Duolingo is a free app that helps you learn foreign languages. It is available for both iPhone and Android devices. Duolingo gives you the option of setting a goal for how many minutes a day you’re going to use the app. Lessons proceed in progressive order and each lesson includes a variety of different exercises to help you learn the language. There is no explicit conjugating of verbs and the like, but rather has you dive right into learning words and phrases.
I installed Duolingo on my iPhone and have started using it to learn Portuguese. I’m interested in learning Portuguese because one of my sons is on a mission to Brazil for the next two years and is going to come home speaking fluent Portuguese.
Duolingo in Education
I could not find any examples of the Duolingo app being used in a formal educational environment. However, there are examples of students using other online approaches to foreign language learning. For example, in a study by Procter-Legg, Cacchione, and Petersen (2012) students used an Android app called LingoBee to supplement the foreign language learning they did in the classroom. Using the app in this way required that the students use their own motivation and independence to use the app. In another example, eighth-grade students used an app called Fast Hands to supplement their study of vocabulary in a foreign language class. A control group was given word lists to study. Based on a pre-test that showed both groups of students to have roughly equal skills, and a post-test to measure their learning, the study concluded that the students who used the Fast Hands app showed greater improvement (Trihandayani & Sofwan, 2016). Just as the students in these studies used a mobile app, Duolingo could be used informally to supplement students’ foreign language study.
Duolingo in the Corporate World
An app such as Duolingo might be even more applicable in the corporate world that in a classroom. The acquisition of a second language can advance the career of many working adults. For example, Gu, Churchill, and Lu (2014) studied the use of mobile apps for informal learning in the workplace and found that a desire to use a mobile app to learn a language was common. As a working adult myself, I’m interested in some informal foreign language study. A variety of apps and online tools are available for foreign language learning, and Duolingo is a popular choice. In 2013, Apple named it the app of the year (Stevenson, 26 January 2014). PCMag recently gave Duolingo an Excellent rating with 4 ½ stars (Duffy, 31 August 2016). I’ve been using Duolingo for three days now and I’m excited to keep using it.
Duolingo uses goals to motivate you to keep using the app. My current goal is just 10 minutes/day, which is easy to achieve. Karch (2016) agrees that the goals in Duolingo provide good motivation. However, Duolingo doesn’t give you the ability to converse with real people. Karch (2016) suggest that you use Duolingo to supplement your language learning with something that involves talking to people in your target language. Just as with education, language learning apps such as Duolingo are a good informal and partial solution to learning a foreign language in the corporate world. You need to talk to people face-to-face as well.
Here’s how to get started with Duolingo (at least how I did it on my iPhone):
- Search for and install Duolingo from the app store. (If you have a smart phone, you should know how to do this.)
- If you’re new to Duolingo (that is you don’t already have an account), tap the Get Started button.
- Tap on the language that you want to learn.
- Select a goal to indicate how long you intend to practice each day and click the Set goal button.
- If you haven’t studied the language before, tap the Are you a beginner? area. If you have studied the language before, click the Not a beginner? area to take a placement test. I clicked the Are you a beginner? area.
- You are taken to the first lesson. Tap the START button (you have another opportunity to test out here).
- You are presented with a series of activities of different types. Here are some examples of activites:
- Select the answer and tap the Check button. You are told whether you were right or wrong and given the correct answer if you’re wrong.
- Tap the English word and its equivalent in the language you’re learning in sequence. When you have identified all of the pairs, click the Check button.
There are other types of activities as well.
When you reach the end of a section and it’s time to save your progress, you are prompted to create a profile if you haven’t done so already.
- Enter your name, email, and a password of your choosing and click the CREATE button.
- After each lesson you complete, you are shown your progress. Click Continue to move on to the next lesson.
When you start Duolingo again after leaving it, you are taken directly to the course you started and can tap the appropriate area to start where you left off. So far I have met my goal of using the app 10 minutes/day for three days in a row. I’ve learned several words.
Learn More about Duolingo
The best way to learn about Duolingo is to download it and use it. It’s free. Why not? The user interface is straight forward enough that you don’t really need documentation.
An article I found interesting is an article in Slate by Seth Stevenson that reviews Duolingo, but also explains how Duolingo manages to make money and remain free to users. You can find this article online at http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/duolingo_the_free_language_learning_app_that_s_addictive_and_fun.html.
The review in PCMag goes into some detail about the crowd sourcing features of Duolingo, which I as a new user have not encountered yet. You can find this article at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/
Duffy, J. (31 August 2016). Duolingo. Retrieved from http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2402570,00.asp
Gu, J., Churchill, D., & Lu, J. (2014). Mobile web 2.0 in the workplace: A case study of employees’ informal learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(6), 1049-1059.
Karch, A. (2016). Duolingo Review: The quick, easy and free way to learn a language. Retrieved from http://www.fluentin3months.com/duolingo/
Procter-Legg, E., Cacchione, A., & Petersen, S. A. (2012). LingoBee and social media: Mobile language learners as social networkers. International Association for Development of the Information Society.
Stevenson, S. (26 January 2014). How do you say addictive in Spanish? Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/duolingo_the_free_language_learning_app_that_s_addictive_and_fun.html
Trihandayani, R. & Sofwan, A. (2016). The effectiveness of using computer game “Fast Hands” to improve students’ vocabulary mastery for junior high school (A quasi experimental research at the eighth grade students of SMP Negeri 1 Muntilan in the academic year of 2014/2015). ELT Forum: Journal of English Language Teaching, 5(2). Retrieved from http://journal.unnes.ac.id/sju/index.php/elt/article/view/11231