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The case for using DUOLINGO as part of the language classroom experience

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Abstract

This article explores the idea of using an already existing language learning app, Duolingo, to complement traditional university level courses of Spanish as second language. These types of apps use adaptive learning technologies, which are able to tailor the tasks to the level of each student. In the case of this study, Duolingo was used as part of the program of studies in two Spanish university courses, one a beginner’s Spanish course (level A1) and the other one an advanced intermediate course (B2). The students used the app online, either in its mobile version or in their web browser. The functionality of Duolingo, the kind of activities that can be undertaken, and how learning is achieved are described. Preliminary results suggest that Duolingo is an easy-to-use app, which is useful, and has learning potential, although its main modules are not based on communicative competence. It is usually enjoyed by students because of several features, such as its ease of access on a mobile device, its gamified aspect, and the variety of tasks available. Possible ways to incorporate Duolingo into foreign language courses are discussed, always considering it as a complement to the curriculum, but also considering its value to reinforce vocabulary and grammar acquisition through spaced repetition, interleaving of different skills and a variety of activities.
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The case for using DUOLINGO as part of the
language classroom experience
Duolingo como parte del curriculum de las clases de
lengua extranjera
Pilar Munday
Sacred Heart University (Estados Unidos)
Abstract
This article explores the idea of using an already existing language learning app, Duolingo,
to complement traditional college level Spanish as second language courses. These types of
apps use adaptive learning technologies, which are able to tailor the tasks to the level of each
student. In the case of this study, Duolingo was used as part of the program of studies in
two Spanish university courses, one a beginner’s Spanish course (level A1) and the other an
advanced intermediate course (B2). The students used the app online, either in its mobile
version or in their web browser. I will describe how Duolingo operates, what kind of activities
can be done, and how learning is achieved. Preliminary results suggest that Duolingo is an
easy-to-use app that is useful and has potential, although its main lessons are not based on
communicative competence. It is usually enjoyed by students because of several elements,
such as the accessibility on a mobile device, its gamification aspect, and the variety of tasks.
I will discuss possible ways to incorporate Duolingo into foreign language courses, always
considering it as a complement to the curriculum, but considering its value to reinforce
vocabulary and grammar acquisition through spaced repetition, interleaving of different skills
and variety of activities.
Keywords: MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning); didactic use of computer; foreign
language learning; didactics.
Resumen
Este artículo explora la idea de utilizar una aplicación móvil (ya existente en el mercado
para el aprendizaje de idiomas), Duolingo, para complementar las clases tradicionales de
español como lengua extranjera a nivel universitario. Este tipo de aplicaciones hacen uso de
la tecnología adaptiva para el aprendizaje, permitiendo así adaptar las tareas al nivel de cada
estudiante. En el caso de esta investigación, Duolingo formó parte del programa de estudio de
dos clases universitarias de español, una a nivel principiante (A1) y otra intermedio alto (B2).
Los estudiantes accedieron a la aplicación de manera online, tanto en plataformas móviles
como en su versión de escritorio. Este artículo describe el funcionamiento de Duolingo, el
tipo de actividades que se pueden realizar con ella y de qué forma se adquieren conocimientos
con esta aplicación. Los resultados preliminares de este estudio sugieren que Duolingo es
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una aplicación fácil de usar, útil y con mucho potencial, a pesar de basarse en tareas que
no están enfocadas a la competencia comunicativa. Parece ser del agrado de la mayoría de
los alumnos por varias razones, como la posibilidad de fácil acceso a través del móvil, los
aspectos de gamificación en su diseño y la variedad de tareas que contiene. A la luz de los
resultados obtenidos, se sugieren algunas mejoras, además de posibles formas de integración
en el currículo de una clase de idiomas, siempre considerándolo como un complemento
al programa de lenguas, pero también valorando su capacidad para repasar vocabulario y
gramática a través de la repetición espaciada, entrelazando habilidades diferentes y con
variedad de actividades.
Palabras clave: MALL (aprendizaje de lenguas asistido por tecnología móvil); uso didáctico
del ordenador; aprendizaje de lenguas; didáctica.
