Duolingo: Mixing it up

Wouldn’t you know it, a day after I post all about Duolingo they start changing things! I’ve been working away on my lessons and it seems every time I look up I notice something new. The most obvious change is that the main page now has bolder graphics for the skill area “chips.”

It was fine before but this new design definitely makes it easier to see your progress in each skill area. As a person over 40, I have to say that bigger type and graphics is always a good thing.

There have also been changes to the web translation module. You can now see the previous sentences you’ve worked on, including your translations and the option to see other translations. This provides context at a glance, which is very convenient. It is also now possible to edit your translation after seeing other people’s answers. This is brilliant. Correcting your own work is a great way to learn.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous post is how Duolingo mixes up the lessons and even the sentences in each lesson. You don’t progress by completing one skill and moving on to the next, like chapters in a book. After you get the basics in one skill, other skill areas open up and you are encouraged to work on them for a bit and then go back. Duolingo highlights the recommended area to work on and if you follow that path you will do a lot of bopping back and forth. This shows that the Duolingo people have really done their homework because it is precisely what the brain needs to form long-term memories and associations. The same pattern appears within each lesson. There you will be presented with a sentence to translate into English, move on to something else, and then get the previous sentence again but this time having to do the more difficult task of translating it into Spanish or listening and typing it out in Spanish. It is this element of surprise that makes the brain take notice and go to the trouble of putting that information into long-term memory. You know things are going to come up again, but you don’t know when or how, so you have to pay close attention to everything. Add to this the daily practice sessions and you have a system designed for learning success.

I can say a bit more about the social side of Duolingo now that I’ve found and followed a few people. Duolingo recommends people who are at about your level and when you follow them, your activity stream shows all of their accomplishments too. The top of the screen also shows how you rank in points and sentences translated compared to the people you follow. I think the idea is to motivate people with competition, but it doesn’t do much for me. There isn’t much emotional payoff when you are competing against total strangers whom you know nothing about and cannot interact with. I think those factors may change, though, since it appears there will be ways to connect via Twitter and Facebook, though those tools don’t seem to be fully operational yet. If it were possible to get to know people and when people I know are let into Duolingo, it might be more fun to race against them. However, I think Duolingo might get more mileage out of encouraging cooperation rather than competition. After all, part of the reason people are clamouring to get into Duolingo is because they love the idea of helping to translate the web together. Judging by all the desperate “Let me in!!” tweets directed at Duolingo, that motivation seems to be quite strong. It might be more effective to find ways for people to collaborate in their learning or translating instead of competing. I’m not sure what that would look like but I’m sure the clever people at Duolingo can figure it out!

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9 comments on “Duolingo: Mixing it up

  1. Stefanie says:

    You are moving right along, up to level 4 already and your owl looks very happy! It sounds like they did do their homework on how people learn best. Makes it even more impressive.

  2. Heh. It is very important to keep the owl happy! Yes, they have really done everything right. It's quite refreshing to see!

  3. How did you whine your way into an invite? Stoic patience or something more active?

  4. I used my feminine wiles… I sent an email in the florid style of Don Quixote, claiming I was a damsel in distress who needed to learn Spanish and asked the brave knights of Duolingo to save me. 😉 Reading the classics comes in handy sometimes! Now I'm thinking of writing a sonnet to thank them. 😀

  5. Well, feminine wiles are out. I know, on the Internet nobody knows you're a XYZ. Maybe I can say I'm a fan of Saint John of the Cross and wish to read his poetry in the original Spanish (true). Or that I subscribe to El Pais's RSS feed and would like to be able to read more than the comics (Ramon & Erlich). In Erlich's case, I often need to be able to read the economic news to understand the translation 😉

  6. I suppose you could tell them (in verse) that you're haing a dark night of the soul and need Duolingo to illumine your mind? 😉

  7. Holaaa Silvia,

    escribes muy bien. Me ha gustado todo tu artículo. Para mí, leer y entender inglés es más fácil que hablarlo o ponerlo en palabras.

    Gracias por haberme mostrado las imágenes de cómo es Duolingo por dentro, todo el día me la pasaba imaginando cómo sería Duolingo una vez que entre.

    ¡Muchísimas gracias!

    PD: Puedes responderme en Inglés. 🙂

  8. ¡Hola Gustavo! Similarly, I find it much easier to understand Spanish than to speak or write it. I really notice it in Duolingo–it is much easier to translate into English than into Spanish. My fingers are also not used to typing in Spanish and they go very slowly, but I am getting a little faster with time. I hope you get in soon!

  9. Sí, yo también espero estar dentro; pero me gustaría que sea lo más pronto posible.

    Chau Silvia.

    Nos veremos los dos en Duolingooo! 🙂

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