DuoLingo: Learn a New Language For Free on iPhone and iPad

A year or so ago I decided to learn French. There were several qualities that lead me to the language, not the least of which is that I think French can be the sexiest language on the planet, especially if spoken by a woman. (I've asked several women and they pretty much feel the same way, especially if the speaker is a man.)

I searched around online and in the App Store and found lots of lessons and aids that were supposed to get me parlaying French in no time. I was fired up and ready to go. I had visions of women swooning over my perfectly accented questions or statements posed in French; Parisians marveling at my fluent command of their language; my friends amazed that I had learned a language to such an extreme level of proficiency so late in life. (Studies have shown that adult brains have a far tougher time picking up a new language than preschoolers, and my brain has been an adult for a very long time.)

Free on iTunes

Unfortunately, for all my interest, my mastery of French didn't quite work out the way I'd planned. Life tends to get in the way of learning a language that is outside your immediate environment. If I lived in Paris I likely would have picked up a lot more than the very basic conversational phrases I can muster now when forced to reveal what little I know.

It's so very sad. All the more so since I've refused to give up my quest. After all, those legions of swooning women await.

While searching for a way to learn French quickly, I ran across the Pimsluer Method which is supposed to help you learn by continually testing what you have learned while you learn new things. That may sound confusing so here's an example.

Let's say I was taught how to say, "Bon jour," in my first lesson. As new material is presented I'll be asked at increasingly greater intervals how I would greet someone in French. The idea being that the anticipation of being asked forces me to remember the correct response.

It seems to work. I bought the Quick & Simple Introductory series from Pimsleur and completed the 8 lessons. I feel more comfortable now with basic greetings and asking direction, but that's about it. And there's definitely no swooning going on when I do speak.

Though my grand dream of total French mastery has faded, my desire to learn the language has not, which is why I'm happy to tell you about a free iOS app that is a must for anyone trying the learn a language. I'm so impressed with it that it will be the only app I feature in this week's Free on iTunes. So let's get to it.

Duolingo [27.6 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.0 or later, Maker: Duolingo Inc.]


There several approaches to learning a new language, the best arguably being total immersion in a place where your language of choice is exclusively spoken, but even then it takes time to learn even the most common words and construct most basic sentences. Enter Duolingo.

Duolingo combines several methods, including one similar to the Pimsleur system, to get you speaking in foreign tongues far faster than you may think, but the primary approach is to make learning game-like. Think Angry Birds where there are puzzle stages in each section that you have to complete before moving on the the next stage. Duolingo's lesson are divvied into stages that you have to complete without losing all of the four lives you start out with each lesson. The more lives you have left after completing a lesson the higher your score. It's addicting and fun, even if you have some skills in your language of choice.

DuolingoLessons galore in Duolingo

As with any game, the further you go the more difficult the stages are, but the higher the rewards. I'm only on Basics 2, but I've learned a lot in a short amount of time. That's because, as I mentioned earlier, Duolingo employs several learning methods. It mixes flashcards, picture recognition, French to English and English to French translation and more in randomly selected challenges, and each lesson has 10 challenges. One of which is to get you to verbally repeat a phrase - the app says a phrase and you use the phone's mic to repeat it. Say it right to move on. Pretty cool.

DuolingoTrust me, it's fun!

French isn't the only language Duolingo offers. You can pick up any one of the major European languages. Asian, African, and local dialects aren't supported, but Duolingo offers a crowd sourced way to get a language going.

DuolingoSentence building

There are no ads, it's top quality, and absolutely free. Given the climate of the Internet lately it does sound suspicious. Duolingo is a business after all, and they have to make money to stay afloat. Their income comes from webpage translation. A customer wants a site translated. Duolingo uses its students to do the translation and returns the translated page to the customer for a price. So, the more people play and learn the larger the translating student pool is. Very smart.

DuolingoSay it. Don't spray it. Rack up the points.

So, here's an app that's fun and easy to use, and using it helps others. Pick a language in Duolingo and get started. You'll be Deutsch sprechen, parler français, hablar espano in no time.

That's a wrap for this week.

This week's Free App of the Week is Dinorama, a money management game for the kids that's bound to be a hit. Also free is Echosmith's single, "Cool Kids".