Duolingo is a new, free web site that helps you to learn a new language. Based on tried and true methods of repetition, visual recognition, and modern speech recognition technology, Duolingo offers a no-cost way to become fluent in a fun and stress-free way.
In today’s world of fast-moving technology and global business communication, the ever present need to learn a new language is rapidly becoming a staple of not only high-level sales and executive types, but is even useful and important for the average person.
Duolingo helps you to learn a new language at your own pace, in your own comfy environment, and all without making your wallet any lighter.
If you ask most people these days what they think the best way to learn a language is, aside from being dropped into a foreign country without a pocket dictionary or a way home, the answer might surprise you.
Many people still think of the old days, sitting in a quiet classroom at a school, college or learning annex, listening to lectures and doing paper work that is both grueling and very slow. Some of them are aware of newer techniques, however, and will tell you that the best way to learn a new language is to get a powerful bit of software like Rosetta Stone.
While Rosetta Stone is a great program (I have used it myself) the major issue I have with it is the cost. To me, and many others, the best way to learn a new language is: for free. Duolingo offers you that opportunity as long as you have internet access.
Currently in a private beta phase (at the time of this post) Duolingo is actually one of the best web-based systems for learning a new language that I have personally tested. The first thing you’ve got to do is get an invitation to join the private beta (although that will end, eventually, so you might be able to skip to the next step if you’re reading this after the beta is over) by signing up on the registration page and waiting for your invitation in email. Once you have gotten it, you will go to a private link that lets you sign up with a username and password of your choice and within seconds, literally, you will be learning a new language. For purposes of this article, I chose Spanish because I already speak a little bit of it, having spent some time in Panama, Texas and New Mexico. That affords me the chance to learn something new, but also to be able to judge the accuracy of the system’s translations for things I already know.
Without a doubt, Duolingo is simple to use. The first few moments after you sign in will take you on a tour with a cute little green owl named, “Duo” who will explain and show you how the who Duolingo system works. At first, it seems daunting because they ask you, right off the bat, to translate a sentence. How are you supposed to do that, if you don’t know any of the language already, though? The answer is simple. Part of the Duolingo system is the ‘mouseover translation’ that you will be able to activate at any time on the site. Simply place your mouse cursor over a word and you will see a drop down box appear that shows not only the basic translation of the word, but will also show other variations and usages if you click the down arrow key. This means that within just moments you can find out the translated words, and then type them into Duo’s expectant box to see if you’re correct. This basic idea and system is the cornerstone and foundation of the Duolingo system and it is, in my opinion, quite brilliant. Whereas older systems and ideas of language learning want you to do very boring repetitive work of translating single words and memorizing them over and over without context, Duolingo throws you into the deep end of the pool with a life preserver, so to speak. You’ll be instantly engaged and active in the translation process, which will help you learn to not only type and speak in another language, but also to eventually think in that language. Anyone who has mastered a foreign language can tell you that the most important aspect is to learn to think in it, so Duolingo has the right idea.
Once you have gone through the basic tour, along with setting up your microphone and speakers if you want to take part in the more advanced parts of Duolingo’s system, you’ll be on your way to learning your new language quickly and fairly easily. At the time of this posting there are three languages to choose from: Spanish, German and English. Choose your language and away you go! As you progress, you will earn skill points that unlock the next level of learning, and you’ll continue this process until you have ‘mastered’ the language.
Duolingo also has options to connect with Facebook so you can share your progress with your friends and get kudos or other encouragement from them. If you have Spanish speaking friends on Facebook, for example, they might wind up being very helpful in the long run of the process, or at the very least they may be excited that you are learning to speak in their native tongue. Of course, connecting to Facebook is totally optional so you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to , but if you’re a chronic Facebook user I would recommend you go ahead and connect Duolingo. There are all kinds of other tools, as well, such as daily email reminders to get back on track, the ability to follow and/or compare your progress with other users, and of course the aforementioned skill points and the related skill tree that will help you track your progress.
The Verdict: Duolingo is shaping up to be one of the best ways to learn a new language at no cost on the Internet. As the beta phase continues, I expect they will refine and hone what is already on offer as well as developing and presenting new tools to help us get the most out of our time learning whatever language we have chosen. No more will we be forced to stand in front of the churro cart awkwardly fumbling through a badly designed and poorly written phrasebook! Just Duolingo and go. Until next time, my friends.
Register to join Duolingo here.