Duolingo: Gamified language learning

Free on iOS and Android

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What is it all about?

Gamified language learning, the native way. 

Who is it for?

Do you know what subjunctives, auxiliary verbs and pronominals are? Do you care? If you answered no to both of these questions, but still want to learn a language, try this app.

Duolingo teaches you by trial and error - a bit like if you just turned up in the country - without the tedium of grammar lessons. At the moment it offers French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Italian. 

Those who aren't starting from scratch can just 'test out' the easy tutorials to get to the right level. 

How does it work?

The lessons are short and sweet, and if you get stuck you can ask for clues. You have four lives to complete each level, but even if you have to start again, the lesson will vary slightly, so it's not too dull, and there's an motivating progress bar at the top of the screen. 

Each lesson includes a range of exercises - speaking, translating, flashcards, filling in blanks...You can earn points to buy extra lives or new outfits for your coach - a bespectacled owl (in my case wearing a champagne tracksuit). 

The weekly leaderboard lets you compete with friends, regardless of their level or whether they are learning the same language as you.  

Set your target - for instance ten minutes per day - and you'll get push notifications to help you keep on top of it. 

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Anything noteworthy? 

The brains behind Duolingo is Luis Von Ahn, one of the creators of Captcha, and he has a bigger vision for the app. Duolingo is free, and has no ads or sub fees, because you're also giving back as you learn - helping to translate content from the web. Because the app can evaluate your level, beginners translate the easier sentences whereas the more advanced are dealing with the complex stuff. Find out more on the video below. 

Bilinguals can also sign up to help design the course content too. 

After a month: I'm addicted. The clean, ad-free interface is great. The lessons are short enough for me to get a couple done on the 10 minute train ride to work, and I'm making steady progress.  Sometimes I go back and complete past lessons that might be fading from my memory - as indicated by the strength bars under each one - so I feel like I'm consolidating the knowledge as I go. I've also discovered a few of my friends are on there too - and the competitive edge, even though they are learning different languages - keeps me motivated. 

Quiet times

I'm not posting much new content to the site at the moment because I'm mainly editing for the next 6 months, which means less time for writing. I do have a few things coming up soon, including robot sex, digital babies, and Brazil - not all related! 

In the meantime though, I'm going to start posting some app and tech reviews that I've been working on. 

The first one will be Duolingo, a language learning app which I've been using to learn Portuguese. If you've been using it too, let me know what you think - also come and find me on the app so we can compete!