As we reached the end of July 2020, I had this sudden urge to learn something new and really push myself. I was looking for something that I could continuously work on, and would come in handy for me in the future. Learning a new language seemed like the perfect challenge. I know that there are a variety of different language-learning platforms out there, but Duolingo was definitely the one I had heard most about. So I downloaded it and began scrolling through the languages on offer. I took French lessons in secondary school (about 7 years ago now!), so I decided to start learning French again. I thought the basic level of understanding I already had would keep me motivated and make the experience less daunting.
*side note: I did not intend at any point for Duolingo to make me fluent in French. A lot of the phrases and sentences used on the platform are simplified and very basic. However, my aim with learning French is just to be able to one day hold a basic conversation, order in a restaurant, or be able to ask directions if I need to*
What is Duolingo?
Duolingo is the largest language-learning platform in the world. Launching in late-2011, it now has over 300 million users.
The platform has 38 different languages on offer, including the widely-spoken languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, and German; and some more specific languages such as Hawaiian, Romanian, Swahili, and Vietnamese.
I really enjoy the structure of the app, as it uses a variety of different activities to teach languages, for example; translating a sentence/phrase from English to French or vice versa; matching singular words to the correct translation; and activities for improving grammar and pronunciation.
The way the different topics are laid out is quite neat and easy to keep track of. They start you off with the really basic stuff, for example ‘the dog and the cat’; in other words ‘un chein et un chat’ (check me out 😂). Then as you go along you start to learn more specific phrases and vocabulary. The subjects that I have found most helpful so far are Restaurants, Travel and At Work. This is mainly because these topics would come in handy if trying to hold a semi-basic conversation in French; which is ultimately my goal.
Duolingo focuses a lot of repetition, and saying particular words and phrases over and over again. I actually found this to be quite helpful as it’s definitely made it easier to remember.
My 4-Week Experiment Learning French
Duolingo offer you a free 2-week trial of the premium version when you sign up, so I thought I’d see how the premium version compares with the free one. I spent the two weeks analysing what aspects of the premium version really worked for me, and then the two weeks after that assessing how the free version compared.
Over the past 4 weeks I have been learning French every day for at least 15 minutes or so. I’m still really enjoying it, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to get away and put some of it into practice. Switching to the free version has definitely helped me see the premium aspects that I probably took for granted. So let’s dive in, and I’ll explain the pros and cons of Duolingo and how the premium version is in comparison to the free version.
Difference Between Free and Premium Versions
The beauty of Duolingo Plus is that you’re given unlimited hearts, no adverts, and you can download the course to continue your learning offline. The unlimited hearts was definitely my favourite aspect of the premium version. It meant I could take as many lessons as I liked without the fear of running out of chances, because for every mistake you lose one of your 5 hearts.
The content is exactly the same for both versions which is great, and means that if you have the patience then you can learn just as much with the free version.
- More confidence in testing your knowledge/ability because you don’t have to worry about losing hearts
- You can download the course to practice and learn offline.
- You can take quizzes to determine how much of the course you’ve mastered so far.
- I feel like Duolingo is quite costly for something I’m only doing on the side. The subscription cost currently stands at £12.49 per month, or £44.99 upfront for 6 months and £74.99 for 12 months. Obviously this means you can save quite a bit of money in the long run if you’re willing to commit. Personally I couldn’t justify the regular monthly cost. Seeing as it’s more expensive than any other subscriptions I already have such as Netflix or Spotify. Plus, I didn’t know if I was still going to be as committed to it 6 months down the line, meaning I’d potentially end up wasting money.
- Obviously the fact that it’s free would be the first plus-side worth mentioning.
- You have to think a lot more about your answers because you only have 5 lives to work with. This is something I actually think will improve the learning experience.
- You can earn hearts back by practising the skills you have already mastered to level 5. This helped a lot because it meant I could keep learning once I was in the zone. (Something I only learnt a few days in to my free-version experiment).
- The content is exactly the same as the premium version.
- More likely to cheat. Now when I say cheat, I mean more inclined to use the hints they provide you with, because I didn’t want to use up all my hearts and not be able to practice for several hours. I didn’t just trust my ability and really challenge myself as much as I was doing with the premium version.
- You can’t practice offline, so you will need internet if you’re going to use the app.
- There isn’t the option of the ‘mastery quiz’, so you can’t determine exactly how much of the course you’ve completed. However, this doesn’t particular matter for most people.
I would say that the premium version encouraged me to challenge myself more, which in turn meant I learnt better. It was much more relaxing using this version because I would just learn from any mistakes I made, rather than getting frustrated at myself for getting a question wrong.
However, I think the free version is perfectly alright for learning French in your spare time. You still have access to exactly the same content and activities, so personally I’ll be sticking with the free version for now. I like having the option to go back to premium if I ever want to take my language-learning a step further; but for now I’m more than happy with the free version.
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