In a world with an increasingly competitive job market, knowing a second language is not only appealing but also advantageous. Bilingualism can, of course, help with things such as cognitive function and mental strength, but it can also help you stand out on job and college applications. Simply put, the more languages you know, the more people you can connect and communicate with, and the more opportunities there are available.
So where do you start? Language learning in schools which either don't offer language classes or group them under electives is extremely difficult, especially as the pandemic has forced many of us online. However, there is a viable alternative. Apps such as Duolingo can be exceedingly useful in learning a language and sticking with it.
I began my language-learning journey on Duolingo a few years ago after a mediocre experience with my middle school Spanish class. At first, it was just to practice vocabulary here and there. But as I progressed, it began to feel less like a chore and more like a game.
With several modes of learning, streaks, competitions, and more, there's no shortage of things to do on the app. Topics are broken into skills like, “Travel”, “Phrases”, “Agreement”, and “Stem Changes”. In the beginning, you can either take a diagnostic test to skip over a few skills or you can start fresh at level one beginning with “Intro.”
For the first few levels, Duolingo aims to build understanding of basic vocabulary and phrases so that you can have a simple conversation with someone. As you level up, grammar is introduced, including lessons on verb agreement, tense, and more challenging vocabulary. Each skill in each level has sublevels that you can work through to master the skill, earn crowns, and turn its icon gold. Periodically, you'll have to go back and restore these skills to keep your memory sharp.
Another nice feature and mode of learning on Duolingo are the stories. Stories are grouped by sets, and each set gets harder as you go along. These stories are great and fun ways to practice reading comprehension and appreciate the app's cute design. Most of them have humorous twists and are nice breaks from the main lessons.
During a lesson, you are given a set of questions that help with memory and practice. These vary from matching words, identifying the right verb, translating a sentence, speaking, listening, and writing or organizing a sentence. You also have a certain amount of lives to use before having to restart the skill.
You lose lives by answering questions incorrectly, and if you use up all your lives, it will ask you to go back and refresh your memory before trying to level up again. This is also where gems come in, the app's currency. You can use gems earned from completing skills, reaching the next XP level, or reaching your individualized daily goal to buy more lives, bonus skills, power-ups, and outfits for your Duolingo owl.
Once you begin to practice consistently every day, you'll have a streak that can earn you more gems; you can wager gems and bet on yourself to maintain a seven-day streak, for example, which will double the gems you wagered. Power-ups can be used to freeze your streak in case you miss a day. While I do appreciate this feature of the app, it is also very disappointing when you lose a streak, especially since you cannot recover one once it was lost. I had an over two-hundred-day streak and when I lost it, I was no longer motivated to start all over.
Competitions have a similar effect; you can complete lessons and gain XP to compete against other Duolingo users in a weekly leader board, and if you are top ten, you level up to a higher league. Similarly, if you are in the bottom ten, you level down to a lower league. Even though this may encourage competitive users to practice more, it made me less inclined to practice every day. I found that I was practicing simply to level up and not for the benefit of learning Spanish.
Learning a language online can feel like a lonely and individual task, but Duolingo provides users with a community of people also trying to learn. You can follow friends and other people, watch their progress, and share your achievements. Duolingo also has a news feed that you can use to check for tips, announcements, and even fan art.
If you want to be an active member of the language-learning community, Duolingo definitely gives you the chance. And if you don't, that's fine too! Participation is not necessary to learn on the app and it won't get you XP, gems, or other bonuses, but it is a nice option that enhances your learning.
It is important to note that Duolingo is not a substitute for an actual language class; it won't teach you Spanish on its own. Mastering the skills won't make you bilingual, but it will give you the necessary skills to get one step closer to speaking another language. Despite its flaws, it is a great tool to use with other apps and methods of learning as well as a great way to add some fun to what can be a boring and difficult experience.
I can't say that I learned a ton from the app, but it did help me catch up when I was behind in Spanish a few years ago. It also helped me keep the skills I had learned in school fresh outside the classroom. So whether you are looking to learn a new language, to freshen up on some vocabulary or grammar, or to simply find a distraction at home, Duolingo is the perfect place to start.