Duolingo is a free language site developed by Luis Von Ahn, a computer science professor who was also responsible for the creation of ReCAPTCHA, (another crowd sourced program). The website started in 2011 and has since been a huge success with over 10 million users in 2013. So is it time we wave goodbye to misses Rosetta Stone?
Our Duolingo experience
As the user begins their Duolingo journey they are prompted to choose a language. There are currently 6 languages available on Duolingo: Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and English. We chose Spanish!
As the user continues they are introduced to the Duolingo mascot, a green friendly looking bird who introduces the user to the features of the website. This initial friendly, welcoming guidance is very impressive especially during the beginning stages.
As many of us have experienced, learning a language can be a very daunting and frustrating experience. Its difficult, its repetitive and for many it can be embarrassing. However, Duolingo manages to lighten the burden of these common experiences attributed to learning a language.
This is done cleverly by using a light and playful design. Subtle features such as fluffy clouds, green palm trees and talking birds in overcoats help to lighten the users mood, and helps to dissolve the users negative associations with learning a language (probably developed during the days of school).
The user is guided through the early stages of the game seamlessly. The words and phrases are explained in precise detail which is easy to understand. Hovering over words at any point during a session for example, provides the user with a clear explanation of what the phrase or word means. And this guidance continues throughout the users experience. Not to mention it teaches you humour. What could be funnier than learning how to ask a Spaniard ‘Why don’t you touch the turtles?’
“Por que no tocas las tortugas?”
As users progress they also make their way down their language skill tree (shown in the picture below) which unlocks new phrases and words for the user to complete.
This also gives the game its addictive quality, and for the first time ever, it becomes addictive to learn a language! Players can compete to progress down the skill tree more quickly than their friends, and to gain the most coins and streaks. It sometimes even becomes very easy to forget you are doing something highly productive because you’re having so much fun!
Duolingo is also well connected with Facebook and other social networks so that users are able to connect with their friends, compete and communicate with them, and announce their scores to their Facebook feed. All adding to the competitive and addictive nature of the game. As mentioned in our previous article, it’s apps are also tailored to suit the device being used, making the user experience very smooth.
On top of all this the Duolingo experience is tailored to each individual user. This means patterns are recorded and tests and questions are forumlated accordingly. It is not an un-common occurance for a word you have been struggling with to occur repeatidly, or for two similar words to appear in the same sentance to allow the user to make a differentiation in their minds.
El caballo come una cebolla (the horse eats an onion) – I still managed however to accidently ask a supermarket worker in Madrid if he had any horses..
So yes Duolingo knows how to effectively drill words into your head! We wouldnt even be suprised if Duolingo used abit of pychology to encourage confidence in its users. Personally, i have felt like Duolingo pushes in a few easy questions occasionally when im feeling the struggle! Just a huch, but we’d be interested to see what other users think.
The Duo-lingo community
Duolingo also does a great job of creating a vibrant and happy community. This ofcourse is partly down to the wonderful Duolingo users themselves who are very friendly and helpful. (a refreshing change from the youtube comments section) But it is also down to the attentiveness of the staff. The Duolingo ‘experts’ are always quick to help anyone struggling with their chosen language or any faults within the website. Luis himself, the creator of Duolingo is even often found on the forums, guiding his duolingo students! And the community seems to appreciate it. Massively! Explore your way through the Duolingo forums and you will find positive comment after positive comment from people who are directly thanking Duolingo for their help and for the creation of Duolingo.
To add to this exciting community spirit Duolingo also produces regular posts that advertise upcoming updates. The first image below displays the initial poster advertising the ‘Incubator’ feature added to Duolingo in October. The image below was initially uploaded to Duolingo’s forum, blog and other social media platforms. These ambiguous advertisements create a sense of excitement amongst the community as people are left to guess and discuss what the new features could be. It helps to make Duolingo an exciting and interactive community to be a part of.
And it works!
Duolingo claims in some of its advertisements to be more effective than university level language lessons. Its difficult to believe at first, considering the fun nature of the game.
During my own personal experience with Duolingo, after playing the game for 4 months i had completely forgotten i was actually attempting to learn a language. So i decided to test it out. I skyped my friend who is currently living in Mexico and had an hour long conversation with her…. in Spanish! And i was actually very surprised by my fluency and the effectiveness of Duolingo. It truly is an addictive, fun game that has a significant learning effect!
And this is when we, The Digital People became a little confused. A language learning program that is fun, addictive, seamlessly designed and it is free! How is it possible? we asked. Join us next week as we discuss the effective and extremely clever crowd sourcing tecnique used to fund the Duolingo. We’re also going to discuss the developers of Duolingo in some detail and take a look at a TED talk video featuring the ingenious Duolingo developer Luis Von Ahn, as he discusses how he developed the idea of Duolingo and his other clever little ideas.
Overall, we give Duolingo 5/5 stars! we are yet to find any flaws with this wonderful software.
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