January 15


I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Duolingo, but I’m happy to say I introduced both my parents to it over the xmas break and they seemed keen. They both have taken English classes for years, so they’re not total beginners, but I think it’ll  help them. They take a class once a week, unless there are school holidays or vacations or public holidays or a nice summer night or snow or …. you get the picture. It looks that the OCD gene to keep that tree nice and golden is strong in both of them, so yay for my parents! It actually came about because my mom keeps nagging my dad that he spends too much time with his iPad games, so I figured if he can say he’s learning English, she can’t nag. And then of course she wanted it too. Haha, predictable like little kids.

I think it’s a great tool overall. I mean where else can you get a course of that caliber for free, it looks pretty and I think the game-y nature of it appeals to our digitized lives. The app works well and it comes in itty bitty lessons that can be squeezed in when you have 5 minutes to kill. A little competition among Duolingo friends also hasn’t hurt anyone yet, and if it inspires people to learn a language, then I’m all for it.
Having said that, I tend to go in phases myself. The Rosetta Stone approach of zero grammar doesn’t really work for me. I can see the placement of a pronoun a million times, without any kind of explanation I’m probably not going to get it. I don’t think beginners should be bogged down by pages and pages of grammar rules, but some concepts need to be explained. The biggest downfall in my humble opinion is the focus on translation. Now I realize that by the very nature of the business model of Duolingo, this cannot change, but I don’t think it’s very effective way to study longterm. Anyone who has successfully mastered a language (and yes I use that term loosely, because you don’t ever master anything) has sooner or later started to think in that foreign language. By being forced to constantly translate back and forth, you inhibit the development of that. Though I have to say that I am quite impressed with Luis von Ahn, the CEO and creator. If you want to know a bit more about him and the history of duolingo, he has a TEDx talk that gives a neat little overview. And if you happen to study Spanish, almost the exact same presentation in Spanish is here.

At the end of the day, I use Duolingo myself and I do enjoy it. It is addicting*. I want to keep that tree golden. In fact I have to admit that I sort of dabbled a bit in the French course. It’s kind of funny that with varying degrees of knowledge of two romance language and little flashes of memories from long, long ago a lot of it just kind of makes sense. I kind of want to learn French properly, but I’m not sure I really have the motivation to stick with it. For now I’m going to concentrate on Portuguese. I did see however that there is a course in beta French for Spanish speaker. Now that sounds interesting.


* Funny story about that. Back in school I learned that the proper adjective is addictive, but in the years being surrounded by Canadians I somehow have absorbed that particular bastardization of the English language. ‘Oh this TV show is so addicting’ is a very common phrase around here and I say it too. The other day my South African friend called me out on it, which lead to a discussion of whether this is a ‘should have went’ situation, a ‘you got to try this’ type colloquialism or an evolution of English like the disappearing English subjunctive. After much googling we concluded that it is most likely a colloquial phrase and it is a perfectly accepted way of saying that something is addictive in an informal situation, at least in North America. Correct me, my European friends, but I assume in the UK you would use addictive? And maybe roll your eyes a teeny bit?