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We live in the digital age, and as such it shouldn’t come as a surprise that language learning is increasingly done online – whether that’s via apps, courses or even Skype.

But it’s using an app that I find particularly interesting – you can be on the go, anywhere in the world but will you have actually learnt anything by the end of it bar a limited grasp of the language?

To get to grips with this question, I decided this week to download one of the most popular apps on the market…Duolingo.

First impressions, it is really EASY to use. You can start from the very beginning of the course if you have no knowledge of the language, or you can do a ‘test’ to determine your comprehension level.

The format of the app is also great – each section is broken down into simple, manageable chunks meaning you can use the app in 10 minute chunks. If you’d prefer to study in 30 minute segments no problem, just move onto the next section.

Duolingo also taps into using repetition as a means of learning. Phrases are repeated throughout each section, you are required to translate text multiple times and arrange sentences in the correct word order.

BUT the app does have its cons…

The comprehension test that you can take isn’t in-depth, and I’d question how accurately it can assess your level of comprehension.

The app also encourages you to repeat phrases out loud and get to grips with speaking the language, but this can serve as an ineffective substitute for speaking with a language partner who can correct you along the way.

Whilst the manageable chunks are great for getting everyday practice, the app also doesn’t expose the user to a wide variety of vocabulary.

Similarly, whilst you might learn verb endings the app provides no explanation of grammar, or irregularities between verbs/sentence construction (grammar isn’t the be all and end all, but it can sometimes make the language easier to understand and build upon)

Lastly, the app appears to vary quite significantly dependent on language. The Russian version assumes that the user has already learnt the Cyrillic alphabet and a good grasp of pronunciation. The German version on the other hand seems to use more practical phrases and vocabulary, but is equally limiting.

So based on what largely seems a critique of the app, should you be using Duolingo and other apps to learn a language? No, but you should use it to supplement it – apps can’t cover everything, but they can be a fun way of doing a little bit each day, particularly if you’re feeling guilty about not having the time.

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