Duolingo is one of the most popular language-learning apps available, and for good reason. Duolingo's basic, no-frills format breaks languages down into simple bite-sized pieces that users can learn at their own pace. You don't need to commit to long lessons either; the app's short lessons make it the perfect way to learn a language even if you're on a tight schedule.
Skip the classes and start speaking a new language on your own time
Duolingo's basic, step-by-step approach to language learning makes it one of the best tools to quickly pick up a new language for free.
Learning a language begins the second you open Duolingo. After creating an account, you can select a language you want to learn from a list of common spoken options. These include English, French, Spanish, and German among others. For the nerdier learners in the crowd, there's also the option to learn a few pop-culture related languages like Klingon from Star Trek and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones. Though the list of available languages isn't as expansive as rival apps like Memrise, Duolingo is continually expanding its list with updated options. New lessons for existing languages are also periodically added.
After choosing a language, you'll start in on your first lesson. Lessons consist of small, easy-to-digest areas of syntax or vocabulary. For example, a particular lesson might focus on conveying emotions like sadness or happiness, or focus on the names of foods. Exercises consist mostly of vocabulary translation; this might take the form of translating words into your native language and vice versa, or constructing sentences by tapping available options in a word bank. You'll also be offered the chance to speak your new language by using your device's microphone.
It might sound monotonous, but Duolingo makes things interesting by adding components that make the lessons feel like games. The app's bright colors and sleek displays make vocabulary words jump off the screen. Each lesson comes with a progress bar that feels like an RPG experience bar, and encourages you to keep pushing to new levels. You'll also get encouraging messages from Duo, the app's neon green owl mascot, every few screens. New lessons are presented in a tree format, where you'll be able to unlock new paths as you complete lessons.
Signing in for multiple days, completing lessons with no errors, and revisiting old lessons unlock rewards in the form of in-app currency. You can use this currency to shop the app's store, which offers items such as power-ups that will, for example, allow you to miss a day without breaking your streak. You can also shop for other fun items such as alternate costumes for Duo, like a rather dapper looking tuxedo. These elements turn learning a language from a chore into an addictive pastime. It's not as gamified as rival Memrise, which literally takes the form of video game-inspired challenges, but strikes enough of a balance for lessons not to feel tedious.
Duolingo is perfect app for those looking to learn a language on a tight schedule. The lessons themselves are short, rarely taking longer than a minute to complete. If you need to, you can also leave in the middle of a lesson and pick up where you left off. Fitting in Duolingo sessions between other tasks on your to-do list couldn't be easier. Rival apps like Babbel will trap you in a lesson for up to 15 minutes at a time, but you won't need to worry about altering your schedule with Duolingo.
When compared to actual language courses, Duolingo's lessons are admittedly basic. This is what makes the app such a popular choice for beginning learners. Though Duolingo users will probably be able to hold their own in conversation and be able to comprehend a new language, mastering that language is another matter. Duolingo's basic learning level doesn't delve into the practical applications of learning a new language, such as applying that language conversationally.
Chances are, if you're learning a new language to go on vacation, you'll need to put it to use to order food or hail a cab. Though Duolingo offers those building blocks, it falls short in translating those lessons into real-world knowledge. Other rival apps are increasingly stepping in to fill that gap; Babbel, for example, implements virtual chats where users will have to hold their own and show their command of a language in a variety of scenarios. Having this sort of practice under your belt before heading out into the real world is an invaluable feature that Duolingo misses out on.
Where can you run this program?
The Duolingo app is available on most major platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. You can also use Duolingo’s website to learn in your browser window.
Is there a better alternative?
Though Duolingo is a great app, it doesn't go as deep into language learning as a few competitors. Memrise offers a much larger selection of over 100 languages to choose from, and allows users to learn in a fun game-like format that emulates titles such as Space Invaders. It also includes video clips of locals speaking the language, which is useful to learn proper accents and cadences when speaking.
Babbel goes much further into the conversational aspect of learning a new language, in the form of virtual chats where you'll need to reply as accurately as possible. Babbel's lessons are longer, however, taking anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes at a time to complete. Another aspect that sets Babbel apart is a focus on idioms and colloquial expressions. You'll be able to learn the cultural significance of the language as you learn it, which will help you hold your own with a native speaker.
Duolingo takes the expense and hassle out of learning a new language. The short, repetitive lessons quickly instill vocabulary and syntax, and users are able to learn and revisit specific subjects at their own pace. The app also feels like a game, making learning into a fun and addictive way to spend your spare time.
Should you download it?
Yes. Duolingo is a perfect way for beginners to learn a language without the hassle of formal courses.