We Try It: Duolingo

RosieWe try it!22 Comments

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Being Hispanic (we can debate the term later), does not automatically guarantee certain characteristics that are associated with the group. You can be culturally Hispanic, but you can be pretty pale. You can be raised in a city that is at least sixty percent Hispanic with parents who speak Spanish fluently, but still not be able to speak Spanish yourself.

This was my problem. I am both Panamanian and Mexican, with some other cultural groups thrown in for fun, and my entire adult family all speak Spanish. Growing up, I could walk into a store and hear at least two different groups conversing in Spanish. I took Spanish classes in middle school and high school for my foreign language credit. But I remain a non-speaker. I have a small vocabulary, my understanding of Spanish sentence structure is poor, and I can only conjugate verbs in the present tense. It’s annoying, and unfortunately, colors people’s opinion of just exactly “how much” of a Hispanic I am, despite growing up culturally and ethnically Hispanic. I don’t think learning the Spanish language will suddenly earn me the title of being Hispanic. I know I’m Hispanic, I know the culture I grew up in. But I do still want to learn Spanish.

I’ve tried books, I’ve tried computer programs, and I’ve tried classes specifically designed to help me learn that language, but have always lacked discipline and personal practicing ability. But this time, I may have a solution.

Duolingo is an app I downloaded when I got a new smartphone. I still don’t even know how I came across it because I know I wasn’t looking for it. However, once I realized what it was, I tried it and was hooked.

Duolingo treats learning a new language like a game. You type in your name, make an account, and whether you’re an English speaker wanting to learn a specific language or approaching English from say, French. Duolingo currently offers (as of August 2013) Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian for English speakers and the same services for those language speaker’s wanting to learn English. Duolingo separates the language into sections, and each section includes a lesson. The lessons have various activities meant to teach you new words and concepts as you progress. Early on, you start off with four hearts that are like lives. Every time you get a question wrong, you lose a heart. Lose all the hearts before you complete a lesson and you have to start over. This eventually shrinks to three as you progress.

I started out with the basics, even though I probably could have accepted the option to test out of the first few sections. I need review, and I know it. Plus, it was a solid confidence builder to pass the levels quickly, which was good for when I got to the harder levels. Everything about it is like a vocabulary game, with some additional stuff like sentence structure, and learning the accents thrown in. You have to listen to sentences being said and write them correctly.

Duolingo is based through a website, so if you want to sit at your computer and play, that works as well. The website version enables you to read articles that you supposedly can translate at your language level, updated at the end of each section. But whether you have time to sit, or play on the go, Duolingo is great. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to speak the best Spanish ever, but it’s giving me a start, and that’s exciting.

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RosieWe Try It: Duolingo

22 Comments on “We Try It: Duolingo”

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  1. Profile photo of Melissa Marin
    Melissa Marin

    Hello all. I tried to learn Spanish in high school too (terrible way to learn). I had much better luck when I discovered a language program, by Michel Thomas (a polyglot) – his method is great for audio/on the go. If you just want practical direction to creating conversation.
    I have also sold Rosetta Stone, and while a valuable program – it is costly and teaches only basic conversation. I feel the Michel Thomas method really helps you think for yourself and he’s fun to listen to (think kindly & knowledable grandpa).
    http://www.michelthomas.com/michel_thomas.php (excerpt from website)
    “In 1947, he moved to Los Angeles and set up the Michel Thomas Language Centers and taught languages for over fifty years in New York, Beverly Hills and London.” Thank you for reading.

      1. Profile photo of Karo
        Karo

        I married into a Polish family. Which could be a fun movie script, but in reality it’s painful not to be able to talk to all those nice people. (My husband does speak English though :p)

        1. Profile photo of Rosie
          Rosie

          Oh my gosh! I kind of know how you feel, I was dating a guy whose family spoke primarily Spanish and not only was I getting the side-eye for being Hispanic and not being able to speak Spanish, but it was just so terrible to not be able to converse with them.

  2. Profile photo of Sara Habein
    Sara Habein

    Ooh! Good to know. My Spanish skillz are so-so, but I’d like to have a fun way to brush up on it better if I were to visit a Spanish-speaking country. I took 4 years of it in school, and I have a friend who lets me inflict upon him my bad inflection, but this sounds like a fun thing to try.

    The mister might also like it to brush up on French too.

  3. Profile photo of Marena
    Marena

    Thanks for the rec. I’ve been trying to learn a little Spanish as I also have some complicated heritage and identity issues going on that have lead me to want to learn at least the basics of the language. :)

  4. Profile photo of freckle [M]
    freckle [M]

    I tried this a while ago but found it a bit random. But after hearing so many positive comments I guess I’m going to return to it and try again.

    1. Profile photo of Rosie
      Rosie

      It is a bit new – I think it’s actually more well done now, because they’ve polished it up a bit, though it remains new enough that you can see the buggy parts. Give it a shot, it might seem better now. Hopefully it is to you!

  5. Profile photo of Ella
    Ella

    I don’t know if they have an app, but LiveMocha is really good too – you exchange with native speakers around the world and there are tonnes of different exercises. I’ve used it a fair bit in the past. http://livemocha.com/

  6. Profile photo of Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone
    Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

    I’m technically Hispanic according to the definition the Census people use, but I’m white Hispanic and my connections to Hispanic/Latina culture is primarily through step-family. I have little to nothing in common heritage wise with my Peurto Rican Latina step-grandmother. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to foster that, but… well. My Hispanic-ness is very different from her Latina-ness.

    I enjoy spending some time with her mother, but there’s a definite language barrier there because I basically speak just enough Spanish to let people know I don’t know what the hell they are saying, and she speaks enough English to do basic navigation of English speaking areas. I wonder what it would be like to not have that linguistic barrier in place.

    1. Profile photo of Rosie
      Rosie

      I get where you’re coming from. My Hispanic-ness is still different from other Hispanics, especially if I’ve been around mostly white people for a while (which can happen at my school). It is really interesting, if we knew how to speak another language as completely as English, what we could talk about with predominately foreign language speakers. It’s why I’m really determined to use Duolingo.

  7. Profile photo of QoB
    QoB

    Memrise is also a great site for learning vocabulary and basic phrases – you can use crowd-sourced mnemonics or make your own, and it’s gamified, with email reminders too.

    1. Profile photo of Rosie
      Rosie

      Ah, so many options! I love it. Okay, noting, and shall be checking out too. I forgot to mention that! Duolingo also sends you email reminders.

  8. Profile photo of Stephens
    Stephens

    Thanks for this. I’m hoping to start grad school next fall and one of the requirements for a couple of programs I’m interested is knowing a second language (if your first language is English). I’m trying to decide between Spanish and French since I’ve taken both in school. This will be very helpful.

    1. Profile photo of Rosie
      Rosie

      Oh, I’m so glad I can help! I’m doing both Italian and Spanish right now, but I spend more time on Spanish because it’s easier since I have more background. Italian is kind of killing me, people are all like “It’s just like Spanish!” No. No, it’s not. But you have background in both! Good luck with your program.

    2. Profile photo of Sara Habein
      Sara Habein

      Where you live might be a good determination of what language you should pick. Most areas of the US, I would suggest Spanish since it’s so commonly spoken now, but if you’re closer to Quebec, then French would probably be useful too.

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