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Duolingo


Over the last month or so, I've become steadily more addicted to Duolingo, a language-learning app for smartphones. It's a nice little routine: on the bus or the train on the way to work in the morning,or lazing in bed at the weekends, I just fire it up and do a couple of minutes of language practice. There is a progression of 60-70 modules of 2-8 exercises each - I'm a third of the way through courses of the two languages I have chosen, 50 days in, doing two or sometimes three exercises a day.

The exercises come in a small number of tightly constrained variations. Which of these pictures matches the word? Translate this sentence into English from the English words provided. Translate this sentence into English with no cues. Which of these sentences in the target language is the correct translation of this English sentence? Match pairs of English/target language words from this set. Translate this sentence from English into the target language. And when you go back and revise modules you have already finished, there is the tricky one of transcribing a phrase or sentence from the target language and getting the spelling right.

And on the one hand, I know perfectly well that it's no substitute for conversing with real speakers of the real language. On the other hand, it comes in nice doable bursts, and frequent repetition is very important too.

As an experiment, I've been doing Duolingo with Dutch, which is probably the language I am most comfortable in other than English (I am fairly fluent in German and French as well); and Irish, which I've tried in the past and found very difficult to retain. For Dutch, I've found it very helpful in freshening me up on the gender of nouns, what happens to adjectives, and some of the odder prepositional phrases. For Irish, I'm not so sure; no structure is provided, just the translation exercises, so I'm still a bit wobbly on the circumstances of eclipsis and lenition - though at the same time it's interesting to be presented with a set of examples and try to work back; why does cuisneoir become chuisneoir here, for instance?



Anyway, all this to say that if you have regular gaps in your day of the 5-10 minute range, this is not a bad way of filling them. Other languages available include Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Turkish, Danish, Norwegian (Bokmål), Polish, Hebrew, Welsh, and a few more that are in development. I have tourist level Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian, and I can see myself brushing them up and trying to crack some of the others, once I have finished the current two courses.

Comments

( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Dec. 4th, 2016 05:51 pm (UTC)
Nicholas,

I'm a big fan of Duolingo. Use it to keep up my French while in a non French speaking environment.

Francesca
Ps I don't mean to be "anonymous" - not sure how to change it on my iPad in airport lounge.
nwhyte
Dec. 5th, 2016 01:23 pm (UTC)
Lovely to hear from you, Francesca!

There is a well-concealed option to post comments here with your Google, Facebook or Twitter identities. But I will usually unscreen "anonymous" comments.
strange_complex
Dec. 4th, 2016 05:55 pm (UTC)
I've become interested in this myself from hearing multiple friends and students talking about it, and can see how it would be useful to keep up the languages I have while not otherwise using them much. But their website doesn't say anything upfront about what their pay-model is, and I'm reluctant to start signing up for a particular language and setting up an account until I know how that side of things work. Do they charge for the app itself, or is it a case of in-app adverts or purchases?
minnesattva
Dec. 4th, 2016 05:57 pm (UTC)
The app is free and I haven't been paying for anything.
(no subject) - strange_complex - Dec. 4th, 2016 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Dec. 4th, 2016 09:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Dec. 4th, 2016 10:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bohemiancoast - Dec. 5th, 2016 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
minnesattva
Dec. 4th, 2016 05:56 pm (UTC)
Ha, I am sitting next to miss_s_b on her sofa and we're talking about our Duolingo practice -- we're both doing Welsh, I'm just a few days ahead of her. :) I'm really enjoying it, and it's especially fun to be learning at about the same time as someone else.
nuttyxander
Dec. 4th, 2016 06:00 pm (UTC)
I am also using it for Dutch, though more as someone who visits the Netherlands more than anywhere else in Europe. For Christmas I've decided I might as well up my game from trying to do 5-10 minutes to finishing the main course. At the start of the month I had 38 topics left to go, and since then I've been managing two a day - one morning, one evening. That means anything from 3-8 lessons of around 2-3 minutes each at a sitting.

Most intriguing is that I find for the longer sessions it is much better to be doing it using a computer and a browser as that way I make sure I learn the spellings and Duolingo itself appears to let you progress through each stage in less time as a reward for the higher level of effort (not entirely sure, but it certainly feels that way after a few days).
nuttyxander
Dec. 4th, 2016 06:12 pm (UTC)
The other upside of using the web version is you also get to link off to the discussion about the translations and peculiarities of the language as you go.
altamira16
Dec. 4th, 2016 07:00 pm (UTC)
I use the app on my computer but have resisted installing it on my phone. You are convincing me to try it out on the phone.
saare_snowqueen
Dec. 4th, 2016 07:39 pm (UTC)
I have been doing 2 intensive e-courses (Advanced French and Beginning Spanish) committing about an hour a day alternately to each at
https://learn.lingvist.io

This is working very well for me as I am home much more during the winter.

