My parents used Rosetta Stone to improve their Spanish before a trip to Central America and found it quite helpful. It is a fairly simple to use program, ideal for people who are starting from scratch with a language, and are not very computer savvy. However, it is an expensive program considering there are so many free options on the internet.
A new project from Luis von Ahn, a teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University, called Duolingo, helps users learn new languages by having them work on translations. This is Luis von Ahn’s second major project. The Guatemalan crowdsourcing pioneer is also behind reCaptcha, which has since been bought by Google.
Free Online Education
Users can sign up for free through facebook, twitter, or set up an account through an email address. Once you login and choose the language you want to learn, you can begin doing lessons, and your progress will be charted on a skill tree. This looks a lot like a video game, where levels remain locked until you’ve mastered the previous one. There is even a little trophy icon which turns gold to indicate that you have succeeded with a unit.
The language learning component of Duolingo is fun and interesting. Each question builds on the previous so that you continue to use the vocabulary you have acquired and learn to build sentences with it. There is one question on the screen at a time, sometimes you fill in the blanks, other times you will hear a sentence and have to type it in. They will give some multiple choice, and sometimes ask you to translate some text.
Putting You To Work
If you are confident that you can translate some text, you simply select a document, and then choose a sentence within it. Submit your translation and wait to see if it is accepted. The site checks your translation against other submissions and compares it with the highest rated translation to give yours a score out of 100. Duolingo uses crowdsourcing to determine if your translation is correct. Other users vote on the best translation until the document is completed and can be published. This is why there are no ads on the site, Duolingo charges people to have their work translated.
Currently the languages available are Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian. I began working on the Spanish, because I already speak the language, and was able to jump ahead by taking a kind of placement test. Because I didn’t see the beginning modules, I can’t attest to whether it would be ideal for people who don’t know the language at all. I’m finding it to be a terrific way to practice, and brush up on my use of accents.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this free program is that in a study, and yes, it was commissioned by Duolingo to determine how effective their program is, they found that it only takes a user 34 hours to learn the equivalent of a college semester’s worth of Spanish! The same group did a study of Rosetta Stone and found that it takes 55 to 60 hours on their program.
Take It On The Road
Duolingo recently launched an iPhone app, which is also free. It is synched to the web version so it knows exactly where you are in the lessons. As a bonus, the mobile app makes use of Siri so you don’t always have to type to answer questions. The developers say that and Android version is not far off.
L.Evans writes about technology and translation tools. She is a world traveler and a photographer.