Let’s get started with a discussion of some of the various language learning tools available for use. Most of the ones I go review will be of the free variety, at least to start. Budget is always a concern for most folks. Free does not always mean bad either. Some of the free resources compete rather well with their paid counterparts. Some free resources are only free for a few levels of tutelage, then charge you a fee to continue with the program. By then, you’ll know if that resource works for you. This is important because not all approaches work for everyone. You have to find what works for you. If you are an older learner, you may find that the gamification approach doesn’t work well for you, while reading does. Of course, that can be true of younger learners, too. My point? We all learn differently, and what I like may not be what you like. Or, it may be dead on.
So, let’s get started on my first tool review of:
A lot of language learning bloggers turn their noses up at Duolingo, the number one most popular language learning app on the market. They see it as childish, simplistic, and without any real lasting effect toward creating fluency in the chosen language. There’s truth to those criticisms, but they ring hollow in light of the fact that Duolingo is one of the best places to start that is available on the market.
And, that is just the point – it’s a place to start. One of the key problems with learning to do anything is getting started. This is especially true of adults who love to say, “I’m too busy.” Duolingo takes those excuses away.
- Duolingo is free.
- Duolingo is available on all major platforms, so you can take it with you anywhere.
- One lesson takes less than five minutes.
- You can configure it so that you succeed.
- Gamification makes it fun and provides you with immediate feedback.
Speaking specifically to #4, you can configure it so that you only have to do one lesson per day in order to get credit toward a streak. Or, you can configure so that you challenge yourself and are required to complete five lessons per day to earn your continued streak. I split the middle and require myself to complete three lessons to keep my streak going.
The interface is quite simple and cartoonish, hence the childish criticism. But, one of the key tools used by competitive memory pros is absurdity. They encourage you to associate what is to be remembered with something that is sort of crazy. So, it’s not really that weird an idea to make you associate a language word with an odd image. The application uses spaced repetition to build up your cognizance of words and phrases. That is…you learn something…you learn something else…you go back to the first thing…you learn something else…you go back to the first two things…et cetera. This is a proven learning technique.
There are forums for discussion of stickier points of grammar and questions, as well as the ability to translate online articles, which can then be critiqued by other students. You can immerse yourself as deeply into this as you want.
They cannot make it any easier to begin to learn a new language. And – they have a ton of languages available. Esperanto, Spanish, Irish, French, German, English, Welsh, Russian, Italian – just to name a few – and they are working on more (which they let you put into your queue for when they go live). Will it make you fluent? No, but it will give you some basics and let you have a leg up when you begin to explore more rigorous resources. And – this is big – you WILL learn something. You will not come away empty handed. You will be able to say something in your chosen language.
It’s a place to start. That’s always the most difficult place to find.
(Available in the various platform stores for download, or you can simply go to www.duolingo.com.)