My Dad has a dream. When he retires he wants to spend his winters in Spain. I can’t blame him. Who wouldn’t want to escape the cold, dull winters of Scotland? With sunshine calling, it’s not hard to see why he wants to do this. He has dipped in and out of learning Spanish over the years and was looking to get back into learning the language. Two of my friends are fans of the free app Duolingo so I suggested he gave it a try. Fast forward a few months and my Dad was getting on great with the app and I decided to give it a go for myself. You see, with Duolingo you can add friends and turn it into a bit of a competition, which if you are anything like me makes it that little bit more fun. I had also reached a point in my recovery where I still wasn’t able to do much but I was beginning to feel better in myself. In short, I was bored! When you are very ill you are quite content lying in bed staring at blank walls all day, but when you start to feel better the boredom sets in.
When I first started out using the app I was worried that I would struggle to learn anything. I used to be able to absorb and retain a ridiculous amount of information. When I was at university I could literally memorize 5/6 essays at a time (plus additional info), which I could then recall and adapt as necessary for exam questions. These days my brain is no where near as effective. It upsets me in a way because I feel as though I have lost so much knowledge as well as memories. I hope it is all in there somewhere and that I just have an issue with recalling info. Anyway, I did question whether I would actually be able to learn a new language with such a foggy brain.
The app itself is very easy to use. When you first sign up, you choose which language you would like to learn and set yourself a goal of how much you want to commit to learning each day. You can learn more than one language at a time but I would find that far too confusing. I have already found myself wanting to say German words instead of Spanish as I learned German at school and my brain sometimes defaults to what it already knows. (Dear brain, my memories are much more important than random German words!). Setting goals does work though. I am very self-competitive and I don’t want to break my ‘streak’ so I will do my Spanish every day. Plus you do get a notification to remind you to do it. That’s not to say that I learn a new lesson each day. Most of my time is spent reinforcing what I am learning; having a foggy brain means I need to repeat things numerous times until I can grasp them.
In the app you work your way through numerous topics, starting with the basics before it gradually becomes more challenging. Each topic is split into different lessons. When you complete lessons you earn XP points. This is how you can turn it into a competition with your friends, as I mentioned earlier. If you are a competitive person this can help to fuel your learning. You can repeat each lesson as often as you want to and there is also the option to strengthen your knowledge of the entire topic; essentially a way to test how much you know. Additionally, there is a button called ‘Practice Weak Skills’, which allows you to test your knowledge across all of the topics you have learned so far. This is what I will do on the days I don’t want to learn anything new. It reinforces what I have already learned and keeps up my ‘streak’!
You do need to work through the topics more or less in order and then pass check points (another knowledge test) before you can move on. If you have prior knowledge of the language you can go straight to the check point tests. If you complete these tests, the previous modules will be available to you and will be marked as completed. This means that you do not have to unnecessarily work through what you already know.
As well as the mobile app, you can log onto Duolingo via a PC. However, I personally prefer to do it via my phone. My Dad preferred the PC version because it used to be three strikes and out with the app. You had three lives (or hearts) and you lost a life each time you got something wrong. Get three wrong and you had to start the lesson over. I can see why this would be annoying but fortunately the app has been updated and this has been removed. Now you will repeat exercises during a lesson until you get it right.
The lessons themselves are fun and include different exercises that involve reading, writing and speaking the language. It’s a more interactive way to learn than the traditional format you will find in the likes of Rosetta Stone. I did find I was able to read and write quicker than I was able to speak Spanish with Duolingo but with time I am getting better at speaking the language.
The one thing I am doing alongside using the app is writing down what I am learning in each lesson. As I mentioned above, I need to repeat something numerous times before it really sticks. The only downside to Duolingo is that there is not always a reference to look at if you are stuck on a word. When you are learning new words they will be underlined and you can highlight them to see what they mean. However, this isn’t the case for every word. I like to having something I can easily refer to rather than having to take to Google Translate to remind myself of the meaning.
Overall it’s a fun app and I am enjoying learning Spanish. I have no idea if I will end up anywhere near fluent through using Duolingo but I would most definitely be able to pick up on words and phrases. Learning a new language has been a good way for me to feel productive when I haven’t physically been able to do much.
Have you ever used Duolingo or would you be interested in learning another language?