Living in Malaysia is a really good opportunity to learn multiple languages. By default most people are fluent in at least two languages - Malay, the national language, and a second language which is often either English, Mandarin (or any other Chinese dialect), or Tamil. Some people are even fluent in three languages, as the Chinese and Indian citizens could be fluent in Malay, English, and their respective mother tongues. My best friend has told me numerous times that I should pickup Mandarin, and I finally decided to listen to her. So for the past two weeks I've been learning Mandarin via Duolingo and I wanted to share my experience, both for those who are just curious and those who might be interested in picking up a new language as well.
Duolingo makes learning language fun through gamification. As someone who plays video games pretty much every day, this approach appealed to me instantly. There are levels which you need to "beat" before moving on to the next one. You have a finite number of "lives" which you will lose every time you make a mistake. You're rewarded with in game currency for completing levels, and there's even a leaderboard, daily streaks, and daily goals to motivate you even further. I'm currently on a 14-day streak (missed one day but you're given a single "day off" when you begin) and I don't want this streak to end, which is a great motivator.
When it comes to the actual lessons there are a few formats. Some lessons are merely listening to a Mandarin character and choosing which of the given written characters matches the audio. Tapping on each character plays the pronunciation of it, so you merely match it to the original character you heard. Other lessons involve learning the meanings of Mandarin characters, so either you'll be given a sentence in Mandarin and you need to translate it to English, or vice versa. This can be done in two ways - choose the translated words from a selection of answers, or type the translation in manually using your keyboard (this is only for Mandarin to English and not the other way around). Finally, there's pronunciation lessons where you will need to repeat the sentence/phrase given to you in Mandarin (using your phone's mic). All these lessons are repeated multiple times so you get familiar with the language and lessons are grouped in categories (image below).
Some people might be wondering if Duolingo can straight up replace a language teacher. In my opinion the answer is no. Duolingo is a great way to learn a language; it's flexible, it's fun, and most importantly, it's free. Even though an independent study has said that 34 hours on Duolingo is the equivalent to a full university semester, I feel like a teacher might still be necessary for some. Or at least someone who understands the language to help you when you need it. I've asked my friend for some help a couple of times when I don't understand something I've learned. If you ask me, Duolingo may be a good replacement for a language class, maybe not a language teacher.
Duolingo has been very popular for a long time and I can see why. It's a very good service and the app is well designed (it's also available on the web but I'd recommend using the app). I'll continue using it daily and maybe once I finish the Mandarin course I'll write up another post to update you on how it went.
Do you use Duolingo or have you used it in the past? Are you interested in picking up a new language?