Duolingo is a very popular free language learning platform and I am a Duolingo queen (addict?). Roughly four and half years ago (1640 days ago, to be exact), I started using Duolingo everyday to learn German. Three and half years ago, I moved from the US to Switzerland putting my, at the time, one year of Duolingo German learning to the test. Trial by fire, really. Because of this experience, I often get asked “Does it really work” and “Is it enough?” The short answers to these questions are “Yes” and “No.” But, let me elaborate.
What do I mean when I say it worked? Well, when I first arrived in Switzerland, I was able to use my German to handle basic transactions, like ordering food in a restaurant, paying for groceries, even asking for help to find something in the store. It even helped in ways I wasn’t expecting. One of the phrases I had learned in Duolingo was “Do you collect amber?” (“Sammeln Sie Bernstein”). I wondered at the time when this would ever come in handy. I mean, who is ever going to ask me if I collect anything? Turns out, it was a phrase I needed to know every single time I went grocery shopping. At checkout, the clerk always asks “Sammeln Sie Märkli” (Do you collect grocery store point stickers?).
So yes, I was able to get around after only using Duolingo for a year and half to learn German. But was it enough? No, not at all. Anytime a transaction went the slightest bit off-script (something wrong with my bank card, or the price sticker was missing), I completely floundered. And although I tried to have conversations with the neighbors it did not go so well. With Duolingo, you practice phrases and sentences in isolation. Actual conversation is nothing like that. I lacked the vocabulary and I simply wasn’t grasping the grammar well enough to be able to stay on-topic for more than a sentence or two. Using a computer program is simply not the same as talking with a real person.
To gain conversation skills, I joined a beginner conversation class. Duolingo gave me a bit of a jumpstart here as I was able to introduce myself, say where I was from, and how long I had been in Switzerland. I could even follow along in the class and have very simple conversations about fruits and vegetables, colors, and other simple topics.
Although in-person learning was more effective for me, I continued to use Duolingo everyday (see the 1640 day streak). I did this for two (three) reasons.
One, Duolingo was a good way to help build my vocabulary. After a year and a half of Duolingo, I probably had a vocabulary of about 1000 words. If you have read Randall Munroe’s book “Thing Explainer”, you know you can say a lot knowing just that many words (although you sound kind of silly). By completing all of the lessons and stories in German, Duolingo helped me build to a vocabulary of about 3000 words, making it a lot easier for me to express myself.
Two, Duolingo was a good way to drill grammar points after I learned them in my in-person class. The Duolingo grammar tips were never enough for me to understand the grammar, but as a complement to my in-person class, Duolingo was terrific. Even after completing the entire German learning tree in Duolingo, I still use Duolingo to do a few lessons everyday just to reinforce grammar points I have learned outside of Duolingo.
(Three) That Evil Owl will never get my family!
Plus, I’m also now using it to learn Spanish, French, and Italian…
Note: This is post is not sponsored. All opinions are my own.