Nowadays, most of our students own a smartphone. According to data from
the report “Worldwide Mobile Phone Users: H1 2014 Forecast and Comparative
Estimates,” by the end of 2015, almost 66% of the world population will have one
of these phones. These mobile devices can be equipped with numerous applications
that can be used to learn a foreign language. Some of these applications are normally
used for other objectives, but can also be useful in this sense, such as watching
YouTube videos, recording voice memos, having online conversations with Facetime
or Google Hangouts or even playing with gaming apps like Trivia Crack (a game
similar to Trivial Pursuit) in languages rather than your own. But there are also an
increasing number of applications that have been created with the main objective
of learning a foreign language. Examples of these apps are Lingua.Ly (to augment
reading comprehension), HelloTalk (to find people with whom to practice languages),
Memrise (vocabulary acquisition) or Duolingo, the app we will be exploring in this
article.
According to Ramírez Montoya (2009), a definition of mobile language learning
can include several components: It is the direct descendant of e-learning, which is
any type of learning supported by electronic tools and resources, and m-learning,
which uses online resources that can be accessed through a mobile device. M-learning
allows students to augment the classroom learning by providing a flexible type of
learning that can enrich the classroom experience. Montoya mentions that authors
like Sharples (2005) go a bit further, including in their definition the idea that
m-learning is a process of coming to know, where students, collaborating with their
peers and instructors build that knowledge together. A more current definition is
the one offered by Crompton (2013, p. 4), which states that m-learning is “learning
across multiple contexts, through social and content interactions, using personal
electronic devices”.
With this meaning in mind, this article will be studying one particular app,
Duolingo, which can be accessed either through the web on a desktop computer
or through a cell phone or a tablet. Through a series of exercises, divided into
lessons and skills, this app’s goal is to teach vocabulary and grammar, and to bring
students to an A2 level by having them complete all the required nodes. One of its
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main features is the use of spaced repetition, in which its algorithms detect when a
user needs to review words or chunks that may have faded from memory. Spaced
repetition has proven to be very effective for acquiring vocabulary in particular, since
repetition is essential to acquire new skills. In a very interesting experiment with cell
phones, Cavus and Ibrahim (2009) showed that students using the devices enjoyed
and learned new words, and the students themselves suggested in their survey that
other educators should augment their teaching with the use of these devices.
In addition to spaced repetition, the activities presented in Duolingo’s lessons
interleave different skills (from pronunciation to translation, for example), and
provide a variety of activities (recognizing a word from a picture, writing down what
you hear, etc.). It is these three elements, spaced-out practice, interleaving, and
variety, which have been shown to produce better mastery as well as longer retention
and versatility in very recent research on learning. (Brown, Roediger and McDaniel,
2014, p. 46). Duolingo, then, seems to be able to tap into these three modes.
Duolingo also offers instant feedback to its users after each task. As García (2013,
p. 21) points out in his review of the app, this feedback goes beyond basic multiple
choice and includes other appropriate versions. In many instances, it also includes
a discussion area where users can negotiate the exact meaning or possible problems
with the activity or the offered solution.
Another aim of this study is to observe whether using Duolingo as part of online
homework produces a shift towards self-directed learning by students. Self-directed
learning in this case is understood as “learning in which the conceptualization,
design, conduct and evaluation of a learning project are directed by the learner”
(Brookfield, 2009, p. 2615).
One important aspect of this study is the idea that Duolingo can serve well as an
addition to a formal language course offered through a school or university, whether
face-to-face or online. Thus, here we are understanding the use of the app as a way
to augment or substitute more classical types of homework rather than replacing
the class itself. A non-peer reviewed study by Vesselinov & Grego (2012), which was
commissioned by Duolingo itself, estimated than an average of 34 hours spent on
Duolingo were the equivalent of a college beginner-level course. It is not the aim of
this study to discuss the validity of that study, as I believe that Duolingo has a good
potential for use in a course of studies as one more tool in the instructor’s arsenal.
Duolingo: definition of the app
Duolingo is a free app created by Luis Von Ahn and Severin Hacker in November
2011. Its slogan is “Free language education for the world.” According to its website,
it has more than 30 million registered users. It offers several languages for English
speakers as well as others for non-English speakers.
