The Student News Site of The American School in Japan

HANABI

The Student News Site of The American School in Japan

HANABI

The Student News Site of The American School in Japan

HANABI

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How Helpful is Duolingo?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Duolingo is a popular language-learning app that I recently started using in anticipation of a trip abroad. After learning how to write “Elle mange une pomme” (she eats an apple) for around the fifth time, I started to wonder, how useful is Duolingo, really? 

After neglecting the app for a month, I received a spam email saying, “30 days later, Duo [the app’s mascot] has learned as much as half a semester’s worth of university-level Spanish class.” According to a recent study—albeit, by Duolingo themselves—after using the app for 120 hours, Duolingo learners’ scores on reading and listening tests match that of university students who completed four semesters, or roughly 240 hours, of language study. 

Generally, language learning apps are most helpful for writing, reading, and listening comprehension, so it makes sense that test scores for those skills would be accelerated. Many of Duolingo’s practice questions, for example, are typing and reading-based. 

However, one of the most important aspects of learning a language and reaching fluency is gaining the ability to speak that language, as well as learning more about the culture that surrounds it. This is where, in my opinion, Duolingo or any language learning app is lacking. 

Ms. Jiménez, a high school Spanish teacher at ASIJ, encourages speaking fluency among her students by enforcing a Spanish-only policy in her classroom. “I want to transform my classroom into somewhat of a mini culture where students are talking and still socializing with their friends, but in Spanish,” she said.

Immersion is the most effective way to pick up a new language because it makes students think, process, and respond in that language—rather than their native one—which helps them communicate more naturally. Using an app for 5-10 minutes a day on a commute, for example, cannot replace this important step in grasping a language. 

Nonetheless, many use Duolingo in preparation for travel. Ms. Jiménez also said that it would be more helpful if there were multiple learning pathways for using the app. For example, if a user chooses the “path” of learning for tourism, the app would teach basic phrases needed to survive in that country. Currently, learning through Duolingo is not curated or designed for specific needs. 

Ms. Jiménez still regards Duolingo as a fun app to use and says it can be helpful depending on the student. She even uses it herself to learn Portuguese. She has added it to the “additional resources” list for her Spanish classes and considers it a better use of screen time than scrolling through social media. 

I surveyed 25 ASIJ students who are Duolingo users on their experiences and how effective they found the app. When asked on a scale of 1-5 to rank how useful they think Duolingo is, 52% rated it a 3. 

The main criticisms were that the choice of vocabulary taught is often irrelevant, the pace of learning is slow and repetitive, and that one can’t gain a deep understanding of a language by using it. 

The Duolingo app is incredibly popular, with over 74 million monthly active users. Although the teaching methods could use some tweaking, the app is still a fun and convenient way to learn the basics of a language, if not its full richness.

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About the Contributor
Romi Shelton
Romi Shelton, Writer
Hi! I'm Romi, a current freshman at ASIJ. I was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey and Tokyo. I enjoy drawing, reading, writing, playing guitar, and playing volleyball. As a writer, I love learning and writing about new and relevant topics.

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