Language Learning Apps Review: Duolingo
By Missi Smith
In the digital age, anything you want is a touch screen away. That includes learning a new language. If you spend a lot of time on the go, a fair amount of your time is spent waiting. You may want something to occupy your time. So, United Language Group took a few language learning applications for a spin. After carefully surveying the options we decided on the highly popular mobile application, Duolingo, as our first review in a three-part series of language learning applications.
First, Duolingo is free. Upon download, setting up the app was a quite easy; enter in some basic personal information, how committed you are to practicing, and then you’re off on a linguistic adventure. For the English speaker, the application has 19 languages from which to choose and more being added.
There’s really not much to it. Using a combination of photo pairing, word matching, and translation, each language lesson starts the user with the basic parts of speech and guides them all the way through the lexicon through some of the more advanced topics.
We started with the Spanish lessons. One of nice things about that module is that it allows the user to test their accent and pronunciation using the microphone feature, and grades the speech. (It’s great practice for anyone who hasn’t trilled their r’s in a while.) After testing out the Spanish module, we decided to tackle the lesser known Irish language.
The intention was to use the app to learn an obscure language. The speech feature was the one thing notably missing from the Irish lessons. What was appreciated was that the unfamiliar words and phrases were highlighted so the user can tap them and to show their spelling, meaning, and or variation whether the word appears in English or in the foreign language.
When spelling out the foreign word during translation practice, if you are generally correct, the app gives you a gentle reminder to watch your accent marks or lets you know you have a typo. If you’re totally wrong, it will respond in kind and provide you with the correct word for future use.
Each lesson is scored and allows you to keep track of your daily progress.
Platforms and Support
Not only can you access Duolingo on a smartphone or tablet, but also via the Internet using your same login credentials and pick up on your lesson(s) wherever you left off. If you’re the kind of person who needs or wants to use the app in concert with other people, it is a bit lonely in that respect. To create a learning community, you have to find your own friends through your own social media channels, contact lists, or specifically know the name of another person already using the application.
Each morning, the app sends a reminder to practice the last accessed language. If the user hasn’t logged on in a while, Duolingo will send a message saying it misses you and as much heartfelt encouragement as an app can give, to practice your language lessons.
We also took a tour of some of the other 17 languages offered and they all work within the app very similarly.
To Download or Delete?
We fully completed the Irish course and while fluency wasn’t gained, we can now read, write and speak more Irish than when we started. However, from an academic perspective, we’re left with a desire to learn more about the structure of the language while on the go. (This is something you receive in the online version, but not within the mobile application.) Furthermore, the online site is a bit more robust: there are discussion boards and more interactive spaces than you’ll receive in the mobile application.
From a user standpoint, on a scale of one to 10, hands down, ULG gives the app a solid 10 for price, ease of use, and support. Children as well as adult learners will benefit from this and with improvements being made, what seems to be, daily, to both the app and the website, learning another language has never been more fun!