In the desktop version, the app has different areas:
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The “tree”, which contains skills, each represented by a node that changes color
from grey (indicating that a skill has not been started), to a color like red, blue or
green (you have started the lessons within the skill), to gold (you have mastered
all the lessons and vocabulary for that specific skill). Note that the gold color
can “turn” back to another color if the algorithm of Duolingo establishes that
you need to go back and review those nodes because you have forgotten the
vocabulary or because enough time has elapsed. Duolingo has not, up to now,
published the content of the tree. The only way to find out is to complete the
tree yourself. Thankfully, in the case of Spanish, there is a Google Doc, with its
content (Author & Espinoza, 2014, web source). These are the components of
the tree:
66 Skills. Some examples of these are: Food, Animals, Plurals (for beginning
nodes) to Modal Verbs, Subjunctive Past, or Past Imperfect (for the more
advanced nodes).
329 Lessons. Each skill has several lessons, which can range from one to
eleven. Each lesson covers about seven or eight words. Each completed
lesson gives 10 XP (points).
1571 Words.
Words: A list of the words the user has studied or already knew. Each word is
accompanied by a strength bar, which indicates if the word is still strong in your
memory or if it is time to practice again, according to Duolingo’s algorithm. You
can also review these words through flashcards.
Activity: Duolingo works similarly to a social network site. You can follow other
students, and other people can follow you. The activity stream shows not only
what you and the people you follow accomplish in Duolingo (levels opened) but
also if you or they have made a comment in the discussion board. All the people
you follow and you yourself appear on a “leaderboard” list, which shows the XP
(Duolingo points) that you obtain weekly. This is reset every Sunday at 7:00 pm
Eastern Standard Time (United States).
Discussion: In this area, users can post discussions about topics that interest
them. A discussion will also be created if there are questions about any of the
activities completed during the lessons, in which case users negotiate meaning
among themselves. The discussions are divided according to the language you
study, and there are also general discussion areas, like the one recently opened
for educators (this will be discussed in more detailed later). Discussions are
voted up or down (similar to places like Reddit), so the more popular ones are
more visible. It is also the area where the creators or moderators of Duolingo
post important messages to the community.
Immersion: This area is for more advanced students. Anyone can upload a public
document in any language and the community can start translating it. Users can
offer suggestions for better translations or can just make general comments.
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Users get XP points for translating either their own documents or helping with
other documents already uploaded to the site. They also get lingots (see below for
a definition) if their translations are up-voted by other users.
The Lingot Store: “Lingots” are the currency that Duolingo uses to reward its
users. You get lingots when you complete a skill node or maintain a streak
of days using the site. Users can also “reward” other users with lingots in the
Discussion area. With lingots you can buy several things, like a “freeze streak”
which will allow you to miss a day and not lose your streak, some silly outfits for
the Duolingo owl (the program’s mascot), or, more important in my opinion, a
progress quiz, which shows you on a scale of 0 to 5 where you currently stand in
your studies.
The mobile version of Duolingo does not have these many areas. It is limited to
the tree and the Lingot Store, although you still can see there the leaderboard with
information about the people you follow. The app also informs you of your streak.
You can set up daily goals (the minimum being 10 XP per day), and the app will send
you reminders and notifications if your goal has not been completed that day.
For this study, I have only used the tree area with the skills and lessons. The
following description applies to this area exclusively: students can perform different
types of activities on Duolingo. Once you click on a skill, you are presented with the
available number of lessons for that particular skill. Each lesson lists the words (up to
eight) that it will review. In addition to the lessons, each skill can be just reviewed in
general, once you have completed all the lessons or have tested out of that skill. That
is called “practice” or “strengthening skills” within the app in order to differentiate it
from regular lessons. You can chose general practice in order to review areas that the
program considers have not been practiced, rather than just one specific skill. Or you
can choose to do practice within one skill once you have completed all the lessons.
There is a symbol in each lesson that indicates the “strength” of that skill with a
maximum “grade” of 5. Once you reach five, the symbol for the skill becomes gold.
Following is a list of the most common activities in each lesson (it may not be
comprehensive, since the app is constantly being modified):
Write a vocabulary word after seeing a picture that represents it.
Translate a sentence into your native language. When words are first presented,
the user can hover over the word to see its meaning.
Translate a sentence into the language being studied.
