Apps in the Classroom – Duolingo

So, you are a foreign language teacher with a dozen different classes of elementary, middle, or high school students struggling to learn Spanish, or French, or whatever. You are actually pretty lucky when it comes to utilizing the iPads. Very few subjects benefit from this technology as much as a foreign language class. You can do research on foreign countries, look up photos of different cultures, find recipes for ethnic foods, use translation and dictionary apps, check out video lessons on pronunciation or watch episodes of foreign TV shows, and find a huge wealth of language-learning apps to help your students practice inside and outside of class. And out of all the language-learning apps available, Duolingo is one of the most impressive I have encountered thus far (and it's free).

Duolingo is a pretty robust app. It provides dozens of lessons in multiple languages and is meant to help users understand basic vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, and sentence structure. It won't turn you into a bilingual savant or anything, but it is a very good tool for students (of all ages) to use to practice and perfect their fundamental foreign language skills.

Let's do a quick walkthrough. When you first boot up the app, you create an account (or sign in via Facebook) and have the option to choose your daily workload. This is good for teachers who want to tell their students to “Practice for X minutes a day” at home between class sessions:

This step is optional if you can't handle the pressure.

Once you pick a track, you have to pick a language. I assume that most teachers will be using it for Spanish or French, but they also offer German, Portuguese, Italian, and English as a Second Language (ESL), making it a good choice for schools with a large Hispanic or immigrant student population. You can also set up the units to ask questions going from one foreign language to another if you want to really challenge yourself. You can change your language choice at any time and even learn all of the languages at once, if you want (it will track your progress for each independently):

Hit More to see ESL options.

Okay, so you've picked a language. You are now looking at the main menu screen with a list of all the lessons. In truth, there are even more lessons than you think because each of the listed units contains multiple lessons within them. For example, the “Basics” unit has four different lessons within the unit. Each lesson takes a few minutes to go through and can be attempted multiple times. You can even “Test Out” of a unit to skip it if you think you have already mastered the material.

That menu on the right scrolls down for quite a while.

Each lesson has a whole lot of questions, and they seem to be random each time you attempt it.

Within each lesson, you are given four hearts which equate to four mistakes. If you mess up more than that, you have to restart the lesson.

There is a wide variety of question types. You have to match words to pictures, translate words or phrases in both directions, speak into the microphone, build phrases by picking words out of a list, and more. Almost everything is written for you and also spoken allowed by the app so the user can learn correct pronunciation as well as spelling. There is so much information available at each step and on every screen. Take a look at some of the questions in the first French lesson:

Multiple choice with pictures.

Build the phrase. Don't forget the article (like I did)

Hints are helpful and bite-sized.

Spelling counts!

Write what you hear.

…and more. Once you finish your lesson, you are given a stats screen to show you how you did and how close you are to your daily goal. Then you can move right on to the next lesson.

As you can see, it is a great tool for encouraging students to practice their Spanish or French every day. Our Spanish teacher only meets with the fifth grade once a week, so she assigns “10 minutes of Duolingo” as homework each week. The kids actually pull it out voluntarily and have fun with it which never happened when they were told to just reread textbook lessons or word lists on paper.

They also have a website which contains a lot of the same lessons as the app. Your account remains consistent between the two, so that is convenient. Even schools with Windows tablets could make use of this system by just bookmarking the website instead of using an app.

Got any other foreign language apps to recommend? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “Apps in the Classroom – Duolingo

  1. Love this app – however, there is now way to check whether the student really did practice for the suggested amount of time (let’s say for homework), or is there?

    • There is no way for a teacher to see how long students have used the app, no. That would be a great feature: have the app email status updates to the teacher’s email address, or something similar. For now, you’ll have to just time them in class (with headphones) or use the honor system.

  2. Pingback: Using Duolingo to Enhance and Extend Language Learning

  3. Pingback: Duolingo | Use of technology in teaching

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