Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Have you tried Duolingo?
As of November 13th, I accidentally broke my 710 daily streak on Duolingo. Obviously, I used the site/app a lot. I do like it a good amount, though there are some things that I wish I could change. In general, it is a very good language learning platform for beginner and intermediate level learners.
It's not as great for advanced learning, because there aren’t a lot of conversational resources. It does get into decently advanced language learning, but it doesn't really have that element of conversation that you need for full fluency. Thus you can't become fluent in a language using Duolingo, but you can make significant language improvements.
I got an account under Duolingo many years ago. I found it by chance, before it was popular. I think I started on it with Italian. I did it for one or two days and then I stopped. But shortly after I got married, I started getting back into it. I was working on Russian, mostly.
I've played around in a ton of other courses, just because I'm fascinated with languages, and I really enjoy it, but I mostly focused on Russian, as that's my primary language of study.
Duolingo gamifies language learning by giving you bite size lessons that you can complete in five minutes or so. It has several levels of each category, and it has levels in each topic so you can get crowns as you go up. You can also get lingots, which is the game’s currency. It provides a daily streak that shows how many days in a row you’ve hit your daily goal (you can adjust your daily goal).
Generally the way the lessons work is either you're translating something from your native language to your language of study, or vice versa. Sometimes you transcribe spoken language or translate a written sentence. Some languages on Duolingo will allow voice recognition for you to practice speaking. Sometimes it'll also let you fill in the blanks, use multiple choice, match words, or something similar.
There is also a competitive aspect, as you can get awards for practicing more than other random people. Duolingo also has a forum, notifications, a shop where you can use your lingots, several achievements, and you can follow your friends (I have a lot of friends that I don’t know where they came from, so it seems that you’re almost forced to follow a bunch of people. However, that might have happened because I did something weird).
There might be a little, written lesson for each category of practice, depending on what language you're studying. I found that basically only Spanish has that in the mobile version. I generally used the app every day, because I am more comfortable typing in Russian on my phone than on my computer.
Duolingo has a very large database of languages, which I really enjoy.
Current language courses for English speakers
*These are the courses I’ve tried out (to some extent)
There are a lot of options. The only language I'm interested in that they don't have is Toki Pona, which is understandable. Toki Pona would be very difficult to make it into a regular course, since it is so different from most languages.
Things I really like about Duolingo
Explanations and bite sized learning material.
Multiple choice questions - Unfortunately, that's not overly common in the higher level lessons.
You can click on individual words and see the translations for them.
There are tests to skip levels if you aren't a beginner. Being somewhat good at Russian when I started Duolingo made me appreciate this. Most apps make you start from the beginning.
There have been a lot of changes since I've started, but now we can finish a level and it's marked gold instead of reaching achievement and then getting smaller every day you don’t practice. I like to get it checked off the list.
Competition - I don't really do that as much anymore, because I'm more interested in Clozemaster right now, but it can be a lot of fun.
The way they award lingots is a fair amount.
There are cute things in the shop you can buy.
Daily streak freeze - I've used it so many times. it's very disappointing when you have a several hundred day streak going and then you miss one day and that ruins the whole thing. But Duolingo lets you freeze your streak so you don't go up, but you also don't go back to zero. That's the only way I've been able to maintain a 710 day streak. Apparently though, my streak freeze didn’t activate somehow on the 12th of November.
Variety of languages - I think it's a fantastic selection.
Free - There are some ads because of it, but that's to be expected because they have to fund it somehow.
Community - You can invite and follow friends to see what they are doing.
Achievements - I finished the achievements a while ago besides inviting people, but I enjoy checking those off.
Testing out - You can test out of skills if you already know the material.
Simultaneous courses - You can learn several languages at once, which is awesome! My current languages I'm actively working on are: Russian, Spanish, Norwegian, Hawaiian, Greek, and Latin.
Things I don't like about Duolingo
I don't like the fact that you can only learn a language based on one reference language. For instance, I like to study Spanish through Russian. (I study Spanish with Russian translations.) I like that because it helps me utilize my knowledge of Russian toward helping me learn Spanish. Since Spanish is more familiar to an English speaker, it also helps me use my Spanish knowledge to learn more Russian.
Thus I wish that I could learn Russian through English and then learn Spanish through Russian, but Duolingo only allows you to have one base language. Fortunately Clozemaster does allow this!
The main thing that drives me crazy with Duolingo is how much typing I have to do. Especially on higher levels, I have to type out whole sentences in Russian and it takes a lot longer than I want to take. Lessons that you wish were 5 minutes or less take 10 minutes or more. It's a lot more effort than I feel like it's worth, especially when I have to do 17 lessons in the same topic, and they're all the same set of sentences. I get tired of writing the sentences over and over again. I do think it's good for your learning how to spell and write, but that's not really what I'm using Duolingo for. That’s the main reason I switched my primary language learning app to Clozemaster. (In Duolingo's defense, there are several aspects I prefer about Duolingo, so they are best together!)
Besides that, I don't really have any complaints. I think Duolingo is a great platform and has a wonderful mission. Now that my streak is broken, I’m less motivated to use it every day, but I still keep it up. There are definitely more tools for learning more common languages like French and Spanish. They have podcasts in Spanish and they have stories in French and Spanish that are really fun. But those aren't available in other languages. Also, languages that are really uncommon, like Hawaiian, don't have nearly as many lessons as languages like Russian.
Nonetheless, Duolingo is a really good start to language learning. I really like how Duolingo helps you get more intuition with the language; you hear more sentences and get a feel for it. I think it's a good platform. There are improvements to be made, but it's helpful in learning and understanding a language better.
As a follow up to Duolingo, I would highly recommend Clozemaster.
Check and see if the language that you're interested in learning is on the Duolingo. If so, I challenge you to try it out; it's free! If it isn’t on Duolingo, or you don't have a language you're interested in, I would advise looking into it. Check out the languages that they offer, and get a start on them with it. It's a fun, free platform that'll help you develop your skills and you can play around with several different languages and see what you like best. It's a wonderful place to start exploring language learning!