths of Duolingo, I believe that if a test included skills in listening and speaking, students would not have done so well.
According to the study, the lower the Spanish level of a student, the greater the improvement. So, the more advanced the level of the student, the lower his progress. Therefore, we can make the assumption that Duolingo is not such a good course for those with a more advanced level in the language.
Except for the research above, I’ve never read something from Duolingo itself claiming that the method could get a student to level A1, B2 or something. But, using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages,from the European Council, I would say that Duolingo would take a student to the level A1. Perhaps A2, in reading and writing skills.
However, the part of speaking/listening skills, a student may not be approved even in the A1 exam. Because the simple fact that he would be unable to answer simple questions and would have a very poor pronunciation. For example, in the French course the “Liason” is not explained, without being aware of something like this, the student hardly would be approved. In the exam, the student may be with someone who talks fast and has a different pronunciation; these factors influence the test’s results. Another important point is the lack of pace. Learning just individual sentences, the student has no concept of intonation and prosody of the language.
In short, Duolingo is a fun and effective supplement to learn a language. But, it is still far from being a course of the same level of some already established courses in the market as Michael Thomas and Assimil. Because it is free and available in the form of application I advise using it as a secondary resource, for those times when you’re tired of studying or you don’t have the study material with you, but have the phone with you and you’re not doing anything. I also recommend using it every day and adding friends to make it more fun and challenging experience. The app is worthwhile, but not as the only resource.