Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to speak Spanish. The idea of being able to switch between multiple languages has always enthralled me. Although I have taken Spanish classes for what seems like forever, I can still barely form a sentence without completely embarrassing myself. I knew that I needed some (more like a lot) of assistance to finally achieve my lifelong dream. When thinking of other ways to improve my subpar Spanish skills, Duolingo was the first thing that came to mind. The app seems to be the staple of online language learning, and I have heard countless testimonials of people being able to speak fluently within a matter of months of using it. Plus, it’s free, which is really appealing to a broke college student.
With these high expectations, I was anticipating speaking like Shakira in no time. However, after about two weeks of consistently doing the courses, I’d say that Duolingo may not be the way to achieve my fantasy. Nonetheless, I think it’s best we start with the good. I liked the fact that they disguised actual learning with a game-like setup. With the app mostly using matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice questions, I was able to learn new vocabulary while having a little bit of fun. Duolingo also does a great job of incentivizing you to continue using the app through daily goals and leaderboards. I found myself completing extra lessons just so I could earn more XP than a random user from Utah. Plus, there’s nothing better than seeing Duo the bird tell you that you did a great job.
Although I enjoyed the app overall, I could never see myself becoming fluent with it. Learning a language is much more than just memorizing direct translations. While it is important to know how to say basic words and phrases, it is far more important to know how to use that knowledge in a real-life setting, such as through speaking and listening. Unfortunately, since the app is so translation-heavy, this leaves little room for these two skills to be taught. The speaking activity (which is literally just reading a couple of words), for example, only appears once or twice in each lesson.
It’s now time to answer the question you’ve all been waiting for: would I use this app again? The answer is yes, just not by itself. According to the BBC, the most effective way to learn a new language is through immersion, such as having a conversation with native speakers, watching the news, or reading books. This helps someone acquire the language naturally rather than relying too much on memorization. While these other methods have been proven to be most effective, it wouldn’t hurt to continue using the app for some extra practice.