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Duolingo helps students learn foreign languages

Rosetta Stone isn't the only online method for learinng a second language now

Paniz Jazirian, Staff Writer

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If you’ve ever tried learning a foreign language, chances are you’ve came across Duolingo. It has over 200 million users. Duolingo has announced the release of the Korean language as of Sept. 7 and the anticipated Mandarin Chinese by the end of the 2017 year.

“I liked the app because of the way it divides up the information into small sections,” said Spanish teacher Julie Ann Melville. “It gives a very personalized practice. It wouldn’t be helpful for AP Spanish since we do more advanced literature. I really look forward to using the Korean language on the app. I love learning Korean, although my accent may be laughable.”

Duolingo was released in July 2016 for iOS users. It includes a gamified progression tree where one can set a goal and compete with family and friends. As of now, 26 languages are available, including the human made language Esperanto. Certain languages such as Yiddish, Hindi and Indonesian are also in the making for English speakers. The app works as both a translational and learning system.

Duolingo is similar to Rosetta Stone, its older counterpart. Rosetta Stone can cost anywhere between $80 to $250. Based on a study done by Queens College, people learned Spanish faster on Duolingo rather than Rosetta stone. Rosetta Stone on the other hand, has more options for languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet such as Arabic and Asian languages. Duolingo usually involves translating from English to another language, while Rosetta Stone has a more immersive approach and forces users to think in a new language.

Duolingo has recently added a story telling section which tells users a story and then asks the users questions that test how well they were able to understand the story.

“We’ve done the measurements: we know we’re as good as a classroom, a standard high-school classroom in the US,” said Von Ahn, founder of Duolingo, in an interview with The Guardian. “In a standard US classroom, kids are getting a minute of conversational practice a day. But we would like to be as good as a human tutor, and that’s where we want to go.”

“I like getting a weekly report of the time students spent on duolingo,” said Spanish teacher at Clark, Victoria Marcucci. “It’s very clear to me the students that have and haven’t used it. I can’t say for sure if it’s helpful in terms of language proficiency because usually the conscious students are the ones also using duolingo. I think you end up doing more than what you end up planning to do. Time flies by when you are using it.”

“I think it is a very good app to familiarize yourself with the language, learn few words and gain more confidence,” said Glendale Community College French professor Sarah Mecheneau. “Especially to learn words. They always repeat the same words so after a while you aren’t learning anything new.”

“Rosetta Stone and Duolingo aren’t comparable,” Mecheneau said. The goal of Rosetta Stone is to make you learn a language like you are a child and make you guess phrases. The worst aspect of these language apps is that they undermine the culture of a language. They’ll teach the language but forget about the cultural aspect.”

“I have tried learning Japanese with Rosetta Stone and Mango. I may be interested in learning Korean with Duolingo,” Mecheneau said. “Chinese may be too difficult with the app though. Duolingo’s user friendliness is great. It is way better than Mango.”

A downside for some users of the app may be that it is too basic in nature. “Duolingo was basic. It had easy words so it didn’t help me,” said native Spanish speaker Alyssa Aldaz. “It’s good for beginners because it keeps repeating easy words. It probably helps beginners remember the same words. For me it’s too easy. The sounds and interactive pictures made it fun. If you want to learn very basic spanish it’s helpful but other than that no. People talk with different words, longer and faster which Duolingo doesn’t teach.”

“There is a greater demand for speaking foreign languages and Duolingo is the most accessible as an app considering it is completely free,” Menecheau said. Despite the seeming surge in bilingualism, Spanish fluency is decreasing with each new Hispanic generation, a national survey indicates. Furthermore, only one in four Americans can speak another language and only 1 percent can speak a language that they learned from a classroom. This is noteworthy considering that foreign language classes are a requirement for high school graduation in certain states and for admission to colleges.

“Part of it is because people don’t pay attention,” Aldaz said. “It’s probably the easiest language to learn since it uses the exact same letters and some of the same words. Even then I found it difficult to learn the subjunctive form despite being a native speaker. I don’t think we should be required to take more than one year of it. It doesn’t benefit people at all if they don’t want to learn the language.”

“It’s horrible that the new generation of Hispanics can’t speak Spanish. That’s something that defines you from other speakers,” Aldaz said. “It makes me feel bad if I can’t speak it. My sister and I cannot communicate Spanish properly. My sister forgets words. It’s something to joke about in Spanish culture when someone doesn’t speak the language. They call her gringo, “the white person.” It is usually just taken as a joke, not as seriously as it should be.”

“The way we teach languages needs to be changed. It’s very textbook oriented,” Mecheneau said. “It’s always fill in the blank or conjugate the verb. It’s not like that in real life. We have to change the way we teach, and then maybe more people will be able to speak it. We also have to study abroad.”

“Learning languages helps us understand the world and open the door to a global world,”  Mecheneau said. “You open your ears to new sounds and open your mouth to say new sounds. It makes you a more powerful person. You have people who think Puerto Rico is not a part of America. Foreign languages are very undermined in schools. People don’t know France is a country. They think Paris is a country. It’s very shameful. When I was teaching in Michigan, I had to specify on exams if a place such as Portugal was a country or a city. Some of my favorite authors have written books in English. It has been one of the best pleasures in my life to read works in their original language. That’s why I want to learn Japanese.”

“Studying in a classroom is way better than using an app, because the apps don’t focus on the communication aspect,” said Mecheneau. I ask students to use Mango for an hour per chapter. I like Mango better than Duolingo mainly because it’s better on the cultural aspect even though it is not as user friendly as Duolingo. Right now we are trying to replace textbooks with online software, so Duolingo and tiny cards may be very helpful.”

“Foreign languages need to absolutely be a priority,” Mecheneau said. “You will be able to make connections with different subjects like science. Without foreign languages, you will have tunnel vision — see only see one aspect of the world.”

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Duolingo helps students learn foreign languages