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Duolingo – the Future of Language Learning?

It is very rare for me to find a gadget, machine or solution that I would completely fall in  love with (my espresso machine was, I think, a memorable exception to the rule). And it’s incredibly unlikely for that invention to happen in the area of language learning – after all, I know a thing or two about that field, and I’m not easily impressed.

 Or maybe: I wasn’t. Until today.

I want to write about a big idea, a great website and an exciting future. If you’re a language learner, teacher or translator, this is something you can’t afford to miss.

(Note: Duolingo is still in beta. The information in this post may change or become obsolete as the service goes public)

THE IDEA

 

It started with this website – reCAPTCHA helped keep out spam and digitized books at the same time. But then, its founder had another idea: what else could people do in large numbers, and fast? Here’s what he came up with.

 

THE WEBSITE

Duolingo is still not live – although it’s generating a lot of buzz, it’s still invitation-based. I was lucky enough to get an invite pretty soon, and proceeded to explore the website. This came at a right time for me (I’m learning Spanish right now), and I was able to learn and research the website at the same time. The slideshow below lists some of the things I liked (click the icon to enable fullscreen mode):

 

What I liked:

[checklist]

  • It’s challenging, fun and gives you that warm feeling of knowing you’ve helped out – Freerice does that too 🙂
  • It’s engaging on a number of levels – listening, reading, writing, speaking – and has you thinking about the language from the word go.
  • The design and execution. Not flawless, but very easy and fun to use.

[/checklist]

What I’m still waiting for:

[badlist]

  • No apps! Come on, Duolingo, get on the mobile learning wagon!
  • It’s still in beta, so I’m missing my friends – and I can’t invite them 🙁
  • There aren’t many languages available at present (I think Portuguese is in the works). It would be interesting to see how the website deals with languages which are more distant from English.

[/badlist]

 

THE FUTURE

This website might just change something about language learning. I’m hoping for it to become the better, smarter and more useful version of the Rosetta Stone (as I can see that the model they’re using – and providing free of charge – is quite similar).

Of course, it’s not going to put the language teachers out of business. Nor is it going to make translators redundant. But I have hopes for Duolingo. I hope that it will push the language teachers out of their stupor and make them realize the importance of high demands in language teaching. I hope that it will help translators – by highlighting the importance of excellent work and hard decisions. And I hope that it will remain free, useful and ambitious.

Try Duolingo if you get the chance. You’ll be glad you did.


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5 Responsesso far.

  1. marta says:

    i’m not convinced so would need to try and see. for me, translating is highly specialized and too often far from day to day communication (the usual reason for learning another language), after all it’s not about being literal. how is it similar to rosetta stone? as far as i remember it omits translation altogether. btw, if you’re studying Spanish, check out Destinos – you’ll provably like it:)

  2. Jared Romey says:

    I tested out Duolingo in both Spanish and German and found it extremely useful to brush up on both languages, but I have serious doubts about using it to completely learn a language. Without going in to detail here, there are some major issues that need to be overcome before it will work as a stand-alone learning tool at the level of software like Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone.

    Having said that, this technology is in its early stages and so as major improvements occur this will become a free, useful way for people to improve their language skills.

    Generally, for the future of language learning, translation and interpretation, I see major changes over the next 10-15 years that will eliminate the need for most people to learn languages. The majority of translation and interpretation will become automated. Some highly skilled translators/interpreters will need to exist for the near future, but most people will have no need to learn languages, as technology makes this moot.

  3. Wiktor K. says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the last thing you said, Jared – most people don’t learn languages anyway. It’s true that they don’t feel the need – but I’m not sure that technology is to blame. Nor am I convinced that it will take the centre stage when it comes to enabling communication. And even if it does, I’ll still prefer to hang out with the minority that actually learns a language.
    Thanks for the heads-up on Pimsleur, checking it out right now.

  4. Wiktor K. says:

    Destinos looks good – kinda like a soap opera for learners? Loving it!
    You back yet?

  5. marta says:

    Yes, Destinos is a soap for learners, the plot is cool:) Secrets, family drama and it somehow doesn’t seem too staged which is great. Flying out on Wednesday, back on Thursday, hopefully the trip’s safe because we’re already checking flights for next year (lately things started moving and we have even more reasons to stay so must return:).