Dictation: write a sentence that you hear. There are two speeds, normal and
slow, which you can click to hear the sentence more clearly.
Pronouncing a sentence. Through voice recognition software, the app can detect
whether your pronunciation is correct.
Match pairs of words.
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Put a series of scrambled words in order.
Choose from three sentences in the target language to see which ones fit the
sentence in the native language.
Activities are presented sequentially, and the lesson “extends” itself if you get
wrong answers, as indicated by the strength bar at the top of the lesson. If there
are no mistakes, it takes seventeen short activities like the ones described above
to complete a lesson. This generally takes five to ten minutes. This time may vary,
however, since new activities are added if you make mistakes.
Duolingo incorporates some gamification elements to motivate and engage
learners. Some examples of this are the lingots as awards given when you complete
a skill; the inclusion of a weekly leaderboard, where you can “compete” against
friends to see who has the highest XP; a symbol of a flame next to your name with
the numbers of days of your streak on the site; the aforementioned strength bar,
which appears when a user is completing a lesson, to indicate how close they are to
finishing it, etc. These elements make the app more enjoyable, although the exercises
themselves are quite traditional, as we have seen.
Educator’s Area in Duolingo
Recognizing that many educators were using this tool with their students, as
evidenced by the numerous discussion boards posting to that effect, Duolingo opened
a new area in its website in January 2015, dedicated to teachers who want to use the
platform with their classes. The new area, https://dashboard.duolingo.com/, allows
educators to create “groups” or classes. This generates a link, which can be sent to
students so that they can join the group. In the dashboard, the teacher can monitor
students’ progress in several ways. The dashboard shows the time the student logged
in, the lesson or practice he/she completed and the XP he/she obtained. A weekly
report is sent by email, which includes all the work students have done during that
time. In addition, there is now a dedicated area in the Discussion Forums just for
educators’ concerns and ideas.
This dashboard did not exist when the study described here was conducted,
and the instructor had to follow each student to see how many lessons they had
completed. This new dashboard should facilitate the work of educators immensely
and make this tool much more useful, as suggested in this study.
Duolingo as an educational tool for online and face-to-face courses
As we can see, even though Duolingo is presented as a very modern-looking
gaming app, in reality most of the activities necessary to complete the lessons are
very traditional and are heavily based on translation, dictation, and pronunciation. In
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fact, there is already some criticism of the app within the language learning research
community. Krashen (2014) points out in his rebuke of the Vesselinov and Grego
(2012) study, in which they equated 34 hours of Duolingo to a university language
course, that language learning is different from language acquisition. Krashen states
that the activities presented in Duolingo (or in similar tutoring programs such as
Rosetta Stone) involve conscious learning. In his opinion, conscious learning does
not lead to language competence. He presents a summary of the research done by
Mason, 2004; 2011; and Mason, Vanata, Jander, Borsch, and Krashen, 2009, noting
that in his view, acquisition-oriented methods, which use subconscious learning, are
superior to skill-based methods such as those used by Duolingo. I do not dispute his
statements, but, as already mentioned in the introduction, the proposal presented
here aims not to replace language study with this app, but rather to complement any
regular course with it. In fact, as we will see, for both college groups in which the
app was tried as part of their syllabus, Duolingo represented only 10% of their final
grade, hopefully having the rest use acquisition-oriented tasks.
It is also interesting to point out that although the translation and dictation
exercises used by Duolingo harken back to the old days of the grammar-translation
method, recent research shows that they do have value. Hall, Graham and Cook,
(2012) point out that there is in fact a revival in the role of translating as part of
Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research. According to them, “the argument
is that in many contexts, translation is a natural and effective means of language
learning, develops an important skill, answers students’ needs and preferences, and
protects students’ linguistic and cultural identity.” (Hall, Graham and Cook, 2012,
p. 283). In their review of the literature, they point out that Laufer & Girsai (2008)
“make the case for explicit contrastive analysis and translation as part of form-
focused instruction after finding that learners taught unfamiliar vocabulary items
via translation fared better in a subsequent retention test than those taught solely
through meaning-focused instruction” (Hall, Graham and Cook, 2012, p. 289).
In the case of dictation, recent research in SLA shows that it may also be beneficial.
