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Can an App Really Help You Learn a New Language?

SmarterTravel

Can an App Really Help You Learn a New Language?

Every time I travel to a place where English isn’t the native tongue, I’m motivated to learn a new language for basic communication. For years, this meant looking up the important phrases (“thank you,” “yes,” “no”) and then promptly forgetting them when I arrived.

Recently though, I started using a free app that turns learning a new language into a game—DuoLingo. The app offers over 20 different languages, some of which you may find more useful (French, Spanish, German) than others (Esperanto).

Rather than forcing you to commit to long sessions, the app breaks down grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation into small lessons that you can complete in less than 20 minutes a day. It’s perfect for commuters who take public transportation, as it’s fun to play on your commute (using headphones).

SmarterTravel Associate Editor Jamie Ditaranto is also hooked on the app, explaining: “When I travel to Brazil to see my family, I know enough Portuguese to get by, but the first few days are always a little rusty. Before my last trip, I started using DuoLingo again to give myself a refresher and keep learning. My family definitely noticed a difference in my speaking confidence. I’ve also used it to learn the basics of languages I wasn’t familiar with like Spanish.”

Ditaranto also likes the balance of accessible lessons and in-depth courses, noting that “there are a lot of levels in each language and it definitely takes time and dedication to complete the whole course, but it’s easy to use and goes way beyond the basics of each language. I don’t know if I could fully learn a language using just DuoLingo, but it’s a good supplement and a fun way to practice.” If I could change anything about it, I would add an offline mode, so I could keep using it even when not connected to Wi-Fi.”

There are two main downsides with the app, especially for travelers. It has no offline mode, as Ditaranto mentioned above, so you have to be connected to Wi-Fi or a network in order to use it.  The other weakness is that you don’t necessarily start out focusing on words and phrases that are essential to travel—it will take you from practical words (like “food”) to ones you might not need that often (“exotic animals”) before teaching you to ask for the bathroom, for instance.

Update: DuoLingo recently announced that they are rolling out a subscription option, which will cost $9.99/month. As of May 2017, the subscription option was only available for select Android users. 

Have you tried DuoLingo or found a better way to learn a new language? Tell us in the comments!

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Caroline Morse is a Senior Editor with SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelwithCaroline and Twitter @CarolineMorse1 for photos from around the world.

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