Brits are notoriously bad at language learning, but one free-to-use website and smartphone app can help you take the first steps on the road to learning Spanish.
One of the most popular and well-known apps for learning Spanish online is Duolingo. Duolingo is completely free and has taken the language learning community by storm. But does it really work and how do use it most efficiently? Let’s find out.
What is it?
If you’ve never heard of Duolingo before, prepare to have your mind blown! The free language learning website and app offers beginner to intermediate language courses in everything from French, German and Spanish right through to Korean, Swahili and Czech.
Despite this variety, English to Spanish is at the very core of Duolingo, with more than 122 registered accounts – that’s almost double any other language pair.
I’ve personally used Duolingo to learn Spanish and Norwegian, and am one of the dedicated few to have achieved a 1,000 day streak – more on that later – so I feel qualified to tell you all about the process and how it can support you in your language learning adventure!
How to learn Spanish with Duolingo
The Spanish course is made up of modules (the circles in the screenshot below) which are grouped to form skills.
Duolingo fixes the order in which you need to complete the different modules, with new modules becoming active only once you’ve completed the previous one. This is also the case with individual lessons within each module.
For those of you with a head-start, such as a Spanish relative or a GCSE from long ago, Duolingo allows you to take a test in lieu of taking specific modules and skills.
The Duolingo experience varies slightly depending on whether you use the website or mobile app, but its core concept is the same. Lessons are made up of a series of individual learning tasks. These can be translation – either free-form or selecting from given words – listening, or even speaking.
For the shy amongst us who don’t like the idea of speaking a foreign language on a bus or train in the middle of England (don’t worry, that’s me too!), Duolingo offers an option to deactivate the speaking tasks temporarily, so you can complete the tasks without embarrassment.
Creating a Spanish learning habit
Where Duolingo really excels is with the gamification baked in to all aspects of the experience.
As I already mentioned above, the app records your streak, or the number of consecutive days you have reached your individual goal, and will send you a warning email if you are at risk of breaking your streak. This is immensely powerful, especially once you reach a massive number like 1,000 days!
Your individual goal is however many lessons per day you select. Spending even just a few minutes a day, every day, to learn some new words will rapidly accelerate your progress, and Duolingo rewards this behaviour. There is also a social element so you can compare your total score with your friends in a league table, spurring each other on.
Strength bars displayed underneath the modules can be frustrating as they don’t stay at full for long, but this is because of the spaced repetition concept. Learning using this method means you revise specific words at specific times, and gradually increase the intervals between each revision session.
There are also opportunities to earn gems by completing more lessons, which in turn can be used to pay for items such as a ‘streak freeze’ that allows you to retain your streak after a day’s inactivity. This is really useful if you are off the grid for any reason.
The downsides of learning Spanish with Duolingo
Of course, no app can teach you a language to fluency. I have gone from zero to intermediate in Spanish in just three years and although I have used Duolingo on a daily basis, it’s never been the only thing.
I read Spanish newspapers online, read Spanish language children’s books, listen to music, and perhaps most importantly – I have found people to speak the language with every day.
People I’ve spoken to who have struggled to learn a language using Duolingo have in almost all cases only used the app – and that’s expecting miracles. Even the app’s founder agrees…
Duolingo’s founder speaks
“I wouldn’t say replace”, said Duolingo cofounder and CEO Luis von Ahn when Business Insider asked him if the app could replace existing language courses. “Our idea with it is you can learn a language with Duolingo by itself. If there’s a teacher available, usually it’s better.”
“The teacher-plus-Duolingo is better than either Duolingo or with the teacher separately. For those people who don’t have access to a classroom or a teacher, they can use Duolingo and it’ll work. But if they do have access to a classroom and a teacher, it’ll just work better. That’s our idea.”
“There’s just some things that with an app you just can’t quite do, that you can do with a teacher. Teachers are really good at answering some types of questions. Those are really good at motivating people. Classrooms are extremely huge motivators in part because you’re being forced to just show up. They’re extremely huge motivators.”
Constant improvements & a new podcast
Last but not least, the team at Duolingo continue to release updates to the app, and other nifty learning tools. The latest launch is a podcast specifically aimed at students of Spanish.
I already mentioned above the difficulty of relying on one source of input to learn a language. One of the biggest sources of frustration for language learners is being able to listen and comprehend a native speaker.
The show builds on the concept of habit-building by being short and easy to consume on a walk, commute, or on a lunch break. Each episode of 15-20 minutes contains a short story in both English and Spanish to test your listening skills. And of course, it’s also free!
Get started on your language learning journey today
This article is not sponsored in any way by Duolingo, we’re just huge fans of the app. The app is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and can also be used on the web. While you can subscribe to a premium version, you get almost all the functionality entirely for free.
So, what are you waiting for?