[iPhone] Duolingo is a free, fun way to learn a new language at any age

mzl.aikmaxhn.320x480-75Rosetta Stone is constantly running ads claiming that they are the best way to learn a new language. But unfortunately, most of us can’t afford software that costs several hundred dollars. If you can’t afford $500 to spend on a whole set of Rosetta Stone discs, why not try a free app that’s getting all kinds of good press from tech blogs and PC Mag? Duolingo is a free app that lets users learn six different languages.

What is it and what does it do

Main Functionality

Duolingo lets users learn a new language through short, simple lessons. But unlike most other language learning apps, Duolingo uses a “gaming” system to incentivize learning. You’ll earn points as you go along, which help you to “level up” your skills set.

Pros

  • Learn Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and English
  • PC Magazine Editors’ Choice for Language Learning
  • Go outside the provided curriculum and translate real-world texts in the language you are learning for added interest (you can also translate web text as well)
  • No ads, fees, or subscription packages
  • You don’t have to pick just one language: you can learn two or more simultaneously
  • You have the ability to “test out” of lower levels, making this an appropriate app for beginners and intermediate level students
  • Audio for listening exercises can be slowed down

Cons

  • No Asian or Middle Eastern languages as of yet, and limited European languages. If you want to learn Arabic, Japanese, Farsi, or another language that’s not one of the six included in the app, you need to look elsewhere for tutelage
  • You must start a new account before even being able to try the app out and see if you like it
  • Home screen sometimes takes a really long time to load (especially when switching between language programs)

Discussion

mzl.vciwhhox.320x480-75At the outset, Duolingo seems like any other language learning app. You are tested on vocabulary, as well as listening skills and sentence building. You have to translate sentences from English into the new language, or from the new language into English.

But as you go along and complete each section successfully, you get points. Duolingo uses a “gaming” system to incentivize learning, turning dull language lessons and drills into a pretty fun game. You’ll earn points as you go along, which help you to “level up” your skills set: the whole darn thing gets addictive in a hurry.

I do wish that there were more languages being supported. However, I really appreciate that the app isn’t Anglo-centric: in addition to programs to help native English speakers to learn five other languages, native Spanish and Portuguese speakers can hone their English skills.

One issue that might annoy some users is the inability to skip around to different sections. If you are learning a new language for work, you probably have some key vocab you want to focus on first: cooks might want to learn food words first, for example. This inability to move around is like to be a stumbling block for some people.

Conclusion and download link

If you want a free way to learn a language, Duolingo’s game-style approach will ensure you don’t get bored. Sections are small enough that you can master two or three in a sitting, which gives users a real sense of progress. And when you’re trying to master a new language with all kinds of confusing rules, keeping your morale up is very important.

Price: Free

Version reviewed: 1.1.1

Requires iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, iOS version 5.0 or later

Download size: 15.8 MB

Duolingo on Apple App Store

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