Duolingo is a learning app that promised to ‘gamify’ language learning. As a language teacher, I was ready to roll! I downloaded the app, picked my desired language, and … and I lasted about an hour before I was bored and annoyed. Sorry!
The app is set up with a series of short ‘lesson’ books, grouped into little branches of a tree. You can start with book one, or ‘test out’ and move onto the next unit by successfully completing a little mini-lesson.
The main control panel also has a little sidebar that offers such useful information as how many days in a row you’ve logged in, and how many points you’ve accrued.
The app’s makers seem to believe that doing a little bit each day is the best way to learn, so if you fail to log in, they’ll deduct points to punish you and make you come back. They’ll also send you nagging emails, which I did not realize would happen when I set up, and which I quickly grew tired of.
Each lesson has about 20 questions you must answer in order to complete it. You get docked a star for every mistake, and if you run out of stars before the end of the lesson, you have to start over. One thing that annoyed me a bit was that you have to get through the whole lesson to get credit for it; if you quit partway through, it starts you at the beginning again.
I also could not figure out how to review the words each lesson contains. I was playing on the easiest level and did actually know all the words they were testing me on. But I can’t see a way I could use this with my students if there is no way to open up the words and study them first before you get tested on them.
There were several types of activities which repeated randomly. Some asked you to listen to a short audio sentence and transcribe it, or translate it. I found typing on the pop-up keyboard a bit tedious for this because you had to press and hold each letter to get the accented characters. I felt like it took forever. Other activities would give you little word cards and ask you to build a sentence from that. This was all pretty standard stuff.
Why I Won’t Stick With It
If they truly meant for this to be something quick you could sneak in while you were waiting for the bus, they should have set this up a little differently: chunked the questions so you could do three or four and then quit and save your progress; offer a more obvious way for you to review the words for a lesson before you actually commence it; offer more ‘fun’ games like word searches, word scrambles or something a little more game-esque and so on.
As annoying as I found the email reminders, I actually do like the concept of penalizing you if you don’t log in. A little bit every day really is the best way to learn. But the lessons are a little bit long for just sneaking in a quick session here and there, especially given how slow it is to type with accented characters, and how long the lessons seem when there’s no way to check out partway through and still save your progress.
If these issues were addressed, I could see myself maybe sticking with it the same way you would stick with a word-a-day email or something like that; a little bit of learning during an otherwise non-productive time is never a bad thing. But this app just isn’t set up in a good way for me, and the fun factor is not high enough that I would use it with my students.
I’ll give it a rating of 3 out of 5 for a promising concept, but this is not the app for me. And given how many blogs I saw that hyped it so much, I was disappointed.
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