Duolingo

As part of my journey to becoming a polyglot, I’m testing out the various online language learning methods that are available. Today I focus on one that is free to use and becoming very well known – Duolingo.
Duolingo Logo

Appearance

There is one word for the look and feel of Duolingo – cute!

It is engaging, entertaining, and rather addictive, and with its ‘lingot’ rewards and ‘leveling up’ it feels like a fun game. It’s equally attractive and easy to use on a laptop or smartphone, so you can practise wherever you are. But, how well do you learn a language?

Revision

In the past I’ve studied several languages, but neglected them. I know they are there buried in my long-term memory, but I need to reactivate them. I decided to try Duolingo to see if it could help to recover my lost fluency in German, Spanish and French. Yes, all together at the same time! Why not?

I started with German before I went to visit my German penfriend and found that it definitely helped me remember vocabulary and basic phrases. I started by attempting the Placement Test which Duolingo uses to assign you to a starting level if you have prior knowledge. This Placement Test is invaluable. It gives you an insight into your current ability and allows you to jump over the beginner levels if that is appropriate.

There is also a Test Out check that you can do when you start on a new topic and you think you already know most of it. You get 3 Heart lives to start and you lose a Heart each time you get something wrong. If you make it to the end without losing them all, you are credited with that topic and you can move on.

The Placement Test gave me a few levels start in German, Spanish and French and I’m currently sailing through the topics, really enjoying challenging myself with the Test Out first to see how much I can remember before working through the topic if I have to.

So far, so good!

Learning a New Language

But what if I try a language I’ve never learnt before? One with spelling that doesn’t seem to bear much relation to the pronunciation? One that I’ve hardly ever heard spoken before?

One like … Irish?

No point attempting the Placement Test, so straight into Lesson 1 – Basics.

It was interesting to hear the pronunciation of the words – especially to learn that cailín, the word for girl, sounds like ‘colleen’ that I heard as a word for an Irish girl when I was young – but there are times when a new word is introduced just in the written form with a picture and until you come across it again somewhere in the practice exercises and it happens to have a sound file with it, you only have a vague idea how to pronounce it.

This is a flaw. I don’t know if it is like this at the beginner levels of all the languages, or it just happens that the team building the Irish course haven’t included enough sound files, but I found it a bit annoying.

I also found that being forced to remember the spelling of words right from the beginning was frustrating, but then I have become used to the listen and speak method of the Say Something in Welsh course, so I would rather not focus on the written form so early on.

Having said that though, I will persist. I rather like the way the Irish words feel to pronounce, especially the ‘fullness’ of the ‘r’ sounds, and I can feel an expedition to the Gaeltacht coming on in the future!

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