It seems like a long time ago when I decided to give a language-learning app a try. I’ve been busy since then, but finally this week I decided I’d download Duolinguo. I thought quite a bit about which language to choose. I knew right away that I already know enough French and Italian to make it difficult to know how much I was actually learning from the app. I thought about choosing a language as far from English as possible, but decided against this as, generally, we tend to learn languages with at least some basic similarities to our mother tongue. Most Europeans will learn another European language, which mostly have some basic links with each other.
In the end, I went for Dutch. I’ve never learned it before so I’m a beginner, and though it is from the same language family as English, superficially it’s not obviously similar, so as a beginner I won’t have a huge advantage. Plus, as I’m currently living in Belgium, there are some practical benefits to learning one of the national languages. As I’m in French-speaking Wallonia, I’m not exposed to Dutch much at all, but if I want to turn my learning into something more serious, it’s easy enough to seek out Dutch for more practice and exposure.
So far, I’ve had two “lessons” and my impression is that it’s not bad so far. It takes things fairly slowly, but is effective at getting the basics of the language across, using some effective teaching techniques. Both lessons are pretty short, and on a surface level, introduce the words man, woman, boy, girl, and child. It’s also, in a less obvious way, teaching the different forms of to be in the present (e.g. I am, He is etc.), using and, and articles (a/an, the). I like that it doesn’t reference the grammar at all, instead subtly getting you used to structures like He is and She is by repeating sentences like He is a man, then later asking you to identify He is a boy, and then getting you to form it. It’s a simple way to get you to recognise common structures and how they can be applied to different situations, without getting into the confusing metalanguage and complex explanations we often associate with grammar. It places the language in front of you, but without drawing attention to its patterns, leaving your brain to figure it out. And it gives you visual aids in the form of pictures to reinforce your learning.
This is encouraging as this is how good language lessons are taught in real life, especially for lower-level students. The app also has a good variety of exercise types: matching sentences to pictures; constructing a sentence you’ve listened to by choosing words from a group; adding missing words; and typing sentences you’ve listened to (or their translations). This writing is important as production helps you to consolidate language. The app has also taken lessons from the motivational elements of videogames, giving you XP to mark your progress and make you feel a sense of achievement.
So, so far so good, but I’ll see how things go. I’m still not convinced that it will be easy to learn some basic conversational Dutch this way. Also, while it’s nice that it gets you typing early on, speaking practice is much more effective in terms of retaining language, and I don’t see how it can provide that in a meaningful way. And I’d like to see more of a challenge, an occasional word here and there above the learner’s level, to keep them pushed. Maybe that’ll come later though, I am still an absolute beginner.
Most importantly of all though, it’s fun with a nice presentation and bite-sized chunks you can dip into at any time. I’ll update you in a few weeks, when hopefully I’ve moved on from Hij is een man.
Disclaimer: this is entirely my own honest opinion, and I haven’t been commissioned to review Duolinguo by anyone.