Almost everyone owns a smartphone. An entire life, both personal and professional, resides in that slim glowing gadget in your hand. We use apps to manage our day-to-day or to keep us occupied when you’re stuck on a semi-long commute to work on a bus or train. When game apps, especially free to download ones, were a huge thing in the early days of smartphones, it was the kind of mindless distraction you wanted to have with a tap of a finger. Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Fruit Ninja were among the earlier app games that were simple to play in 10 to 20 minute bursts. It achieved the goal these games were meant to do––make the time go faster when you’re in the middle of a not so fun task or situation. Now we’re overwhelmed by so many similar game apps that it’s hard to keep track of. Over time, you become less invested in these game apps until they start collecting digital dust on your phone from lack of use. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really want to own mindless simplistic apps that serves no real purpose in my daily life. I needed an app game that’s entertaining but with a purpose. This is when Duolingo entered my digital life.
Duolingo is an app game that seeks to teach you a foreign language you either want to learn or brush up on. There’s plenty of languages to choose from, like Spanish or Japanese. It walks you through 10 exercises broken up into lessons on nouns, present tense, objects, and many others in the language you choose to take a course in. I discovered Duolingo after a friend of a friend recommended I try it out. It was also free to download and I was already looking for an easy way to brush up on the Spanish I had learned in high school and college. FYI, I’m not very fluent in speaking Spanish but I do all right reading and understanding the text printed in front of me. After using the app for almost 5 months, I can definitely say that it’s worth the time and effort I put into doing a quick exercise daily.
What impressed me most about Duolingo is the range of access you have in learning every aspect of the language you have chosen for free. There’s a premium version of Duolingo you can pay for if you really want to, but I don’t really think it’s necessary. I already get a lot of use out of the free version. Each lesson has exercises that has you translating sentences or words in both English or Spanish, as well as listening to a sentence being spoken in Spanish to be translated to English. If you make a mistake in one particular exercise, you will be forced to repeat it until you get it right before you complete that particular exercise for the lesson under Adverbs, for example. Each exercise you complete earns you XP towards getting the game’s currency, known as lingots, to spend it on small power ups. For instance, you can equip yourself with a power up to “freeze” your XP streak for a day or weekend in case you forget to do Duolingo for a day or two. Forgetting to do one exercise in a day means your XP will reset to zero and you have to start building it up again. Or you can use lingots to change the Duolingo owl’s outfit. Honestly, the supposed rewards you earn for gaining enough XP isn’t really worth it in their sparse little store. But if you have a bit of a competitive edge, it’s highly addicting to want to keep your daily streak high and consistent.
For every checkpoint you pass, after completing your entire lesson on Adverbs or Objects, you unlock two new lessons in Spanish. There’s really no limit to how many exercises per lesson you can complete in a day. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can do all 10 exercises to fill the triangle gauge at the bottom of each lesson to gold. Even if you have successfully completed a previous lesson, the gauge will occasionally lessen, as you can see in the first screenshot, to prompt you to go back and do a quick brush up on the lesson you already mastered. When you tap into the previous lessons, it’ll show you what might have been your weakest words when you first started that lesson. If you’re like me and kind of want to see the equivalent of gold shiny medals as you scroll down for the current lesson you’re on, you’ll most likely bring those gauges back to gold. It’s also a really great incentive to make sure you don’t forget what you just learned.
The Spanish course is quite lengthy and I’m no where near the end of it. As of right now, it’s difficult to say if Duolingo is a sufficient app in making me more fluent in speaking Spanish rather than reading it. So far, I think I’m far more likely to understand reading books in Spanish than actually communicating in the language someone is already fluent in speaking. Even if I don’t necessarily achieve my dream of being fluent in three or five foreign languages, I’m just having fun educating myself in the language itself. I’ve always been fascinated with words and how they are said in an entirely different tongue than mine. This fulfills everything I’ll ever want without actually going back to school again and paying for a course in Spanish. It’s an app game that’s fun to play while having the worthy goal of teaching adults and kids alike how to impress your Spanish, Italian, French, or Japanese friends with some basic greetings or words in their native language. I’ll trade in all the Angry Birds and Fruit Ninjas of the world to play a game that will have me taking away something meaningful and useful to maybe use in my every day life. Or at least in a situational type of scenario.
Duolingo is available for free on both Android and iOS.
Reviewer Rating: 8.5/10