Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Today being Bastille Day is a good time to write this post.

I took French in high school and a few years in college and was somewhat surprised at how much I remembered when I took my cycling trips to France some 20 years later.  I couldn't really speak it, but I could understand basics (when people spoke slowly) and could read a menu, street signs, etc.  I amazed my cycling buddies when I was able to help poke our way through a menu in France.  In the back of my mind I decided that someday I would be fluent in French.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I saw an ad on TV for DuoLingo, an app that teaches you a language.  I loaded it onto my phone (free is a great price) and it is really fun.  You can login under multiple devices.

Your "goal" is 20 points a day.  You earn points by completing lessons.  You also earn these things called "lingots" that you can use to purchase extra lessons and do other fun things. 

The lessons are a combination of typing what you hear, speaking (it has voice recognition), multiple choice, translating French to English, and translating English to French.

I am pretty awestruck at how fast my brain has remembered how to conjugate verbs, and how much vocabulary I remembered.  You can test out of sections if you think you know it well enough, otherwise, you just keep plugging along lesson after lesson until completed.  Over time, each passed lesson "weakens" if you are having issues, so you also have the option to go back and practice it to "strengthen" it back up.  I have no idea how long it will take me to complete the French "tree".  Many other languages are available in DuoLingo.

If you are in an area where you can't speak, you can select the "no speaking" option and complete lessons that way.

It isn't perfect, but it is free and I have found it to be very entertaining.  I don't have to commit to some huge lesson plan, or to a class that is on a certain hour of a certain day.  If I find 20 minutes, I just sit down, open up the app and do a few lessons to get my 20 points (this is the highest level, you can set the bar lower if you like).

The app says I am 40% fluent at this point.  I would argue with that assessment, but I guess I will take it.  If lauguages interest you, I would highly recommend this app.

Of course, being curious, I decided to find out how this company makes money.  When you get to very high levels, they ask you if you want to try to translate a CNN story, or an article, etc. and they grade you.  Well, while they are grading your work and you receive that benefit, they are also selling your work back to CNN and other media outlets for translating the stories.  Pretty ingenious, I thought.  So them making an app that interests you and holds your attention benefits them - taking you through the course all the way up to fluency will eventually net them an employee that they can cash in on and not have to pay.


Carl from Chicago said...

That is very cool. I tried to use some of the Rosetta Stone stuff to learn French and Spanish but didn't get very far. Nothing against those tools, but they weren't very interactive and weren't mobile.

Would be great to try something like that app you are working on...

Anonymous said...

You're a mensch! [or whatever the French equivalent...if they have one]
Here's a site from my blogroll you might find useful

Dan from Madison said...

@Carl give DuoLingo a shot, I like it a lot. @Tat - that is a good site!

Terry from Crown Point said...

Thanks! I'm giving Spanish another shot. Already better than my high school teacher.