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Duolingo was the first free language-learning app that could compete with expensive paid programmes. It provides a plethora of self-paced exercises to assist you in developing a foundational understanding of dozens of languages or reviewing one you already know. It's without a doubt the best free language app available, and it's our Editors' Choice. Even when compared to paid programmes, the content is so good that Duolingo ranks among the best language learning software.
While Duolingo provides language instruction in dozens of languages, some are more powerful than others. If you're learning Spanish as an English speaker, for example, you'll find a podcast, interactive short stories, and even get-togethers with other students (which are online-only in light of COVID-19). More niche languages, on the other hand, do not have as much content. Nonetheless, Duolingo is one of the best language learning apps for learning a new language or improving your existing ones. It has excellent exercises and an easy-to-use interface, and it works well on both desktop and mobile devices.
Duolingo offers courses in approximately 34 languages, not including those in which English is used as the primary language of instruction. There are a lot more if you count all the courses that use a different base language, such as Catalan for Spanish speakers.
Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, Greek, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian (in beta), Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Navajo (in beta), Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Romanian, Russian, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and Welsh are among the 34 languages available to English speakers. A Finnish course is in the works. Duolingo also has learning materials for Klingon (in beta) and High Valyrian (we exclude languages from works of fiction in our official count).
Duolingo has programmes for speakers of many languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.
Duolingo began as a free app with the promise of remaining free in perpetuity. The company has kept that promise by going ad-free and introducing a paid membership called Duolingo Plus.
Plus is $12.99 per month, with a discount if you pay in advance for a year ($79.99) or half year ($47.99). The Plus membership removes ads, allows you to download lessons to do offline in the mobile app, and gives you unlimited access to the mobile app. It also provides one free "streak repair" per month, which means that if you miss a day of practise, your Duolingo stats will not be affected.
The monthly fee of $12.99 is reasonable, though it has risen in recent years. Yearly access to comparable programmes typically costs between $100 and $200, with more traditional software (the kind you keep forever) falling into the same price range.
Should You Pay for Duolingo Plus?
If you enjoy Duolingo and want to support the people who make it, or if you primarily use the mobile app (for Android and iOS) rather than the web app, you may want to consider paying for Duolingo Plus. Except for one major difference: hearts, the two are nearly identical.
You begin with five hearts in the Duolingo mobile app. You lose one point for each incorrect exercise. When you run out of hearts, you can no longer perform exercises until you replenish them. To replenish your hearts, you can either wait (five hours per piece) or spend 350 gems; gems can be obtained by simply using the app. You'll never have to worry about hearts if you have a Duolingo Plus membership.
When you use Duolingo on a desktop browser, you also don't have to worry about hearts. They simply do not exist, so you can practise and learn for as long as you want. If you're going to use Duolingo for free, I strongly advise you to use the web app to avoid heartbreak with the hearts system.
However, there are times when using the mobile app makes sense because you're on the go and only have a few minutes to learn.
Getting Started With Duolingo
I've used Duolingo to study or review multiple languages since its inception. Some of them were new to me, while others I had previously learned. I've recently been using it to practise my Spanish, which I'm also working on in an unrelated online course. I did the same thing with Romanian a few years ago when I used it as a supplement to my studies.
If you already have some knowledge of the languages, you may be required to take a placement test when you first start. You may be able to skip some of the more basic lessons, such as learning simple words and verb conjugations, if you take the placement test.
Of course, you can always go back and start from the beginning. You can also study as many languages as you want at the same time, and you can switch between courses at any time.
Structure is often taken for granted by students. We don't notice it when it's present. When it's missing, learning can be excruciatingly painful and pointless. What workouts should I do next? Is it possible for me to learn new words? Should I go over what I learned the day before?
Duolingo is extremely well-organized and structured. The home screen of the app displays a list of modules in chronological order. Every module has a topic, whether it's grammatical (Reflexives, Imperfect tense) or thematic in nature (Arts, Sports). Each module contains a number of lessons. To access the next set of modules, you must complete a certain number of lessons. Each lesson takes me about three or four minutes to complete.
You mostly work in chronological order, though you can go back and re-do any lesson you've already completed. Words and concepts you previously learned reappear as you progress. Words that are added are highlighted. After you've gone through some of the introductory material, you can review what you've learned by taking a practise test. Search for the dumbbell icon.
