Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Duolingo Offers Free Online Language Instruction

Software like Rosetta Stone has been widely touted as an effective way to learn a new language. Unfortunately, these packages do not come cheap, making them out of reach of many would-be linguists. Duolingo, however, seems poised to make expensive language-learning packages a thing of the past.

Duolingo is a free--yes, really; users won’t even see advertisements--web-based site that can teach users to speak Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, or English in simple, effective lessons. (Site administrators say that Chinese curriculum is on the way.) What's the catch to this free service? According to its website, Duolingo users -- presumably more advanced learners -- can use the learning tools for free, "because while you are learning you are also ...simultaneously contributing to translate real-world content from the Web." Advanced speakers can skip ahead to more challenging material, but beginners start with simple lessons that teach useful, basic nouns, verbs, and articles through varied examples and lots of repetition.

Imagine you are an English speaker who wants to learn French. Seconds after creating your account, you can begin your first lesson. Initial instruction methods include reading a sentence in French and translating it to English, typing an English sentence in French, selecting correct translations from multiple choices, listening to a sentence in French and typing the translation to English, and matching pictures with vocabulary. Learners can hear new words pronounced for them frequently, and if the user enables a microphone the system can even capture and correct a student’s pronunciation. Lessons are taught through a series of interactive questions, and feedback is provided after each answer so users know immediately whether they understand a concept. Forget a word? No problem. Simply hover the mouse over the word in question and a translation will appear.

Students may find their rapid progress through lessons motivating on its own, but if not, they can accumulate skill points by completing lessons successfully. And a free iPhone app is available so learners can practice on the go.

Duolingo is worth a look, whether you are a student who needs extra practice for a traditional class, a travel enthusiast, or someone in search of a new hobby.

Watch an introductory video below:

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