(Not so) Duolingo

As part of EDTC 0560 course requirements, I downloaded the Duolingo App for Apple on my iPhone and decided to brush up on my French. Here’s a bit of a review based on my first week with the app.

Duolingo (/ˌdjuːoʊˈlɪŋɡoʊ/ DEW-oh-LING-goh) is a free language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam. Duolingo offers all its language courses free of charge (Wikipedia).

Duolingo is a well-designed, engaging  app designed for modern consumers. The little owl mascot is appealing, too. It is much more visually interesting than the Gaelic program I used on my laptop six or seven years ago (free language programs have been around for a while, though mobile apps are more recent).

It’s a game, and I keep hearing about the potential of gamification in education. I’m not sure a student would get ‘lives’ in real world learning, but there is something about a game that makes it appealing to learners, so why not? On the other hand, I hope it means more than the box-ticking structure and awarding of xp that Duolingo presents. There has to be a more effective way to use gaming to teach a new language. For instance, I find watching a subtitled movie an interesting exercise in language acquisition….by the end I honestly believe I am translating in my head!

Effectiveness (for Test Takers)
Duolingo wants to be taken seriously as a language training application. A number of independent studies have been done around the effectiveness of the application around effectiveness, reliability, and the linking of the program to IELTS and scores, and Duolingo posts research findings and reports on its blog.

Effectiveness (in the Real World)
I have not made it very far up the lesson chain, but it’s starting to feel like deja vu all over again vis-a-vis rote repetition of unrealistic, non-conversational language. Elementary school all over again! The program phrases things differently than fluent language speakers do (formal vs conversational?). I keep thinking of a Francophone school friend who would shake her head in French class when asked if she could translate a phrase. There’s a reason 10 years of French classes didn’t result in my ability to speak French. There’s got to be a better way to acquire language in a useful way.

Adult Learning
I think the program would work well with young learners who do not require context and explanation in the way adults do. Why’d I get that wrong? What is the grammatical context?  Explain! At this point, I’m not quite prepared to say: “I for one, welcome our new robot language teaching overlords.”