Duolingo is the best method for practicing a language outside of engaging with the language with a native speaker. It’s free and fun. Learning is self-paced but you can be motivated by the Duolingo bird. I find that I like being reminded about my daily lessons:
You can get into a rhythm that is self-perpetuating. By continuing to practice each day, you continue to be rewarded by receiving “Lingots”, Duolingo virtual-currency. You also continue to get better with the target language. Really, this is just a reward system that benefits those who continue daily practice of a language. There are other motivating factors as well such as the social platform with leaderboards, which can be helpful if you have friends who are also learning.
There is a lot of research on language acquisition, but for the lay-person, it would probably be best to think of language acquisition like weight training in the gym. You can go once a month and have perfect form, but how close do you think you’ll come to meeting your goals? Doing both tasks daily is how it becomes most rewarding. The comparison isn’t a perfect one, but it is a good mental model for how you can think about things. I want to discuss this comparison more in a future post.
There are only a few areas where Duolingo could be a little clearer. One of those is with the matching exercises. These are the exercises where you click pairs in your language (L1) and the target language (L2). Duolingo enforces no method for doing this exercise, so you can do this in any way you desire, but there is one method which is objectively better than the others. Read on for the Ranvelion-Duolingo language method…
When you get to a matching exercise, do the following:
Make your way in way from left-to-right, top-down, always chosing the target language word or phrase first. See the process in action when Spanish (SP) is L1 and French (FR) is L2:
There are three reasons that this is the best possible method for doing this type of exercise. First, Duolingo only pronounces the word in the foreign language. So, for me, in the above example, only the French words are pronounced. If you finish the exercise by pressing the L1 word first, you won’t get a chance to hear the L2 version. Second, this exercise can be very easy, maybe to the point where it becomes ineffective. By forcing yourself to identify the words in a pre-defined order, you ensure that the exercise doesn’t simply become a simple process of elimination. And third, by setting up these parameters for the exercise, you have to work with morphological clues that the words themselves might provide: plural-with-plural, past-tense-with-past-tense, etc. This type of analytical awareness is one of the key skills for becoming a proficient in the language. In French, “présentation” is the equilavalent to the Spanish “presentación”, but by making yourself work through the exercises in a predefined order, pressing the L2 word first, you’re training your mind to focus in on the small differences between a language and not just mindlessly tapping words that look similar.
Your mileage may vary in terms of how much each of the three rules above will work to your benefit, but I’m sure that this method is ideal for all language learners who use Duolingo.