Duolingo has been around for a while and it is a testament to just how good it is that it is still so successful. It uses gamification to help users persist at learning a language long after the initial excitement disappears. It blends this with a beautiful and intuitive interface to make it easy to see your progress and to continue returning to it day after day.
You start by picking a language and then you start on your skills tree. You need to get 17 of twenty exercises correct to pass a set; pass the one to ten sets in each skill and it turns golden. You can then move to the next row of skills and pick any of them but you need to complete everything on a row to move on.
The exercises are a mixture of types which never become repetitive.
The neat part of Duolingo
The app does a number of useful things to keep you engaged:
- If you get an exercise wrong you can access comments by others on the problem, and you usually find an explanation that satisfies you.
- After a while completed exercises stop being golden, which signifies completed status. This prompts you to do a quick refresher course to revise what you learned before. The visual impact of losing your golden status makes it instantly clear what and how much needs to be revised.
- The best way to learn lingots – the in-game currency – is to rack up consecutive days (streaks) in which you pass at least one exercise. Actually getting into the language learning mindset each day, even if it is only for a few minutes, is hugely helpful. Losing a big streak becomes sickening and the best way to avoid it is to have the habit of tackling Duolingo as early as you can each day. Which is also the best way to do most things.
You can also follow friends and work on different strategies to make progress quickly.
Most people combine Duolingo with a program that offers more explanation on grammar points rather than rely solely on user contributions. And there are some annoyances; it tells you how many words you have learned but doesn’t allow you to access the list. But features are being added to it as it develops and there is nothing that would be a dealbreaker.
It’s not the complete language-learning package but Duolingo is a beautifully-designed and addictive tool which almost anyone could benefit from. And it’s accessible on the the web as well as the app. And it’s free! 5 months or so after first using it, I am still on it every day. Check it out as soon as you can.
Here is a tip – take screengrabs of the exercises (or the comments explaining them) which you fail, and revise those regularly until you learn the relevant points.