Learn a Language with Duolingo
Duolingo is an exciting new option in online language learning. Currently in private beta, Duolingo aims to combine language education with a mission to translate the web. Developed by Luis von Ahn (who also founded reCAPTCHA) and his team at Carnegie Mellon, Duolingo teaches users a language while simultaneously having them translate sentences into that language. Translated passages are voted on by other users and the end result is crowdsourced translations of texts that can then be used to translate real content on the internet. Even though the site is currently in private beta, it seems to already be having an impact. According to Wikipedia, “[a]s of 19 January 2012, the service has translated over 45,000 sentences.”
Of course, Duolingo won’t be successful without a good interface that actually teaches users a new language, but luckily it looks like a very promising method for basic language learning. Duolingo uses a combination of reading, writing, translating, listening and speaking tasks to cover all angles of language learning. Students must complete a variety of lessons before reaching tests. Lessons vary in their length and subject matter, but include repetition of concepts to help users memorize words by reusing them. Lessons generally progress in a defined order though users do have choices about the order of certain lessons to make the study more self-directed. Once a user reaches a test, they cannot advance until they have completed that test. Spanish, for example, has two tests that students must pass before completing all available lessons. As they progress through the program, users earn points for each lesson and test. A separate section of the site includes passages for translation by users which forms the basis of the crowdsourced translation aspect of the project. As mentioned above, users vote on translations and Duolingo offers a leader board for the best translators, lending another aspect of gamification to the process. Another section of the site allows users to pose questions to other users about the language they are learning or about Duolingo itself. To add a social component to the service, users can also follow other users either by finding them on the site or by importing contacts from Twitter or Facebook.
Having tried the Spanish language section of the site, I think that it has a lot to offer. The lessons start quite basic, but it looks as though they will progress at a good rate. I found that all aspects of the lessons worked well, though on occasion I did find some of the lessons and answers to be a bit slow to load. I was impressed that Duolingo records and evaluates users’ speaking skills as well, something that is often missing from online language learning programs. To help motivate students, Duolingo also offers email reminders to keep students on track, which I think is a nice feature for a language learning site.
Currently, users can learn Spanish, German or English, but there are already plans in place to add French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic and even Klingon. Users can sign up to be notified when these additional languages become available. If you are interested in learning one of these languages, I would highly recommend signing up for the Duolingo private beta. So far, it provides a perfect combination of fun and education. For more on the project, check out the video below or sign up for an invitation.