This past week I had more of a part-time work schedule, so I thought I would get serious about reviewing German before my class starts in July. My friend Caitlin suggested that I try DuoLingo, a free language learning website that she is using to brush up on Spanish.
I was kind of skeptical, because most of my experiences with learning languages via these types of programs haven’t been very effective–either I get bored with the mechanical repetition or frustrated with the lack of interactive help. As my German and Latin professors could tell you, I tend to ask a lot of questions in class.
However, Duolingo is free, so I gave it a shot–and I am now absolutely addicted.
The program is really fun and effective for several reasons. It’s broken up topically into small skill sections, so it never gets overwhelming, and you constantly feel like you are making progress with the language. It’s set up like a game, in which you get points and “level up,” which feeds my self-competitiveness. (You can also compete with friends via Facebook, although that isn’t really my jam.) I particularly love that it keeps track of how many words are in your language vocabulary.
Duolingo uses an immersion method, in which you are introduced to words via pictures, then in the context of sentences. Grammar is implied, but you are initially left to make the connections on your own. I think I would find this really frustrating if I didn’t already have a background in the language. (This suspicion was confirmed by when I tried my hand at Italian!) But because I am using the program to review skills I have already acquired, the immersion technique is really useful.
I have to switch quickly between German and English, translating both ways, and encountering new words in contexts that help me discern their meaning, as well as their gender and plural forms. This is probably a fairly accurate imitation of how I will learn German in a non-academic setting (ie: living in Austria).
I am also not a naturally precise language learner, so the program is forcing me to pay much closer attention to the number, gender, and case of words than I might otherwise do. Even for words that I thought I already knew, the practice cements them into my head, and keeps me engaged in the learning process.
When the little green owl tells me I’ve failed a test (Verflixt! You are out of hearts), or that I have “unlocked” a new level, or “strengthened” fourteen new words, I feel the incentive to keep working. I also like that it lets me test out of skills (although those tests often make me realize that I need more review!)
Overall, I would say this is a great free program for working on a language that you have already studied, at least a little. It imitates the “natural” way that you learn a language, and makes the process fun. I would recommend it to anyone who is afraid their skills in a language are slipping for lack of use.