Duolingo, the popular language learning app, has recently launched several new languages including Hawaiian, Indonesian, Navajo, and Hindi. Following our review of Duolingo’s new course in Mandarin last year, several of our staff members decided to try the newly offered languages to see how they measured up.
Duolingo’s popularity is not unwarranted; it has perfected the user-friendly, gamified platform for language learning. As a free product with short lessons, it requires little effort to expose yourself to basic phrases and vocabulary in dozens of languages. As a team, we particularly appreciated the personalized lessons in the practice section of the app focusing on the concepts and vocabulary you struggle with most.
Another great thing about Duolingo is that it offers clubs that connect you with other Duolingo users who are looking to chat in the same target language. This is great for those looking to use their new language skills in a practical way, especially if users are practicing endangered languages or looking to connect to other heritage speakers.
Of the languages we tried, the Hawaiian course received the most positive feedback. Without having prior knowledge of the language, we found it straightforward thanks largely to good audio to guide pronunciation and manageable introduction of vocabulary. It felt like a good, easy primer for beginners.
While each language posed its own problems, the lack of audio in Navajo was perhaps most concerning. Especially because Navajo is a language with a strong oral tradition, it was particularly disappointing that we couldn’t learn how to properly pronounce vocabulary. Though there were listening exercises in Hindi, Indonesian, and Hawaiian, there were no speaking exercises for any of these four languages, which is a huge barrier for learners and is inconsistent with other Duolingo course offerings.
We found Indonesian and especially Hindi very difficult to learn. There are no phonetic spellings of Hindi, which makes learning both pronunciation and spelling exceedingly difficult. Additionally, the course rushed through vocabulary without spending time coaching pronunciation. Indonesian also moved too quickly; phrases were introduced before basic vocabulary, leading to a sort of backwards learning that was not effective. A more scaffolded approach would have been much better.
Additionally, both Hindi and Indonesian employ grammatical structures that are different from English, yet Duolingo would sometimes favor English grammatical structure by marking answers in that format as correct. This preference is confusing, and generally unhelpful for learning purposes.
Because of its easy, casual format, the scope of Duolingo is generally limited; if you’re serious about retaining what you’ve learned, users will be required to take notes and practice beyond the app.
Duolingo should be commended for validating indigenous languages and rallying to prevent linguicide. Unfortunately, its new course offerings don’t provide sufficient and comprehensive opportunities for learning. Hopefully future iterations of these courses will be improved with user feedback.Image: via The Verge