I wrote last week about my initial foray into learning French, via the impressive and useful audiobook French in 10 Minutes a Day. Despite its excellent introduction to the language, there are some limitations. The series is designed for the casual traveler and thus focuses on words that tend to relate to travel. More importantly, though, the series is strictly in present-tense. This makes sense for travel — you are, after all, more concerned with ensuring you can understand simple instructions and make your own needs known — but it would be very difficult to have an actual conversation.
Thus after completing the series, I began using the free smart-phone app DuoLingo.
The app is designed with a child-like interface and introduces you to simple words and phrases. Each time a new word or phrase is introduced, it’s underlined: hover over the underlined word and its meaning will be explained. DuoLingo starts off with strictly present-tense verb conjugations but as the lessons progress, past-tense begins to appear. I presume future tense will also show up although I haven’t reached that point in the app. Each lesson is only a few minutes long.
DuoLingo’s real benefits shine through its gamification of language learning. You have a certain amount of health, which drops each time you get a wrong answer. Too many wrong answers and you run out of health. You can recharge health by simply waiting a day to retry the lesson, or by running through practice sessions. Each time you successfully complete a lesson you are awarded a crown. Complete your daily goal of lessons (e.g. 2 lessons in a day) and you get awarded gems that can be used to rescue broken streaks, recharge health levels or purchase supplemental lessons like “Flirting”.
One drawback to DuoLingo is that it takes an almost immersion-like approach. You are not introduced to any concepts in your native language. Rather, you jump in and start immediately learning words. You learn which words are wrong or right through trial and error … there’s no explanation as to why the word or phrase you used was wrong. I find this very frustrating when I’m trying to understand the difference between, say, “celui-la” and “celui-ci” and “ceux-la” and “ceux-ci”.
TL;DR: DuoLingo’s simple interface and bite-sized approach makes it a great resource for learning new words and keeping fresh with your language but its lack of explanatory material means it is best utilized as a supplement, not as a primary resource for learning a new language.