About two years ago I discovered the Duolingo language learning app. I’ve never considered myself to be good at languages – I try to make an effort when travelling to other countries, but very quickly revert to English. However, I had a personal motivation now to learn Dutch and thought I would see if using this app would help.
The app does not directly teach the language but instead gives you sentences to translate, starting very simply and getting increasingly more complicated as you progress. So it is based on an idea of learning through exposure (to written and spoken language) and repeated attempts at information retrieval (every activity is effectively a test).
It also uses gamification by giving a very visual overview of your progress through different levels and the acquiring of badges. It supports social learning by allowing you to join learning groups where you can practice the language with others and compete against them in in-group activities. And although the app itself works on the exposure model, their online forum also contains pages on grammatical rules and constructions. So you could use it in a more structured, didactive way if you wanted.
The approach they push most strongly is repeated, regular practice – little and often – citing that with just 15 minutes practice a day you can learn a language. So is that possible? Well for me it certainly has had quite an effect. I can now (with some effort) read simple newspaper or magazine articles in Dutch – and even a letter from the bank! The next step? Summon up the courage to speak! Sadly the app has not yet succeeded in helping me overcome my shyness/fear around not being understood. I know I should start to use the social side more. So that is my next goal for myself. If you are interested in learning a new language or improving your existing language skills then it might be worth taking a look at this app.