by Kate Kerns
I think the website and smartphone app of Duolingo makes a bit more sense if you understand why Duolingo was created. It is explained here in English:
and here in Spanish:
Heck, you can learn a bit of Spanish, just by watching those two, right? Except that the Spanish is sooooo fast.
So if you watch the video, you now understand that Duolingo was created to teach people a new language with the goal being to create lots of people online with strong enough language skills to be able to translate sentences that appear on webpages from one language to the other.
If you go to Duolingo.com and create an account (it’s free), you will be presented with a series of skills that you can advance through. These start with pretty basic Spanish vocabulary — el, hombre, la, mujer, yo, un, una, soy, niño, niña, leche, bebe, él, es, ella, come, tú, eres, usted, manzana, como, comes and work their way up to more advanced.
So you will see right away, that Duolingo makes a lot of requests for you to translate phrases and sentences. But how can you do that, if you don’t know the language yet? The idea is to tutor and prompt you through each set of skills. For example, here is a request for you to translate the word ‘apple’ into Spanish.
so you actually CHOOSE the right answer ‘manzana’, but how can you miss, right?
In other cases, Duolingo expects a bit more from you, BUT offers whatever assistance you need. Here is a screen shot from the iPhone app version where the user has been prompted to translate a sentence from English to Spanish. If this is too difficult, then tapping a word will display the translation for that word. Kind of the equivalent of someone whispering the right answer in your ear.
Speaking of whispering and speaking, Duolingo also has built-in voice recognition where it will ask you to repeat a phrase and then tell you if you did so correctly. The main issue I saw with this aspect of Duolingo was that if it didn’t like your pronounciation, it had no way of telling you what the problem was. Unlike a human tutor, Duolingo, can’t say, “it’s ‘niñO’, not ‘niñA’. It just tells you that you got it wrong. I will say that in grading my written translations, Duolingo did occasionally point out more minor errors in a specific way, if for example, I had used una, when it should have been el and the rest of the sentence was correct, it explained what I had done wrong in my translation.
But, two large questions remain:
1)Will Duolingo help people learn Spanish or other new languages?
I looked around the web for other people’s experiences with Duolingo and took particular note of the reader comments on this Duolingo Review. There were definitely some people learning Spanish, French and German who said they liked Duolingo as well or better than anything else they had tried. But there were also a lot of people who found the experience kind of ho-hum, something to try out once or twice, but not enjoyable enough to come back more than that. It would be fun to know Duolingo’s statistics. Since it tracks all user activity, how many new users return and use it for say 5 or more visits?
2) Will it be able to provide translations for web pages, as the original recaptcha effort did with digitizing scanned pages? I’d love to hear actual numbers from Duolingo, but judging from this article, Duolingo is successful on this count as well.
Note, Duolingo has expanded the languages it offers. They now include: English, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish.