Tech for Teach

Tuesday is for Tools: Duolingo

University classes are one of the worst places to teach a language. A big reason is consistency. We have 15 weeks on, 10 weeks off. Here in Japan there is a saying that relates to this kind of progress: Three steps forward, two steps back.

Which brings us to summer vacation. How do we avoid those two steps back? Steven Krashen advocates 20 minutes a day of extensive reading to maintain and even advance linguistic acquisition (pdf). A great idea. But reading nowadays is only one kind of input available.

Enter Duolingo, the world’s best free language learning software. It was awarded iTunes Software of the Year in 2013, and has over 25 million users. (User review, magazine review, compared with other software)


Designed for use on both desktop and phone, it shines when supplementing other language learning tools. It looks like a game, but works with spaced repetition for vocabulary development. The best parts include speech recognition and pronunciation practice. Very little grammar is included at this point. Motivation is kept at a high level by giving frequent awards.

In January 2015 Duolingo Class was introduced, allowing teachers to monitor student use. Here is a weekly report from one of my classes.


Geek note: Duolingo was developed by the guy that brought us Captcha, a crowdsourced way to get people to OCR difficult texts (you thought it was a security mechanism to make sure you are human). Watch the 17 minute video for a look at how it works. Duolingo pays for itself by getting people to translate things for free.

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