things helping me kick my ass into high gear: duolingo

duolingo I'm going to keep this post short and sweet, because trying this one out for yourself will be way more fun than reading what I have to say about it.

Duolingo is an awesome app -- in fact, Apple's 2013 App of the Year (!!) -- and website that you can use to learn and practice another language. And if learning another language isn't kicking one's ass into high gear, I don't know what is. ;)

Currently, you can choose from Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and they’re working on “hatching” (love it; Duolingo's avatar is a super cute bird) Dutch, Irish, Russian, Turkish, Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian. (All the courses are currently made for English speakers.) The business model is still a little confusing to me, but the language courses are built with the help of volunteer bilinguists, and currently over at the Duolingo Incubator, there are a lot of language courses being built or in Beta for non-English speakers, too.

Duolingo states that it will always be no-cost and ad-free, because it makes money by having its users translate online text. They’ve also gotten tons of VC funding. The company touts its “learning, gamified” model as “addictive” — and I would have to agree with that (in a good way!) I’m not really a gaming kind of person (I play zero smartphone, computer or console games, and will take a board game over that stuff any day), but the “gamification” is definitely motivating even to me. It’s also easy to set a goal for yourself and the app tracks how you’re doing with sticking to it.

Once you get well-acquainted with the app and have some basic proficiency with the language you’re learning, you can then start to practice “Immersion” by translating portions of documents uploaded to Duolingo’s website. It’s not too overwhelming because you can even translate just a sentence from something and get credit, or go over sentences that others have translated and suggest edits. I’ll admit I haven’t done too much with the Immersion part yet because I’m still fairly beginner Spanish (currently at level 9 out of 25 available levels on Duolingo, and even at the top level you can continue accumulating points and proficiency by translating more), but I plan on challenging myself more with it once I’m further along my language “tree” (a higher level). There’s also a strong community for support and discussion, which I haven’t taken advantage of yet — but I loved this comment from a person who reached level 25 Spanish and discussed his experience with learning on Duolingo.

I know that I am much more proficient with my Spanish now than I have been in the past 8 years, after a couple months of fairly consistent (would be more helpful if I were even more consistent, of course!) practice on Duolingo. It’s a good feeling! And although I’m not even going to consider starting another language until I get to Level 25, it’s pretty cool to think that I could possibly learn another foreign language (and for free!)

I hope if you’ve had interest in revisiting a language learned in your past, or learning a foreign language for the first time, that you’ll try out Duolingo. And if you’re learning Spanish, find me (“valkaykus”) and let’s play each other for motivation and practice! 

Do you know any foreign languages? What has helped you learn and stay proficient? Would love to hear your experience in the comments.

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.