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I have some great news! According to this report Duolingo is now scientifically proven to be extremely effective for helping you learn a foreign language!

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Let’s have a look at what other people are saying about this…

This TechCrunch blog post also boasts that it ‘Can Be More Effective Than College Classes Or Rosetta Stone’. That’s not bad for a completely free website (or app if you have a smartphone).

Even this New York Times article has lots of praise for Duolingo. It has a slightly skeptical look at online courses, but I would say that the charming Duolingo has won it over.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I love Duolingo. I think it has a brilliant approach for learning and it is fantastic for introducing words in context and helping you really grasp a language. The seemingly infinite library of real world examples for the translation activities provide a constant stream of natural meaningful language.

But, as much as I love Duolingo I feel I ought to be fair about what the report really means.

The report effectively says how well Duolingo can prepare people for a webCAPE test. Duolingo has many strengths, but one of the issues with the teaching method is that for the listening part, you are being trained to recognise a robotic voice. The speaking assessment is, to put it politely ‘extremely lenient’. You could probably put a sock in your mouth and still pass some of their speaking tests.

Let’s look at the webCAPE test. CAPE is an acronym for Computer Adaptive Placement Exam. It is a smart way of quickly assessing a student’s language proficiency and assigning them to a course that is right for them. However, let’s not overlook a vital aspect of this assessment: it is computerised.

So, the big news is really only that a robot teacher is very good at preparing you for a robot examiner.

I only critique this, because I love Duolingo so much that I really feel that it can and should be improved at every possible juncture.

I think the development team should be looking for solutions that integrate more with real human speaking and listening. Possibly a first step to this would be to have multiple robot voices or a wealth of real life recordings. I’ll leave it up to them to consider it, but ultimately the question that should be asked is ‘How can I make this experience more authentically human?’

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