Ahh, Duolingo. The little language learning app that could.

Achieving some level of proficiency with the hope of eventual fluency in at least two other languages (namely, French and Spanish) is one of my lifetime wants and has been for quite some time. I studied Spanish in prep school and high school, and I was fairly comfortable with my abilities. However, I had effectively zero real experience with French. Everyone always recommends going and living in another country to force yourself to learn the language, but that wasn’t an option that I was comfortable exploring just yet. 

I had always wanted to learn French, though. Because duh, French is just tres romantique et exotique and who doesn’t want to sound more cultured? Like they have a certain je ne sais quoi about them?

But try as I might, any French I tried to learn just wouldn’t stick. I had language learning CDs, bought books, read articles, and even considered (briefly) listening to French podcasts while I slept in the hopes that I would wake up fluent in the language a la Dexter in Dexter’s Laboratory. Then I remembered Dexter’s plight and decided against it.

Nothing was working. I had all but given up on it for the moment, until Duolingo came along.

In 2013, Duolingo got on my radar after releasing its app for Android. I vaguely remember reading about it somewhere and hearing that it was finally coming to Android. Shortly thereafter, I downloaded the app and created an account. The rest is history.

I never set out to maintain a streak like this. I first set a goal for myself to practise continuously for a year to improve my skills. Then the year passed and then… it kind of just happened. Partly because of how determined I was to finally cross this off my list, and partly because I’m an obsessive Type A overachiever (okay, mostly the second one if we’re being real). However, every single day for at least 10 minutes a day for the past 642 days, I have practised vocabulary and conjugation in Spanish and French. I would never dare  claim that I’m fluent in either of these languages, but I’m fairly confident that I could help myself in a situation that called for their use, and it makes me happy to know that I did what I needed to do to get here.

If you’re interested in learning a new language using Duolingo, here are a few tips based on my experience:

  1. It won’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was learning a new language. Think about it: you’ve spent your entire life learning your native language, and there is still much left for you learn. Be patient with yourself and your progress, set a goal, and don’t give up. If you’re dedicated and determined, it’ll happen eventually!
  2. I would not recommend the mobile app for languages you are completely new to. For a language that you are learning thoroughly from scratch, using the service via their website will prove more beneficial for you. More resources are available, and hovering over unfamiliar words and phrases during a lesson will provide you with more robust conjugation information and definitions than the app will. The mobile app is, however, great for people learning on the go, and can still be used as a decent tool for learning if you have some foundation in a language.
  3. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many languages. I know, I know. It’s tempting to sign up for all the cool different languages that Duolingo has to offer (and there are a lot: 23 languages, including Klingon [!]). If you’re really serious about learning, however, spreading yourself too thin can be detrimental to your progress.
  4. Practise, practise, practise! I can’t stress this enough. Don’t take it for granted that the few minutes you spend using Duolingo per day will help you achieve the fluency that you want (though it definitely helps). In your down time, think about what you’ve learned so far and how you could apply it in a situation. Thinking about situations and how you could respond to them in your new language is a good way to start. I’m very annoying, so I’m not above throwing a bit of French or Spanish into a sentence while talking to someone (I’m sorry everyone but I’m a woman on a mission). You may also find it useful to keep notes based on what you’ve learned from your lessons. If you can find someone to talk to who is more proficient in your chosen language than you are, absolutely do it.

I hope this helped! Let me know in the comments section if there’s any other question you have, and I’ll try my best to answer it. Speaking multiple languages is a highly marketable skill, and it will never not enrich your life, even in some small way.

(PS. my username is DaniceThom, add me if you like and will not be mad about my streak.)