App Addiction: Learn a language on the go with Duolingo

I love languages.

At least, I do now. When I was three, we moved from Bulgaria to Montreal, and suddenly French was a a thing I had to to contend with. Then, from Montreal to Toronto, and before I could recover from the first language bomb, English was a thing that was terrorizing my little brain. I hated it then and found learning it to be quite stressful – perhaps my earliest memory of anxiety before actually understanding the concept.

This early inundation set me up with a knack for language, so I did well with them it in school and eventually got a little obsessed — at one point or another, I explored to varying degrees French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Catalan, Latin and Russian (I’ll omit the brief and confusing encounter with Esperanto). I’m nowhere near fluent in these languages, but once you begin to study any other tongue, you get a feel for the kinds of textbooks, workbooks and audio lessons attached to learning a whole new vocabulary and set of grammatical quirks. Some are daunting, some are fascinating and some I’ve managed to turn into drinking games for my friends — believe me, it’s a hoot when the whole bar is yelling three sentences in Russian at each other!

Now, not everyone has time for such intensive study of even one language, never mind more. Believe me, I tried four simultaneously in university and pretty much lost the plot.

Enter the Duolingo, a gamified, fun way to learn on the go.

Currently, the app offers five languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German) to study from English, a slew of starting languages to learn English from, and Spanish to Portuguese and vice versa. The web platform offers even more, but let’s focus on the mobile version.

Easily digestible mini lessons are delivered in various formats (translation, pronunciation, audio transcription), focusing on specific groups of words at a time: adjectives, food, colors, animals, pluralization, pronouns, prepositions, etc. Through translating similarly constructed sentences back and forth, and focusing on specific vocabulary, Duolingo drills bits of language into your head until it starts to feel like second nature. Don’t get me wrong; this is no easy task. I’m massively out of practice in the three languages I have on the go, and even with a solid existing base, it can catch you here and there. Focus is key.

But, to appease the kid in all of us, you can earn points, level up and feel accomplished beyond your advancing bilingual status! Probably a better use of your time on the morning commute than Clash of the Titans, don’t you think?

Don’t forget to follow Shit Duolingo Says on twitter for an extra chuckle — not sure if it’s intentional or not, but they throw some doozy sentences your way that may just be part of the fun.

Give it a whirl and tell us what you think, maybe even in the new language you’ve taken on!

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Emy Stantcheva
Emy Stantcheva is a lifelong music junkie-turned-music biz dabbler, from music publicity and artist management to the not-for-profit sector. By day, she champions the indies at Canadian Independent Music Association and MusicOntario, and moonlights as Lifestyle Editor for Addicted and rep for southern rock n’ roller Basia Lyjak. A healthy living fan (yes, vodka is a plant), vegetarian of 20 years and lover of cooking, wine and craft beer, she’s always on the lookout for tasty and cruelty-free wares and fares. She’s also known for her hoarding of cats (she has four) and leggings (300 pairs and counting). With her feisty way with words, Stantcheva brings a fresh and intelligent perspective to Addicted’s Lifestyle section.
Emy Stantcheva