Language-learning is never an easy thing – for the students attempting to learn and for the teachers attempting to teach. It wasn’t so long ago that textbooks were the sole resource available (in some instances, they might still be). Perhaps if a class was lucky, the teacher may have had in their possession a CD – ‘compact disc’ for any younger readers – with pronunciation exemplars and some really corny intro music. Now, dedicated YouTube channels that offer language-learning strategies or free lessons are pervasive. Online courses – free and otherwise – proliferate the internet. And the existence of gamified apps has surged in a few short years. This week’s episode examines one example from this last category: Duolingo.
In a time- and attention-poor society, the value of personalised learning via gamification can be seen in the flexibility of apps that offer discrete learning experiences in what amounts to a minute or two of user interaction. The popularity of Duolingo in particular is immense, with over 50 million downloads on the Android alone and being proclaimed by Apple as the iPhone App of the year in 2013. While Danielle is herself using Duolingo to learn German, there are many people in our social circles who we’ve discovered have adopted it to enhance their professional lives or just to engage in some enjoyable personal development. Some people voraciously devour new vocabulary and sentence structures every day, whereas others are content to pick up a little bit over time. Episode 5 showcases some of the gamified ways in which Duolingo works – and, for this reason, why it works for so many people.
Much of the footage in the video below was shot during a field trip for students studying digital media, where we were able to engage with a live audience – most of whom were only just being introduced to the concept of gamification. Many thanks to the students of Deakin University and to the Jewish Holocaust Centre for making the session possible!
The intersection of language-learning and digital media culture will undoubtedly continue to evolve over time, with the Virtual Reality project House of Languages already revealing new possibilities. The influence of Duolingo can already be seen in subsequent apps: one clear example of this can be found in helloChinese. This enables users to learn and level up their proficiency in Mandarin – an increasingly important language in the educational system and multiple industries, and one not presently available on Duolingo. Of course, there is a wide range of options no matter which linguistic path you wish to travel down, and some might be used in tandem with others depending on what they offer…
What have you been using?
Featured image: Screenshot from helloChinese app.