Research has shown that being multilingual is good for your brain. It's been proven to help in executive brain functioning and decision making, reduce cognitive decline in old age, and increases general understanding of world languages and cultures. Aside from all these benefits, it makes that whole backpacking adventure you've been planning since college a lot easier to navigate. A good place to start researching the cognitive benefits of multilingualism is here.
That's why, for this week's Crispy Chicken Wing Review, we'll be reviewing one of the most popular language-learning apps in the world: Duolingo. Can a gamified learning tool actually be effective? Let's find out.
First off, I've been using Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish and learn French. The thing about the app is that it's really only effective if you practice it every day. I'm currently on a 58-day streak as of writing this. Like learning any new skill, you have to make it a habit of practicing. Thankfully, the lessons are short. and after about a week, I was able to do my daily grammar drills without really thinking much about the time investment. I could spend maybe 10-15 minutes a day tops doing it. They also definitely have a way to make you stay on top of things - if you don't want passive-aggressive reminder notifications, better do a little bit every day.
I'd like to talk about the variety of courses. At Duolingo's inception, they only offered Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and German for English speakers. Since then, they've expanded to courses in over two dozen languages for English speakers, as well as courses for native speakers of other languages. They've expanded into languages with different writing systems (Russian, Japanese, Arabic, etc.), endangered indigenous languages (Navajo and Hawaiian), and even fictional tongues (Klingon and High Valyrian). All of the courses are built by native speakers or linguistic experts. To me, it seems like they're trying to expand their repertoire to cater to as many demographics as possible - from people trying to preserve indigenous cultures to pop culture geeks. The catalog of courses is constantly growing. I really like that their courses in lesser-known dialects are just as thorough as the courses you'd find in your high school electives (Spanish, French, etc.). Also, preserving indigenous languages for future generations? That's Crispy.
As for the courses themselves, they consist of a variety of gamified techniques that help you connect those synapses in your brain. Some activities include matching, writing exercises, speaking exercises, listening and responding, and even translating real pages on the internet. It's also a sneaky front for making the internet accessible for speakers of any language, and I dig it. At times, it feels more like playing a word game than an academic exercise, and I feel like that's the whole point. You don't realize you're doing something educational when it's fun.
While the courses were programmed by human beings, AI definitely isn't perfect. There are a plethora of memes and screencaptures about some of the weirder sentences users have been told to translate. While it's good for the lolz, it also really forces you to think about how to put a sentence together. Since language learning is largely built on repetition and memorization, having a sentence from left field keeps you on your toes.
One feature I'd really like to see is native speakers critiquing your written/spoken prowess. There's only so much that AI can do, and having an actual human being guide you is sometimes what's called for. After all, the idea of Duolingo is so that, eventually, a human being can understand you. Not an app.
Overall. I give the app 4/5 Crispy Chicken Wings. It's fun, engaging, and easy to make into a habit. While it might not be as robust as more expensive alternatives like Rosetta Stone, it's definitely a great starting point. The best part? It will teach you words and phrases you can actually use in your everyday life. Learning to communicate better? That's Crispy as fuck.