Review: Duolingo for Language Learning


Image Source: Wikipedia

Duolingo is an excellent resource for learning a foreign language. It is a free site accessible both online and through apps for your smartphone or tablet. The interface is user-friendly and the pedagogy is effective. Although it does not presently support Latin, that could change in the future.

After you select your language of study, you begin work on your tree. The language tree contains 50 or more courses, each made up of several small sections. Courses cover topics such as “To be”, “Adjectives”, “Household items”, and “Jobs”.

The lessons teach you new words and quiz you on them using images, audio, translation to and from the target language, and pronunciation tests using your device’s microphone. (This latter option can be disabled, which is practical when reviewing lessons in public.) Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 4.44.28 PMTranslations allow for the flexibility of language. For example, “The boy eats rice”, “The boy is eating rice” and “The child is eating rice” would all be accepted as correct translations of “El niño come arroz.”

Duolingo utilizes positive reinforcement, which many find helpful. It tracks your progress and score, and awards you lingots (Duolingo currency) which can be exchanged for digital prizes. You can compete with friends and follow one another’s accomplishments. Particularly motivating is the way it keeps track of your “streak”, or how many consecutive days you have met your daily goal. Some users on the discussion forum have steaks of 180 or 360 days or more. Not wanting to lose one’s streak could be a good motivator for staying on task.

What is lacking in Duolingo? It offers no grammar course, rather it is more like a daily chat with a local. It will not lead to fluency, but after completing a Duolingo tree you will be prepared for more in-depth study, such as extensive reading on topics that interest you, using LingQ or another reading interface.

What about Latin? One of the great qualities of Duolingo is that it is designed to expand. Proficiently bi-lingual users volunteer to develop new courses. New languages are being added regularly, and you can even track of the progress of course development. Hopefully some qualified Latinists will step forward. The Duolingo discussion forum regularly includes threads expressing interest in a Latin course, which is a cause for hope.

Of course, a Liturgical Duolingo Latin course would be even more useful for our purposes. The vocabulary of the Liturgy and the Psalter is more practical for those who wish to learn to pray the breviary in Latin than knowing how to say “The monkey eats the red apple.” / “Simia manducat pomum rutilum.”

Update: Although Duolingo still doesn’t offer a Latin course, someone has created a Memrise course for Latin based on a Duolingo French tree. Find it here.

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