Thoughts on Using DuoLingo

Posted on August 24, 2017 by Richard Goulter

So I’ve been using DuoLingo for just over two weeks now.

It’s been fun.
And I think if you’re interested in learning a language, it’s another tool-in-the-belt to use. As in, it has its limitations.
My impression is, though, that it’s great for introducing words, and some grammar.

For better or worse, DuoLingo is quite gamified.
I don’t think that is so bad.
DuoLingo organises its vocabulary into groups of words around a theme (e.g. ‘Food’, ‘Animals’, ‘Verbs 1’, etc.); and within each of these groups, has sub-groups of up-to five or six words.
The groups of words are organised visually, like a skill-progression tree in an RPG game. As you complete the exercises on these groups, they light up; and, they decay over time as you get questions with these words wrong, or due to an induced decay over time.

I guess people have different expectations for motivation/feedback.
DuoLingo errs on the side of ‘motivational’.
e.g. The way the groups of words are organised disguises just how many words you can be introduced to. (Some groups have 20, some of the bigger groups have 50 words).

Maybe DuoLingo knows better than be about what a good way to ‘learn’ words is.
But at the moment, I feel the feedback is a false “you’re doing well”. (As opposed to, “here’s where you’re at; but, going far requires constant effort over a long time, so”).
Maybe I’d prefer it were more explicit about how it plans to progress.

You see, the exercises ranging in difficulty. Generally an exercise consists of a question in source-language, and user must provide a target translation. (Also, sometimes vice versa). - Sometimes the UI may allow you to check the translations of the words in the question. - Besides this, most of the variation comes from input method, ranging from: - Multichoice: select the correct answers. (This is easiest, since you generally only need to recognise the words of the question/answer which you know). - Word-boxes: Possible word choices are provided. Sometimes with spare words. (This is relatively easy; when the word-boxes are your native-language, you’ll recognise which sentences make sense. When in the language you’re learning, then it reminds you of the words you need to remember). - Free-form input.

What makes it a bit easier to game-the-system is that it may become easy to remember what the translation of a sentence is, rather than understanding how to translate it. (e.g. within the same exercise session, the same question may come up in foreign-to-English, English-to-foreign forms; as well as an iteratively more difficult input kind. – So, being able to answer a hard question may be done with the same memory as answering an easier question).
– Or, to put it another way: If I show my friend the list of words I’ve seen on DuoLingo, it doesn’t necessarily mean I can remember the source-to-target (or vice versa) translation. Which is fine. Because ‘learning progress’ isn’t a binary value.

I imagine my progression is something like: - “recognise it in questions with English word-box” - “recognise the word in questions with foreign-language word-box” - “recognise the word is free-form English input” - “get vaguely the right letters in free-form foreign input” - “get the right letters in free-form free-form input”

So when DuoLingo says I’ve ‘mastered’ a group of words (because I can use English word-boxes for answering questions), I feel a little deceived.
I guess it’s for motivation.
I just wish I had more visibility on a “progress indicator”. (& their expectation of progress).

DuoLingo is really fun to use.
But it has limitations.
And I think when used combined with other resources for learning a language, it’s quite cool (since what you learn in DuoLingo you’ll see elsewhere, and vice versa).

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