If you teach Spanish, French, German, Italian or Portuguese and you are not using Duolingo as complimentary practice curriculum then have I got a treat for you.
Duolingo is a free web and mobile application pitched as free language learning and crowd-sourced text translation service.
It’s fun and easy to use but how does it stack up?
Well, it’s very popular with membership boards on reddit and facebook and expert bi-linguists arguing about technical and colloquial use of good night versus good evening. All good stuff if that’s what floats your boat, but can it teach a language?
On its own I would say no, but as a supplement to instruction it is one of the best practice platforms I have played with. The recognizable concept of repetition, translation and association is used to help cement themes for the student.
Lessons are broken down into easy modules and intermediate students can test out to a higher level. Everyone earns Lingots to spend in the Duolingo virtual store. You can invite facebook friends and even study more than one language.
However, it does not teach concepts just presents words and sentences. I accept the current thinking that introducing new concepts without explanation may be how native speaking children learn a language but I don’t necessarily subscribe to the osmosis point of view when teaching a second language. Yes, that is the way that a child learns a language but let’s face it, they don’t excel at it for a number of years, requiring constant guidance from parents and schools and that’s being bathed in it 24/7.
Students are expected to learn much faster than a native child when learning a second language and he/she can benefit from learning a concept with an instructor. I am a fan of learning verb tables albeit that idea is very un-trendy right now. I did the Duolingo lessons for beginners French and was a little shocked at how verbs were just thrown in to the sentences with their various endings, right from the get go with no explanation. On digging a bit further I found that you can open up a verb table by selecting a word but there are no translations, you need to know what the forms are to learn it.
This is the only reason for my suggesting Duolingo as a practice aid or supplement rather than standing back and letting it do the tutoring for you.
Perhaps verb tables are introduced later in the lesson plans, but even so I think there will always be a place for a foreign language tutor.
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