Coming back to Duolingo

Duolingo is an app designed to help people learn the basics of languages. Currently, the app offers 35 different courses taught in English. Some of the courses include Latin, Esperanto, Klingon, K’iche’ (available in Spanish only), Bokmål, Swahili, Irish, and Scottish Gaelig.

My initial criticism

When I first used Duolingo a few years ago, I was very discouraged, because I couldn’t test out of the basic levels of German – as a German major. This is mostly due to many of Duolingo’s very ambiguous phrases that they make you translate from audio. For example, Sie sind Studenten could be misheard as Sie sind Studentin. The first statement means, “they are university students,” and the second means, “you are a female university student.” Frustrations like these caused me to simply give up on the platform, as I felt it demoralizing.

My return

I decided to return to Duolingo when I saw one of my Facebook friends progressing in her study of Japanese using Duolingo. Since I made my post about not being able to learn Urdu, due to COVID-19, I figured I’d give Duolingo another go.

Urdu is not one of the available languages, but Hindi is. Close enough, I figured. The vocabulary and grammar are nearly identical anyway, for the beginning levels. So, I made a new account and went in (don’t ever let your Google or Facebook sign you into external sites! It’s a huge security breach waiting to happen!)

Structure of Hindi course

The Hindi course starts you off with the Devanāgari script. The nice thing is that it first provides you with romanized Hindi syllables and background audio, to familiarize the learner with the characters. After the learner progresses in the lessons, it transitions into only using Devanāgari. The thing that helps me the most is that if I forget what sound a particular character makes, I can click on the whole word before submitting it and the audio will speak the word for me.

Right now, I’m still learning about plurals, genders, family, and animals. The sentences are all basic, such as, “the cat is black,” “the cats drink milk,” “our friends Julia and Devan do not live in America.” However, this constant repetition is exactly what a new learner needs to solidify grammatical structures and vocabulary in his/her mind. So far, I’m pretty impressed.

Getting my revenge on German

So, remember how I spoke about not getting very far on the proficiency test for German? Well, I figured out how to beat it.

All one needs to do, is click on the small castle icons at the end of each module. They have numbers 1,2 3, etc. written on them and they represent checkpoints in your learning. Clicking on the castles brings a prompt to allow you to skip several levels after taking a test. The prompt always says, “we won’t make it easy.” Most likely, the learner will fail the first time, due to the issues with translation. The easy part is, however, the checkpoint assessments ask the same questions. So, anyone with a good enough memory can just memorize what they got wrong before and what the expected answer is. Once you complete the assessment, you will automatically pass the previous modules. The trick, then, is to look at the lessons offered in each module and then take the proficiency test associated with the highest module possible. That’s because you will automatically get credit for every lesson before it and receive automatic level 1 pass on each lesson. This is an easy way to amass crowns. Your Lingots (the in-game currency for Duolingo), however, will not magically triple, as one can only earn those by physically completing lessons.

Newfound impression

I took advantage of the level-up technique to fly past 4 modules in German and 3 modules in Spanish. I’m still doing Hindi the traditional way, because I’m a true beginner in Hindi. However, I will say that Duolingo is good for refreshing my vocabulary and basic grammatical knowledge of Spanish and German. Gender in German, for example, is a difficult topic for me. “Is it der, die, or das Licht?” (it’s das Licht, by the way). I’ve also not spoken Spanish in so long, that I forgot certain words, such as el abrigo for ‘jacket’.
A criticism I would have, though, is that Duolingo isn’t really teaching conversational skills. So, the prospective language learner will also need another source of input and output for that. As I tested out of Spanish skills, for example, I noticed that the tests preferred that I answered things with pronouns included. Spanish is a language that often drops pronouns in speech. French and German, on the other hand, require pronouns all of the time. So, there were certain elements in the Spanish lessons that felt unnatural to me.

As for Hindi, I’m impressed with myself how quickly the app has helped me to be able to read Devanāgari characters. It’s so exciting to be able to see Hindi script in other places and be able to sound out what the scribbles are saying, with some certainty. The one criticism I have for this, though, is that there is no writing module for Devanāgari in the app. So, anyone who would like to memorize how a character is written or anyone who memorizes things better through tactile approaches would benefit from installing a separate app that focuses on the Hindi abuguida. That or just plain pen and paper would also do well.

Other language plans

Sad to say, there are no Duolingo courses for Thai, Burmese, or Filipino. So, for Burmese, I’ll just keep on immersing myself and learning it the way I’ve been doing. Thai will have to sit dormant on the backburner for a while, at least until I can visit Thailand again after the countries open back up. Filipino is going to be lying asleep for quite awhile until I can find more uses for it or until I can find more people in Burma who would be willing to speak to me in Tagalog. Most of the Filipinos I’ve met here are quite partial to speaking English only.

So, that’s my impression of Duolingo. Maybe you should try it out for yourself and see if you like it!

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