Doing Dutch with Duolingo: “Excuse me, I am an apple”

A little update on my Dutch-learning adventure.

Things are still going fairly well. I can safely say that I know more Dutch than last week. If If I’m ever called upon to identify someone as a man, woman, girl, boy, or child, and whether they’re eating or drinking bread, rice, water, milk, or juice, I should be able to perform admirably.

First a look at what Duolingo does well:

  • introducing grammatical forms without drawing your attention to them through repetition of different tenses with the vocabulary
  • recycling of language generally. This is an important element of consolidating learned language, and Duolingo does it well. Lessons are divided into different categories. You begin with the basics, which mainly cover grammar and very simple vocabulary, and after a few of those there are themed vocabulary lessons. But the grammar lessons still include useful vocabulary, and the vocabulary lessons still make you think about some of the grammar you’ve previously learned.
  • Motivation: one of the hardest aspects of self learning. Earning XP, setting goals, and betting “Lingots” (in-game currency) on whether you meet your goals.

And some of the downsides (most of which are not directly related to the app, in fairness):

  • lack of real practice – while it does quickly introduce functional language such as How are you? and I’m fine, thank you, I still have doubts about how much the app can give you approximations of real-life language experience.
  • amount of input – at times it feels a bit slow and repetitive, and I long for more vocabulary to be thrown at me. I know however, that that’s pretty typical of anyone learning a language at an early stage. It simply takes time, and it’s impossible to go too quickly.
  • Grammatically correct but nonsensical sentences:
  • I can’t complain too much about these, because they do make things much more interesting. I’m in two minds about them really. They pop up in the practice exercises, which give you a mix of exercises on everything you’ve learned so far. The app might use an algorithm which generates sentences which are grammatically correct, but don’t make much sense. Still though, such sentences, in their very artificiality, make you think of the structures and patterns being used. That’s ok with a language similar to English like Dutch, but might cause confusion in a language that doesn’t share roots with English.

In summary, it’s quite useful for learning the basics (though it’s probably not too hard to figure out what Hij es een man or Zij drinkt melk mean when you’re a native English speaker), but I’ll have to wait and see how things develop. For comparison, I’ve also started using it for French. According to the placement test, I’m 50% fluent (whatever that actually means!), so I got to skip a lot of the basic exercises, but the basic structure is still the same, only there are a few exercises which get you to read a sentence into the microphone, which I haven’t come across yet in Dutch. At least it’s some speaking practice, though it’s quite basic. Still, I’ve noticed some cases where I used something in real life after coming across it on Duolingo. So far this seems a more useful way to use the app: as a complement to real-life use and learning of a language.

3 thoughts on “Doing Dutch with Duolingo: “Excuse me, I am an apple”

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