Hi! Does Duolingo work? Should you give it a try? I’m Bekah and I’ll share with you my experience using Duolingo to learn Italian.

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My background

I am bilingual. I grew up speaking both English and Spanish. These languages pertain to the Indo-European language family as also Italian does. Besides, Spanish and Italian are Romance languages. I mention this because having English and Spanish in my background will positively impact the process of learning Italian giving me a certain “familiarity” with the target language.

However, I have not had the experience of actually becoming fluent in another language. Learning a language involves the development of skills that then could be employed in learning successive languages. But whenever I was confronted with the challenge of mastering a third language, by myself this time; it always appeared to be a daunting task. A noble goal no doubt, but something that seemed to be by all means, unrealistic, from my viewpoint.

I had not been exposed to the Italian language before, except maybe for hearing the words: “ciao,” and “grazie.” I am not even saying that I knew what they meant (or even that I could tell that they were Italian), I just remember that I’d heard them!

Duolingo

When I first got the great idea to learn Italian, I had already been introduced to Duolingo. So, of course, it was my first choice for starting on the journey to learn Italian.

I begun using Duolingo for studying Hebrew. So, needless to say, I found Italian ten times easier than the Semitic language! With Italian there was no learning a whole new alphabet or getting used to writing “backwards.” Regardless, Duolingo has proven to be both useful and exciting for these two, and several other languages that I have casually explored.

Just to set it straight from the start, I have mostly used the app version of Duolingo. Mainly for practicality reasons, the app has always been my choice. Which, by the way, is a positive point for Duolingo, putting the app right at our fingertips! In an age where mobile devices have virtually become an attachment of ourselves, Duolingo is right there included in the attachment. In relation to the website, it does offer several additional features that are quite handy.

Now, why do I like Duolingo?

Hmm, let me see, I guess I have to say that the cute, little, green owl Duo, got me from the start. I mean, he’s just so encouraging in all your tasks as well as supportive when you get one answer wrong. And those outfits you can buy him? Charming. Who wouldn’t enjoy dressing up an owl, right?

All jokes aside, Duolingo has some overall remarkable characteristics. I’ll sum up this point about why I like Duolingo by mentioning four features that have made me stick with this app far longer than I expected.

You learn vocabulary through context

First of all, it starts with exposing you to the language in the same way you were exposed to your mother tongue as you grew up.

It doesn’t present you with a list of verbs to become familiar with or a list of nouns for you to memorize. Duolingo starts you off with full sentences (simple ones) and continues from there to teaching you their meaning. This method allows you to understand new words in context by looking at the surrounding terms you already have learned and by filling in what you don’t know through inference of meanings. This inference is based on the sentence segments you understand.

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In other words, it allows you to make educated guesses that expand your vocabulary. As you advance in you learning, you can always refresh your memory by clicking on any word to check on its meaning.

It gives you a sense of accomplishment with every short step you take

Duolingo has numerous features that make the initial part of learning a language exciting and catching. The first steps of most projects where you feel so inept and the end goal is only a nearly invisible dot on the horizon can sometimes be completely overwhelming to the point of abandoning the project. However, Duolingo’s approach helps avoid this all too common occurrence.

The app gives you a sense of accomplishment for even simple things such as submitting a correct answer. A cheering sound for each good answer will stimulate you. And you’re motivated to finish each lesson watching your progress on a bar. Every lesson you complete will give you points. And you’ll be encouraged to earn a fixed number of points a day. To accomplish these daily goals, it will take you from 5 to 20 minutes a day. So even if it takes you 20 minutes, It’s still a reasonable amount of time that most people can fit into their busy schedules. And because the objectives are attainable we tend to stick with the program and even build long streaks.

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It encourages habit formation

Another commendable aspect of Duolingo is that it is configured to encourage habit formation. In my opinion, this is a vital point when learning anything new or acquiring any skill.  The app prompts you to set a reminder time that you can receive in your phone and/or by email.

Additionally, when you haven’t appeared for a couple of days, Duo checks in on you! I mean, who wouldn’t be touched when that cute, green face pops up on your mobile screen and says: “I miss you.” It just makes you want to drop all that you’re doing and run to open the app and complete your daily goal, just to keep that sweet, little Duo happy.

It makes learning a language exciting with competitions and prizes

There are also different prizes and competitions to help you keep your eye on the goal. There are leagues in which you can compete and move up in the ranks as you earn more and more points by completing lessons.

My experience using Duolingo to learn Italian

I have been using Duolingo to learn Italian for about a year now. I have not been completely consistent during this time. But I did build up a 206-day streak at one point! Yeah! Also, I confess that I have approached this venture in a more relaxed way and consequently only use the app a few minutes once, sometimes twice a day on average.

Unfortunately, I have not advanced as far in learning Italian as I would have liked to by this point. However, I do not blame Duolingo for this. I’m pretty sure that no app exists that is going to magically insert a new language into your brain with no effort on your part. I probably would have heard of it by now!

Duolingo supplies many of the tools needed for a successful endeavour. However, you need to put the effort in on your side. The app gives you advice that will also further your progress. These include: seeing how many phrases you can remember by the end of the lesson and repeating each phrase out loud, among others. I also found that if I wrote down the grammar tips at the beginning of each lesson, it helped me retain more information.

On the other hand, I am actually surprised by how much I can understand in Italian. I tried listening to some songs in Italian and only had to look up a couple words of the lyrics. I would say that I have advanced in the listening, and reading areas satisfactorily, in relation to the amount of time and effort I have put into it.

However, I have not advanced much in the speaking or writing areas. I cannot formulate my own sentences or conversations (beyond the basics). And this is one downside that I have noticed on the Duolingo app. The majority of the exercises consist of translating from your native language to the target language and vice versa. But it does not give much in the way of writing or answering in your own words.

Wrapping up

I am still only at the beginning of this journey, but I’m happy to say that Duolingo has helped me keep an interest far longer than I expected! But as many have noticed, Duolingo is not a stand-alone app for learning a language in its entirety. In other words, you will need other resources to completely reach your goal of becoming communicatively competent in the target language, specially in the productive skills (writing and speaking).

That being said, Duolingo is perfect for getting you started and keeping you motivated on your journey. As the saying goes, “The hardest part of any journey is taking that first step.”

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We thank Bekah for her review on Duolingo. Her insights on this platform are useful for all of you that are deciding if this free course is worth giving it a try. If you’ve made up your mind to check out Duolingo and would like to see which languages are available, click here.

If you’ve already joined Duolingo and are seeking to expand your exposure to the language through other resources, then you’ll find this other post useful too, click here.


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