In an interesting study, Rahimi (2008) conducted an experiment in which a group
of students used dictation in class practice in addition to their regular assignments,
while another group skipped the dictations. The results of his study showed that the
group with additional dictation exercises made more gains in grammar, vocabulary,
reading, and listening comprehension. In another experiment, Kuo (2010) used
dictation to help students decode words that they heard on the radio. The dictation
exercises helped students facilitate their listening and enhanced their comprehension.
Nation and Newton (2009) also consider dictation a valid language learning tool.
They observe that “dictation helps language learning by making learners focus on the
language form of phrase and clause level constructions, and by providing feedback on
the accuracy of their perception.” (Nation and Newton, 2009: 59). They also believe
that dictation is most useful if it involves familiar vocabulary presented in different
constructions, and, importantly, when “there is opportunity for the repetition of the
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material.” (p. 60). According to them, it becomes even more valuable if learners are
aware of the mistakes that they made. In our observations of the Duolingo app, all
these characteristics seem to be present. The dictation activities consist of very short
sentences in which familiar vocabulary is placed in different structures, repetition is
constant (according to the algorithms used, which emphasize words that may have
been forgotten), and each sentence always comes with the right response at the end
so that students are informed of their mistakes.
Another aspect that has been traditionally neglected in language courses has
been that of pronunciation exercises. Here also, new research indicates the validity
of such exercises. Trofimovich & Gatbonton (2006) examined the role of repetition
exercises focusing on form with several experiments in a Spanish course. They state
that “both repetition and focus on form have measurable benefits for L2 speech
processing, lending validity to those approaches to teaching pronunciation that
include repetition and involve focus on form.” (Trofimovich & Gatbonton, 2006, p.
532). Although they include pronunciation exercises that have a more communicative
approach, even those without it were still effective. Jensen & Vinther, (2003)
also found that repetition of utterances led to improvements in comprehension,
phonological decoding strategies, and grammatical accuracy.
Aims of this study
The aim of this study has been to see whether Duolingo can be used efficiently
as part of a language course, with the idea that students can practice anywhere and
anytime, in a manner adapted to their level and needs, so as to ideally complement
and augment what is covered in class. With this aim, the instructor wanted to answer
these questions:
Is Duolingo an easy to use, helpful, and enjoyable app to practice Spanish?
How does it compare to regular, book based, homework?
Does Duolingo promote self-directed learning that moves beyond the course’s
requirements?
Will Duolingo be useful even after the course is completed?
What are the students’ suggestions for improving the use of Duolingo as part of
a Spanish course curriculum?
METHOD
Forty six students from a first-year Spanish course (level A1) and sixteen from
a more advanced course (level B2) used Duolingo for one university semester (from
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the end of August to the middle of December). Students were free to use the mobile
or the desktop version of the app. For both groups, Duolingo represented 10% of
their final grade. Both groups took the free placement test offered by Duolingo when
you sign up for a new course. This meant that each student started at a different
point, depending on where they placed in the test. As expected, most of the first-year
students started at zero. Starting levels varied considerably for students in the level
B2 course.
These were the instructions given to both groups:
First-year Spanish course: Students needed to complete five Duolingo lessons
per week. Points were given based on when students did the lesson, according to this
table.
Table 1. Grading for Duolingo in A1 group
Duolingo Lessons Completed Grade
5 lessons in 5 different days 100%
5 lessons in 4 different days 95%
5 lessons in 3 different days 90%
5 lessons in 2 different days 85%
5 lessons in 1 day 80%
Less than 5 lessons 10 points for lesson completed
As evident from the table, doing a little on more days had more value than doing
a big chunk in only one sitting. The reasoning for this is that the instructor wanted
to emphasize spacing learning, since research on learning how to learn suggests
it is best for memory retention to study a little every day, rather than doing a big
chunk the day before a task is due (Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, 2014). Students
were not required to complete any one set of lessons or skills. Instead, each student
worked at his/her own level, completing five lessons wherever they were. They
were also encouraged by the instructor to turn the past nodes gold if they became
another color (an indication that they needed to refresh those skills, according to the
Duolingo algorithm). The main goal was not so much to advance far in the tree as to
maintain a consistent practice.
