Speekee reviews DuoLingo Spanish

It was voted iPhone’s App of the Year last year. It claims 12.5 million active users.

Welcome to DuoLingo!

Welcome to DuoLingo! Let's start

Welcome to DuoLingo! Let’s start

Duolingo is a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform which was born in 2011. Its founder Luis von Ahn says it aims “to become the de facto way to learn a language.”

That’s quite an aim! But the 34 year-old obviously thinks he’s onto something.

Is DuoLingo any good?!

Speekee’s Jim Porter tests out 5 aspects of DuoLingo Spanish for adults.

  • CONCEPT

The idea is to learn Spanish from scratch and progress logically through the levels as you experience tangible improvements in your use and understanding of the new language.

The mantra seems to be Little and Often, as you are encouraged to learn some new language each day via a ‘daily reminder’ email.

Our Verdict:
I am a Spanish teacher and as such there is no improvement in my Spanish to report, but my teaching experience tells me this formula of logical and incremental progression works pretty effectively.

Our score: 4/5

  • Interface

duolingo interface

DuoLingo uses an attractive and uncomplicated interface with a design not unlike that of Skype.

Our Verdict:
Keeping the look simple makes for a simple ‘feel’ to the language learning. Clever.

Our score: 5/5

  •  LANGUAGE

duo2

The most important part, don’t you agree?

The four skills in language learning are Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. DuoLingo tackles all four.

Our Verdict:
Only the practice of the speaking skill proved to be problematic. This was not down to the quality of the microphone but rather the ability of the software to pick up exactly what I was saying (I tried various talking speeds).

On the plus side, it did pick me up on sentences I deliberately got wrong. DuoLingo is impressive when it comes to Responsiveness.

How correct is the Spanish?
On the whole, it was pretty accurate although no Spanish speaker would say: “Usted es un niño,” using that formal Usted form. But while there are glitches of this kind, I didn’t find any spelling mistakes.

How useful is the Spanish?
This is an often underrated aspect and one which the budding language learner rarely questions. If the rule of thumb is: How likely would I be to say that? then I was not particularly impressed with the usefulness of the Spanish presented. As my bilingual daughter pointed out: “Daddy, who says ‘He drinks milk’?” Good point, Maggie!

I do like the variation in the way the language is presented. For example, sometimes you get a series of words to unscramble and form a correct sentence; sometimes you get those words with audio included. That’s a nice surprise element which is a definite aid to learning.

There are slower and faster versions of the audio. Cool idea.

Our score: 3/5

  • GAMEPLAY

Speekee reviews Duolingo Spanish

Let’s face it, learning a language with DuoLingo is the same as playing a game. They have designed it that way on purpose, giving it the potential to become addictive for the user.

You get your quota of ‘lives’ and if you run out you go back to the start of the level. You win things. You purchase things in a store. It’s a tried and tested formula which appeals to children and adults alike.

Gamification of learning is a growing trend and I’m not surprised to see it being incorporated into other language products.

Our Verdict:
Its simple images-and-text format means that DuoLingo can be rewritten for any language, giving it broad based appeal.

But nothing moves! Despite its reward system, the language learning in this program is actually quite static and ‘dry’. There is no video (or at least, I didn’t see any).

The game progression system is great but the game itself is rather dull and repetitive, though it can be enlivened by ‘competition’ with fellow users.

Our score: 3/5

  • EFFECTIVENESS

How far would you like to go with your language learning?

Our Verdict:
We didn’t get anywhere near completing the lessons – they are impressive in number – and nor did we communicate with fellow users. So we can’t claim to have maximised use of DuoLingo’s content.

But such is the playability of the product, we quickly got a feel for what it was teaching and how it was teaching it.

Here’s what Luis von Ahn says about his product in a recent interview with the UK Guardian newspaper: “It depends what you mean by learn a language. You can learn to the point where you can navigate and have relatively simple conversations but you probably won’t be writing any great works of literature.”

No mention of fluency there, and any experienced language teacher will tell you there is a huge ‘intermediate’ range between the two levels von Ahn cites.

DuoLingo is good at what it does, but how useful is the language it teaches in the practical world? Are you going to be happy with ‘relatively simple conversations’ in your new language? Maybe.

Our score: 3/5

OUR OVERALL VERDICT

Overall we give DuoLingo a score of 3/5.

For a free language learning product it is impressive. But the virtual learner can expect more from the technology now available.

Text and images are not enough when you can have video too. Video is so cool for language learning!

Are you learning Spanish with DuoLingo? What do you think of it?

See you next time,

Jim

Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee, where kids learn to speak Spanish together

Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…

 

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