BUT, just for fun, I have embarked on a 10 - 15 min a day commitment on Duolingo in German which I have studied off and on over the years but never to a genuinely usable level.

So, 3 languages at the same time, 1 advanced, 1 intermediate and 1 beginner level. ARGH! Wot ever am I thinking.
redfiona99
Dec. 4th, 2016 08:05 pm (UTC)
My Mum did try it for Russian but ran into the lack of grammar lessons problem very quickly, so I'm not sure the model works for languages like Russian (or German).
saare_snowqueen
Dec. 5th, 2016 11:33 am (UTC)
I've just started the German and there seem to be language tips and explanations right where you need them.
(no subject) - bohemiancoast - Dec. 5th, 2016 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - saare_snowqueen - Dec. 6th, 2016 06:55 am (UTC) - Expand
alfrecht
Dec. 4th, 2016 08:39 pm (UTC)
Initial mutations are the hardest thing to get with Irish (and all Insular Celtic languages, for that matter!)...it would be useful for someone to sit down and look at all the ways that lenition/aspiration and nasalization/eclipsis take place and make a list of them, and also to standardize how they talk about these phenomena between Old Irish and Modern Irish. Ugh!
thnidu
Dec. 4th, 2016 09:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, they're quite a mess. My guess is that this word's initial is lenited because it's preceded by a vowel, but I really don't know much -- make that "know very little" -- about the phonological complexities of the Celtic tongues.
(no subject) - brightglance - Dec. 5th, 2016 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alfrecht - Dec. 5th, 2016 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Gregory Hullender
Dec. 4th, 2016 10:22 pm (UTC)
I've done Duolingo for Spanish, Italian, French, and German, and I find it works quite well provided you supplement it with other materials. Doing this, I was able to go from zero French to reading a Jules Verne novel in French in just ten months, so I swear by Duolingo.

I wrote a blog post two years ago where I summarized what I thought the best supplements were. I think it's still a usable guide.

http://gregreflects.blogspot.com/2014/09/duolingo-language-learning-as-game.html#supplements
inulro
Dec. 5th, 2016 08:49 am (UTC)
I've been resisting Duolingo because I'm a grammar nerd & I go nuts if I don't understand how something works.

However, I also have no time so my Swedish textbooks have been used very little - I should really move over to Duolingo.

redfiona99
Dec. 6th, 2016 11:01 pm (UTC)
Twitter friend is learning Swedish via Duolingo and she says it's coming along swimmingly.
Ian Sanderson
Dec. 5th, 2016 09:45 am (UTC)
Duolingo
Why no Czech?
More people speak Czech than Norwegian, Irish or Welsh.
bopeepsheep
Dec. 5th, 2016 04:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Duolingo
More contributors available for those languages. It's a collaborative process.
Re: Duolingo - bohemiancoast - Dec. 5th, 2016 11:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
raycun
Dec. 5th, 2016 10:18 am (UTC)
I've been learning Italian. I find it works well for vocabulary, but there are some areas where the game structure is not useful. For example, I would rather see the days of the week, months of the year, and numbers presented in order and then tested at random, but the instruction and testing are the same in Duolingo, so they are all randomised. And it would be much better to be told "here are the rules for converting to future tense" instead of having to deduce the rules from examples.
fub
Dec. 5th, 2016 11:23 am (UTC)
It is true: I have never seen anybody with a duck being sad. But you might want to check up on the woman in the fridge -- that can't be comfortable.
bopeepsheep
Dec. 5th, 2016 04:47 pm (UTC)
I enthuse enough about DL on Facebook that commenting here seems pointless, but I will note that I read several pieces on Renzi/Italy this morning and understood them (the odd verb or noun required a bit of guesswork/checking with a dictionary but I got the gist, and my guesses were right). 38+ years of "picking up odd bits" of Italian have given me a decent accent and an eccentric vocabulary, but almost no grammar so this is definitely the most fluent I've ever been.

German is not quite back to A level standard *g* so I won't be re-reading Herman Hesse any time soon, but I do think it's back to being functionally fluent. French is close to being as fluent as I was when I stopped studying it at school, and I'm quietly very pleased indeed with my progress in Welsh, which is purely for fun and was completely ab initio. Portuguese, Spanish, and Polish are lagging a bit but again, I'm quietly pleased with the progress. I started Polish 13 weeks ago and if I were doing fewer other languages I'd probably have got further, but I can now at least understand odd bits of things said around me. :)
bopeepsheep
Dec. 5th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC)
Also: what it has re-awakened in me is a fascination with the similarities between European languages. Finding a verb or noun that mutates only slightly between language A and language B is a big thrill, especially when it's not a really obvious link. Cena (Italian/Spanish) and Cinio (Welsh), say.
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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