For the B2 course, the learning objectives were very different. Students come
into this course from many different backgrounds, and their levels vary widely.
The goal was to have students complete all of the lessons offered by Duolingo (as
mentioned above, at the time of this writing there are 329 lessons, divided into 66
skills, with a total of 1571 words reviewed). Students were required to complete five
skills per week. As noted previously, skills, that is, each node in the tree, vary in the
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number of lessons they have, which can range from just one lesson to up to eleven.
Although at the beginning, it was very easy for students to complete the nodes in the
tree and turn them into gold, as the semester progressed it became more and more
difficult, particularly for students with a lower level of Spanish. Thus, by the end of
the semester, many students in this group were frustrated with Duolingo, as evident
from the results of the survey.
All students in both groups completed surveys at the end of the semester. Two of
the questions in the survey were the same as the one used in the Vesselinov and Grego
(2012) study of Duolingo. Question #1 concerned user satisfaction with the app and
question #2 asked, “How likely are you to recommend Duolingo to a colleague or
‘friend?” (All the survey questions can be found in Appendix 1).
RESULTS
Regarding our first question from the aims of this study, “Is Duolingo an easy to
use, helpful, and enjoyable app to practice Spanish?”. Tables 2 and 3 show the results
for groups A1 and B2.
Table 2. User satisfaction for A1 students
n.= 46
Strongly
Agree
Agree
Neither
Disagree
nor
Agree
Disagree
Strongly
Disagree
Duolingo was easy to use 54.3% 37% 6.5% 0% 2.2%
Duolingo was helpful in
studying Spanish
43.5% 37% 15.2% 4,3% 0%
I enjoyed learning
Spanish with Duolingo
39.1% 41.3% 8.7% 8.7% 2.2%
I am satisfied with
Duolingo
41.3% 37% 17.4% 2.2% 2.2%
If we combine the Strongly Agree with the Agree results we obtained, we observe
that 91% found Duolingo easy to use, 82% found it helpful, 80.4% enjoyed using it
and 78.3% were satisfied with the app. In addition, not too many students seem to
disagree with these statements.
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Table 3. User satisfaction for B2 students
n. = 16
Strongly
Agree
Agree
Neither
Disagree
nor
Agree
Disagree
Strongly
Disagree
Duolingo was easy
to use
43.8% 43.8% 0% 12.5% 0%
Duolingo was
helpful in studying
Spanish
50% 31.3% 6.3% 6.3% 6.3%
I enjoyed learning
Spanish with
Duolingo
31.3% 12.5% 18.8% 18.8% 18.8%
I am satisfied with
Duolingo
25% 25% 6.3% 18.8% 25%
The results were a bit different from those seen for the beginner’s group. Although
students in both classes found the app easy to use and helpful in studying Spanish,
clearly the students in this group did not enjoy using the app as much (only 43.8%
said they Strongly Agree or Agree). Only half the class was actually satisfied with
Duolingo (when we again combine the results from Strongly Agree and Agree). It is
still encouraging that over 80% of students still found the app helpful.
For question number two, “How does it compare to regular, book based,
homework?” we can look at the answers students gave in the following tables:
Table 4. Comparison to regular homework
“Do you like Duolingo better than other types of homework?”
Yes No The Same
A1 students (n. = 46) 84.8% 8.7% 6.5%
B2 students (n. = 16) 43.8% 43.8% 12.5%
As we can see, students in the A1 group did indeed like it much better than
regular homework. The questionnaire presented a follow-up question to this one,
i.e. “Why?” Some of the responses given in this group were evidence that (1) students
liked the variety of activities provided by Duolingo (“Because it is better. Includes
hearing and writing to practice more”.), (2) it is an easy and simple app to use (“Easy
app that I could do whenever I wanted.”;”It was better because it was easy to do
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the lessons on the app”.), (3) they like both the fact that it is on the phone and its
gamification aspect (“Since college students like to use their phones, it makes it feel
like we are playing a game rather than doing homework;” “It was like playing a game
while learning”.), and (4) it gives them instant feedback (“Because instead of simply
doing the homework and not knowing if you were right or wrong, this program
helped you understand if you were wrong or right, and if you were wrong it would
correct you and show you your mistake;” “Duolingo will tell you right then and there
if you are wrong and help you correct your mistakes”.). For the students in this group
who answered that they didn’t like it, one person wrote: “I like doing my homework
from a workbook with paper and a pen. I learn better if I handwrite the information
myself”.
