“We had to take language classes in school, and they weren’t always great experiences,” Blanco explains. “We want to show learners that no matter their age, education, background, or familiarity with the language you can build up proficiency. The experience is really important to us.” I love that the program is built for everyone, even someone like me who has been out of school for over a decade.
When I took Spanish classes as a teenager, I was fairly good at reading and writing, but my listening and spoken grammar were terrible. Aside from the varied games Duolingo offers, I love that I’m regularly prompted to read out loud or listen to a sentence and move tiles around to match what I’ve heard.
“It can be really scary speaking a different language,” Blanco agrees. “Adults shouldn’t feel embarrassed, but we do. We’re supposed to sound confident. But how can we when we’re learning a new language? The program allows users to build competence and confidence by repeating sentences in private and having it graded by the artificial intelligence in the software.”
If I’m in a noisy environment, or not interested in speaking or listening that day, I can opt out of that function.
Duolingo has been around for 10 years and has an interesting history. Several other apps, such as Mondly, Babbel, Memrise, and Busuu, are also popular. Rosetta Stone was one of the first to offer the flexibility of language learning at home with CDs in the 1990s, and it also has an app.
I just wish I’d known about language learning apps sooner. Years ago, when I left my career to support my family, I missed the mental stimulation my job provided. A few minutes of language emersion here and there keeps me thinking throughout the day but doesn’t make me feel pressured. Duolingo also offers local and virtual events where users can engage with one another, gain confidence speaking a new language, and enjoy host-led conversations. They create podcasts with real-life stories and English narration that are an easy way for me to continue learning when I’m in the car heading to pick up my daughter. Then we can listen together on the ride home.
While I don’t expect to become fluent anytime soon, Duolingo certainly keeps me moving in the right direction. I’m surprised by how much I’ve learned so far. I asked what happens when I finish the program, or if that is even possible. “The goal of the software is to understand enough language to get a job, whether in another country or your community. But there is no end to learning, even once the units offered are completed,” Blanco says. The company continually modifies the program and incorporates new ways to interact with the language. For example, since my daughter has school-issued software, her app has an open writing function, which is only being tested amongst a few users in the Spanish and French stories. The program makes suggestions, similar to the way Google prompts the next word when we type, so the user has an easier time crafting sentences. I haven’t seen that function on my app, but I have the speed-round game and my daughter doesn’t. She loves to grab my phone and play, especially since she’s faster than me and can match 90 Spanish words to English words in less than two minutes. I love that our programs are different. It keeps us engaged in each other’s profiles and regularly comparing progress.
In the future, I hope to take my daughter to a Spanish-speaking country and directly apply our hard work. It’s a long-term goal we can work toward in five-minute increments throughout the day. For now, we need to look into the family plan. My husband is working on his French, and my eight-year-old son is interested in joining him. Perhaps the next time we are out to dinner, my daughter and I will have more competition.