There are levels in each module. For example, you can complete level one of a preterite module to see it marked completed and unlock some of the following content. However, if that module has multiple levels, you can complete them if you want to keep practising that skill. When you complete all of the levels in a module, the icon for it changes to a gold coin. If you do not return to practise it after a long period of time, the coin will break. You can fix it by going back to the module and completing some levels again.
Keep in mind that some languages have less content than others. Some modules may only have one level.
The Learning Experience
Duolingo can assist you in developing a foundational level of knowledge in a variety of languages, but it is limited in what it teaches and how much it challenges you. Depending on your objectives and prior experience, you will most likely want to improve your reading, writing, listening, and speaking abilities. You'll also want to know if there is any real language generation, or coming up with an idea that you want to express right away without having to wait too long to translate from English.
Reading, writing, and translating
You primarily translate in Duolingo, which is a type of reading and writing. In most cases, you translate a word, words, or sentence from the language you're learning into the language of instruction, or vice versa. You could type the answer or construct a sentence by selecting the appropriate words from a word bank. Depending on the type of challenge you want, you can use the word bank or type out the words. An exercise may require you to select the correct translation from a list of options.
These exercises help you learn vocabulary, see verbs in different forms, and become familiar with the structure of sentences in the new language. Translating also allows you to practise agreement and other grammatical skills.
Duolingo could improve by encouraging you to concentrate more intently on certain concepts. When translating a sentence with a word bank, for example, you can usually rule out several words that are completely unrelated to the others. If the sentence appears to be about grandmothers cooking, words like architecture and swimming can be ruled out. Filling the word bank with similar words or even variations on the same word, such as "hear, hears, heard," would be a more difficult challenge. Duolingo does have one exercise in which you select the correct form of a word, but it only appears on rare occasions and does not mix the words with others from the sentence.
Reading and listening
Since the launch of Duolingo's podcast series, listening and reading exercises have improved tenfold. They're only available in Spanish and French for the time being, but they're fantastic. The episodes can be listened to on Duolingo's website or downloaded to a podcasting app such as Apple Podcast. The advantage of listening via Duolingo's website is that the transcripts are also available.
In each 20-minute episode, native speakers tell true stories, with an English-speaking host providing context in English on a regular basis. It's excellent content, but it's difficult for anyone who hasn't yet reached a conversational level.
Stories, in addition to podcasts, work your listening and comprehension skills a little more than the core exercises. You listen to and read a short story while answering questions about what you heard and read in these interactive stories. They are only available in a few languages, such as Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese. The characters' voices in the story sound natural, which adds to their enjoyment. The questions appear to be the same as any other exercise, but in order to answer them, you must have paid attention to the content of the story as well as any new words that appeared, requiring active listening and comprehension. As you progress through this section, the stories become more difficult, with new vocabulary, more complex sentence structures, and a variety of verb tenses.
Reading can also be found anywhere there is a light bulb icon. When you click on a new module, one will occasionally appear. These reading sections are typically in English (or your language of instruction) and explain a grammatical point. These sections are sometimes critical to your understanding, and I wish they were more prominent in the course material. They appear to be secondary in their current state.
Generating and Speaking
Speaking and listening aren't given much attention in the core programme. The speaking exercises are completely optional. You can enable or disable them in the settings, and you can temporarily disable them if you are in an area where you are unable to do so.
In these exercises, you typically repeat or read aloud something on-screen, and the app determines whether you said it correctly.
Duolingo used to have a section called Clubs that was designed to help you generate more language, but it has since been discontinued.
However, events continue to take place. These are get-togethers of people who are learning the same language as you and want to practise. Even with COVID-19, there are numerous virtual meet-ups.
If you want to improve your speaking and generating skills, I highly recommend Pimsleur or Michel Thomas. Both are named after the professors who created them, and both are old-school audio-guided programmes that are now available as digital files rather than cassettes or CDs. Their strength lies in getting you to consider how you would say a particular phrase or sentence before opening your mouth. Instead of always performing straight translations, you gradually progress to responding to prompts.
Best Free Language-Learning App
Duolingo is the best free language-learning app available, based on what you can get out of it. It's unlikely to take you from beginner to fluent, or even conversationally proficient, but it does provide exercises to help you learn and practise a new language on a daily basis. Using Duolingo to supplement other learning, whether classroom-based or self-taught, is a great idea.
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