For group B2, we can see again that the results were very different. But even
though not that many students liked Duolingo better, if we combine the “Yes” answers
with those of “The Same,” the percentage is 87.6%. This indicates to this researcher
that, although there were aspects they may not have liked about the app, they still
thought it could be considered as valid as regular homework. The answers from this
group as to why they liked it more are similar to the ones we saw for the other group
(“Because it is easy to do on the go, and I honestly feel that it helps me remember the
language well;” “it was easier to access and it also kept me motivated to keep turning
the circles gold;” “It was easy to complete and convenient that it was on my phone;”
“Because it is easy to do on the go, and I honestly feel that it helps me remember the
language well”.). As to why they did not like it, many students expressed frustration
not so much with the app, but with the requirement of turning five skill circles gold
every week. They also complained that often, the translations in Duolingo have to be
specific and the program marks them wrong even if there is another option.
Questions 3 and 4 of our aims for this study: “Does Duolingo promote self-
directed learning that moves beyond the course’s requirements?” and “Will Duolingo
be useful even after the course is completed?” were answered with the following
questions in our survey, tables 5 and 6.
Table 5. Self-Directed Learning 1
“Did you complete more lessons than those required for class?”
Yes No
A1 (n. = 46) 56.5% 43.5%
B2 (n. = 16) 20% 80%
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Table 6. Self-Directed Learning 2
“Will you continue using Duolingo?”
Yes No Maybe
A1 39.1% 17.4% 43.5%
B2 6.7% 46.7% 46.7%
We observe here the same differences than before. Students in the A1 group
seemed much more inclined to do more lessons than the required ones (some of
them even did lessons in other languages as well), and most of them believe that they
may use Duolingo in the future without any prompt from a course. Most students in
group B2, on the other hand, did not complete extra lessons and do not think they
will continue using Duolingo, although if we combine the Yes with the Maybe, it
indicates that more than 50% of the class thinks it is a possibility.
The survey to the students also included the question “How did you access
Duolingo?”, since I wanted to gauge the popularity of the mobile options, the phone
or tablet, as opposed to the browser version. Students could click on all that applied.
The following chart presents the results.
Chart 1. Access modality
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From this chart, we see that more than half of students in both groups used their
mobile phones or tablets at some point. The B2 group appeared to also use the web
desk version more often, but that may have had to do with the fact that in the web
version, Duolingo allows you to do a quick practice to turn a skill back to gold, and
this was what they needed to do for this class. In any case, based upon their written
responses and these results, it is obvious that having the ability to do homework on
your mobile devices is something preferred by both groups.
Lastly, all of our students were asked how the use of Duolingo in class could be
improved. In group A1, many students said that they liked it the way it was. Some
mentioned that the skills they were reviewing in Duolingo did not correspond with
what was seen in class and thought that they should be better aligned. Others also
suggested doing the lessons in class, maybe for five minutes every day.
For our B2 students, many suggested that the requirement be made less stringent
and count XPs rather than requiring five skills turned to gold per week, so that
students could enjoy it more.
DISCUSSION
In this paper, I have tried to see if adding Duolingo to a Spanish course can
improve the course and also can give students a new tool that they can use after the
course is completed. I studied the use of Duolingo in two different Spanish level
university courses with different pedagogical goals. In one course, the aim was
simply to complement the course (A1 group), while in the more advanced group, the
goal was to have students review basic vocabulary and grammar that they should
know at that level.
Based upon the results in the survey and the aims of this study, students appear
to find Duolingo an easy-to-use, helpful, and enjoyable app to practice Spanish; they
seem to like it more than regular, book based homework because of the convenience
it provides; they like the fact that it can be accessed in different formats, particularly
through mobile access; and lastly, they also enjoy its gamification aspects. I believe
that this app is also successful because of the way the lessons are presented, with
short prompts that are varied and with different skills interleaved. As we saw with
the research from Brown, Roediger and McDaniel (2014), these methods, together
with spaced repetition, make learning more efficient.
