I’m a late comer to “apps”. I much prefer doing everything on a computer or laptop with a proper keyboard, but the appeal of the Duolingo app on my Fairphone was the fact that I could practise Russian any time, anywhere I had a spare moment – waiting in the car for family members to finish their shopping; in transit on trains and planes or even at home waiting for my favourite TV show to start. It’s both compulsive and annoying.
Duolingo is annoying because it doesn’t actually teach you anything, although you can read the comments of others which clarify things if you want. (I only discovered that after I had been frustrated by it for several weeks.) It’s compulsive because it’s short with quick wins: the constant repetition means you pick things up such as verb conjugations and case endings and get the answers right even though you don’t understand why. That’s both its benefit and its drawback. I have picked up a lot from Duolingo simply by doing the practice each day. Yes, the generated sentences can be somewhat quirky at times, but I don’t see that as a problem. I’m sure if you have friends on Duolingo, that can increase your progress. (I don’t do ‘Friends’) and I’m sure if you are into gamification, then collecting your ‘lingots’ and spending them in the shop is equally motivational. I’ve got 84 lingots at the moment but I’m really not interested in dressing my “Duo” or betting against myself. But that’s OK! Because to me, the ease of access and repetitive practice and gradual build up of skills is enough to encourage me to continue. I plan to use Duolingo each day in tandem with other learning tools, such as the books and CDs. I get a kick out of the mini fanfare it plays on your phone when you get something right, much to the embarrassment of my children.
I might learn about, for example the accusative case, in my Take off in Russian book, but it is Duolingo which helps consolidate the altered words. I can try to memorise Type 1 and Type 2 verb endings but it is the practice of them with Duolingo that helps them stick in my mind.
I like the fact that I can easily switch to and from UK and Russian keyboards on my mobile phone and thus practise spelling and translating with the Duolingo app. I’ve yet to find a good way of typing Russian characters on my laptop and am struggling with handwriting. (More on this in a later post on learning to write in Russian.)