Friday, 13 July 2012

Duolingo - A potential and powerful system for language learners

If you speak English as the first or second language, have you ever wished to study another language with zero fees? Have you ever thought about a system which can help you study at any time you want and any pace you define without paying a penny? In this post, I will introduce you a system like that - a completely flexible and accessible system for everyone. The beginning of this entry, I’m off the topic a little bit to tell about my language learning curve. If you have no interest in it, please click here to go straight to the main topic.

Actually, the intention to obtain a new language other than English formed in me pretty early. I used to self-study Japanese when I was a sophomore with one of my friends’ support. By his best, he copied all materials and necessary software for me. I think the total data would be more than some gigs. However, the young of me was not patient enough and finally I quit after less than a month. That was the unimpressive kickoff for a long-challenging way ahead.

Later in my junior, I put myself into Chinese acquiring process. This time, I registered and studied in a class at a local language centre nearby my house. The teacher was a young monk. He was knowledgeable but boring in my own opinion. Every time at the class, he would write new words on the black board and ask students to repeat them after him. He did that for hundreds of words which seemed overloaded for beginners like us. But I still tried my best though. Every day at home, I practiced word writing filling almost a half of a notebook. Previously I thought Japanese was too hard already, however, it was nothing to compare with Chinese. The pronunciation was completely different from any languages I knew before. After class, my mouth was always getting stiff by a lot of practicing. Even though practicing a lot, I still couldn’t remember what I was taught. After I acquired new words, I forgot the old ones.  During 3 months, I could tell I might remember around 100 words at maximum. One more time, I was really bored and tired. I quit again, but better the first time, at least I could last 3 months.  

If my memory serves me right, the reason I came to Japanese and Chinese was trying to familiarize with non-Latin languages. Those languages were first picked because Japan and China were so close to my home country and more or less, there were the rush on trading with them. Knowing their languages would be a big advantage in job hunting. However, deep inside me, I knew I was not inspired enough. The good thing was the failure on those two languages couldn’t stop my curiosity on non-Latin languages YET. After graduating and working a couple of years, I bet myself one more time with Korean. I had been studying at a centre for 6 months.  In those 6 months, I got up three levels. I could sing some simply songs in Korean already. I was in pretty good progress actually if there was no unexpected problem. Working and studying at the same time was never easy. That was why short commuting distance was the golden key for me. The centre I was studying was the only choice meeting the need. However, after level 3, they were not able to collect enough students for higher level and they kept asking me to wait for months after months.  I got back to them a couple of times to ask for the opening schedule but the answer was always “not enough students.” Finally, I lost my will and just let it be a part of my past. And yeah, 6 months were still better longer than 3 months for sure – a little better than the 2nd time I guess.

My 3rd failure also ended the adventure to a non-Latin language. On my mind at that time, if there will be an opportunity for a new language, it would be French, only French and no more. To be honest, I always did, do and will love French. Just because French is a Latin language which is in the same system as my native language and English, it had to take the backseat in my priority list during last 10 years.

Not long ago, by accident, I watched this footage on (

Right after that, I knew what I had to do. I went right away to and registered an account to try it out. Unfortunately, at that time, French was not available on the website and I was put into the waiting list. It was not a big deal anyway. I was not in a hurry either, so I just forgot it until the day I received an email from duolingo telling me that the French (beta version) was ready, around 1 or 2 months ago. Amigo! I knew it was the time for a try!

If you want to know which languages are supported now, here is the good lead-in article
To study a new language this time, my special strategy is NO STRATEGY. If you’ve ever listened to Effortless English podcast, you’ll catch the meaning right away here. I used to set too many goals with earlier attempts, this time, I just let go. The only target I’m following is perseverance – make sure I’m going to do it as long as possible - no rush, and no push. Every day I try to study from 30 to 60 minutes after finishing all higher priority tasks of the day and before going to bed. I loosen myself completely, if I can’t study a day, I will still be able to do it next days. There is no reason to feel bad. With French, I’m trying to drive on the completely different path I did with English. The good point is that Duolingo is matching well with my need too, no heavy grammar sessions, no intense exercises, just learn new words, read them out loud and guess their meanings in simple sentences.  So far, I think Duolingo is the best system I’ve used: free, simple, flexible, stable and comfortable.

The only trouble to study a new language at this point of time is obtaining new vocabulary and word gender. I feel like aging is on me actually. I cannot capture new words and remember them as well as I used to. Anyway, there is a saying, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I cannot find tools in French ‘cause my French is 0-ish now. Well, let’s give some food for thought and replay my studying experience with English to see if it’s helpful here.

Back to a couple weeks ago, I shared my experience to study new English words with some vocabulary helpers, so I thought it was also the time to take advantage of them for another language too. I schooled myself a bit and surprisingly, I could also successfully put Super Memo in use for French. Yay! what a great finding!

Do you want to bet if I can pass 6 months with French, LOL? Who knows, time will answer. Just can show you  my humble result after awhile playing with Duolingo here

If you’d like to study a new language but you don’t know where to start or don’t want to invest a lot for a try, come to Duolingo! I hope you are able to catch vaguely the picture after skimming on my limited experience here. Let pick a language and have fun!

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