App of the Week: DuoLingo

Publisher: DuoLingo, Inc.
Platform: iOS, Windows Phone, Windows 10, Android
Price: Free!

If you've been watching my show, Zero Lives, since the start of the year, you've heard me harp on self-improvement more than once.  One of the many ways that I'm trying to improve myself is by learning a new language.  While there are many options available to one trying to learn a new language, I've going to tell you about my favorite: DuoLingo.

Learning a new language isn't an entirely new experience for me.  In high school, I had studied Spanish for two years.  This consisted of workbooks, training sheets, and Rosetta Stone.  Many years later, I haven't retained much of it, despite having ample opportunity in the Midwest to speak the language.  I compare my abilities to that of a retarded child.  I know just enough to survive...maybe.

Several years back, I thought it would be fun to try something completely different.  I picked up My Japanese Coach on the Nintendo DS.  Granted, I wasn't all that serious with it.  As such, I can only now count to five.

Fast forward a few more years and I met a wonderful girl with a proud German heritage.  Coming from a German background myself and obviously wanting to connect with her on another level, I picked up DuoLingo and began the German course.  Fast forward a bit more, she and I aren't together any longer, but DuoLingo and I are still going strong.  Although, if I'm being honest, 95% of the reason I'm still doing it is spite.

The other 5% is due to DuoLingo's fantastic system.  As I write this, the app on my phone has reminded me that I haven't met my daily goal yet.  If I ignore the app, I'll get a reminder email.  The daily harassment plays on my guilty feelings of laziness and motivates me to do the lesson each day.  Furthering the motivation is the ability to earn tokens to purchase different bonus sections like phrases or holidays, a tracking system to compare your progress to friends, and bonuses for doing the exercises every day.

DuoLingo breaks down learning the language into easily digestible sections.  Each section builds on the last, so it definitely feels like you're learning the language naturally.  Users can select how much they want to learn each day which keeps the pace comfortable.  Aside from keeping the pace comfortable, DuoLingo does keep track of your progress with individual words.  As such, you can perform flash card exercises for tricky words and the app will prompt you to repeat sections so you retain the words/phrases learned.

The actual learning and exercises are handled through matching words with their translation, pictures, translating entire sentences from written and spoken word, and having the user repeat phrases to ensure it is being spoken properly.  It's really a brilliant system.

That being said, there is the most functionality on the site itself.  With the Windows app in particular, you can't practice the bonus sections or track friends' progress.  None of the mobile apps allow you to review the flash cards.  So, more often than not, I use the site.  But for the day to day use, the apps are more than sufficient.

Normally, any language learning software, book, or audio CD costs an exorbitant amount.  DuoLingo is free.  It's unheard of!  But it is utterly fantastic.  Coupled with the ability to sign into your account and sync progress across all of your devices, DuoLingo is by far one of the better, if not best, choices available.  And if you've been reading this all along and thinking, "That sounds good and all, but I don't want to learn German!", you're in luck friend.  DuoLingo offers a wide variety of languages to learn.  If for whatever reason the one you'd like to learn isn't available now, it's probably in development and the DuoLingo site will actually tell you how close they are to releasing it.

So if you've always wanted to learn that second, third, or fourth language for fun, spite, career advancement, or to introduce yourself to that cute guy or gal, give DuoLingo a try.