Language and Duolingo

I went to a secondary school which at the time emphasised language teaching. Students were encouraged to take two different language GCSEs – one in Year 10, and one in Year 11. My class had Italian, then French.

Even though I had completed 4 years of French by the end of secondary school, I never clicked with the language. As I learn most readily through reading and writing, I found the gaps between spoken and written French confusing. So while the written side of GCSE French came easily to me, trying to speak in French was frustrating.

Italian was far more enjoyable –  the logical connections between how words are pronounced and spelt made the language easier for me to understand. I enjoyed the language so much that I’ve repeatedly considered revisiting it.

At the moment, I’m practicing using Duolingo and Tinycards. I have a 109 day streak on Duolingo right now, which is probably the longest I’ve ever consistently done something. However, this isn’t 109 days of full attention. I have used streak freezes to skip some days, while I’ve also had “bare-minimum” days where I just repeated early lessons to fulfill my streak instead of actively trying to learn. But I’d estimate that at least 80 days have been legitimate.

Duolingo streak

So, after 109 days, what have I learnt from using Duolingo fairly consistently?

1) If I rely on using my reading ability to judge skill or improvement, I will not have an accurate result.
Se misuro la mia abilita per mezzo di come leggo, saro sbagliato.

Reading is by far the easiest part of language and learning for me. Although I already knew this, my Duolingo experience adds even more evidence. I was glad when Duolingo removed the fluency counter early on in my streak, as I knew the numbers on the fluency counter were not representative. I’ve often ignored pronunciation and listening, so those sides are really undeveloped. As a result, I wouldn’t be able to talk with someone else in Italian even if they were solely using words in my vocabulary.

2) I can easily slip into treating Duolingo as a game rather than a learning tool.
Posso vedo Duolingo come un gioccattolo, non come un insegnante.

Its easy for me to pass lessons through pattern-matching and visual recognition without actually understanding the content. I’ve noticed this more as I’ve reached higher levels of the tree. To learn better, I need to consciously stop myself from looking at the patterns. I instead need to focus on breaking down sentences and asking why they are structured and written as they are.

3) I can passively understand Italian, but I can’t really actively produce it.
Posso capito passivamente Italiano, ma non posso l’ho creare attivamente.

This point is the culmination of points #1 and #2. Because I’ve focused on reading and translating written Italian into English, rather than writing my own sentences or seeking out new sources of information, my ability to produce anything myself and my confidence in being able to produce grammatically correct statements are very limited.

Overall, I have enjoyed using Duolingo consistently, and building a streak. When a concept has “clicked” for me, and I’ve gone from guessing answers to knowing them, it’s helped me stay motivated to learn more and try more challenging skills. At the same time, using only Duolingo was not a great idea; I could have learnt more in the same period of time by using other resources as well.

One thought on “Language and Duolingo

  1. As someone that has only recently started using Duolingo, this is an interesting read!

    I ended up completely ignoring the listening side so far as I found that it didn’t seem too helpful. On the normal speed clips a lot of words just weren’t hearable at all for me and whilst slowing it down meant that I could hear all the words, I’m not expecting every Italian speaking person I come across to slow down and speak as if I’m stupid either.

    I suspect the lack of being able to hear certain words at normal speed may be down to how Duolingo puts the sound clips together, but I’ve never spoken to a real Italian speaking person before so I can’t say for sure.

    That being said this might have convinced me to try that side of it again just to see if I do get used to it.

    For the patterns point I do think that could be an issue, but I also think some level of pattern recognition is what is actually helping me to learn the language so far. Perhaps it is one of those things that is needed, just not in excess?

    Finally for the last point… Perhaps use this as a reason to practice that? Randomly write things in Italian every now and then without prompting. Get used to doing all that and see how you get on?

    Looking forward to future posts!


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