There are some drawbacks to Duolingo, which were also noticed by students.
One of them is the accuracy of its translations, which may not always be exact or
which sometimes do not accept other versions. In the browser app, you can discuss
your answer with other learners to try to negotiate meaning in a way, but this is
not possible in the mobile version. The writer of the article has tried to do all of the
Duolingo tree in Spanish, and has experienced this only rarely and mostly in more
advanced nodes, thus it does not represent an important obstacle.
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The author believes that Duolingo can still be a valid addition to any course,
online or face-to-face, since students are able to review the language at their own
level. It should not represent more than 15% of any course grade and, considering
the differences we saw in the two levels studied, is more recommended for beginners.
I also recommend that students do a number of XP a week, which now can be easily
tracked through the new Educator’s dashboard in Duolingo, and that they do them
in several days so as to remain in frequent contact with the language. As already
mentioned, this type of m-learning allows students to augment the classroom
learning by providing flexible learning that can enrich the classroom experience.
This Duolingo study also suggests that it promotes self-directed learning beyond
the course’s requirements, although more research in this area is needed. In an
anecdotal form, the instructor has also observed that about 10% of students in both
groups have continued using Duolingo after the semester ended. Thus we can say
that it may still be useful once the course is completed, even if just for a few students.
I agree that we need to conduct more studies in which we can account for the learning
that took place thanks to Duolingo, but given the responses of students to this study
we do not see a drawback to implementing it.
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PERFIL ACADÉMICO Y PROFESIONAL DE LA AUTORA
Pilar Munday. Profesora de español en Sacred Heart University (EEUU).
Licenciada en Filología Inglesa por la Universidad de Granada y Doctora en Lingüística
Teórica por la Universidad de Nueva York. Está interesada en la investigación sobre
nuevas tecnologías para facilitar el aprendizaje de idiomas.
E-mail: mundayp@sacredheart.edu
DIRECCIÓN DE LA AUTORA
5151 Park Avenue
Fairfield, CT 06825
Estados Unidos
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Fecha de recepción del artículo: 18/05//2015
Fecha de aceptación del artículo: 20/09/2015
Como citar este artículo:
Munday, P. (2016). The case for using DUOLINGO as part of the language
classroom experience. RIED. Revista Iberoamericana de Educación a Distancia, 19
(1), 83-101. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/ried.19.1.14581
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Appendix 1
Survey questions.
1. Do you agree with the following statements?
Strongly
Disagree
Disagree
Neither
Disagree
nor Agree
Agree
Strongly
Agree
Duolingo was easy to
use
Duolingo was helpful
in studying Spanish
I enjoyed learning
Spanish with Duolingo
I am satisfied with
Duolingo
2. How likely are you to recommend Duolingo to a colleague or friend? (on a scale
from 0 to 10)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Very unlikely Very likely
3. Did you like Duolingo better than regular homework?
Yes
No
The same
4. Why?
Did you complete more lessons than the required for class?
This could be in other languages as well.
Yes
No
5. How did you access Duolingo?
Check all that apply.
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Phone
Web
Tablet
6. Will you continue using DUOLINGO?
Yes
No
Maybe
7. With which tool do you feel you learned the most Spanish in this class?
Exams
Blog
Podcast
Recordings
Duolingo
8. How can DUOLINGO for classroom use be improved?
9. Do you have any other comments?
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Duolingo is a commercial language-teaching platform that offers free courses on the web and on mobile apps. This study reports the ACTFL listening and reading proficiency levels of adult Duolingo learners who had completed beginning-level courses in Spanish or French. The participants (n = 225) were learners residing in the United States, had little to no prior proficiency in the target language, and used Duolingo as their only learning tool. The Duolingo learners reached Intermediate Low in reading and Novice High in listening. No other skills were assessed. Their reading and listening scores were comparable with those of university students at the end of the fourth semester of study. The findings of the study suggest that Duolingo can be an effective tool for foreign language learning.
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Gamification has emerged in recent years as a resource that incorporates game-related elements and mechanics into the classroom to foster students' motivation, engagement, and further competences. With the proliferation of English-medium instruction (EMI) and multilingual degree programs at university nowadays, new and innovative teaching tools are desirable to help students cope with the double-challenging task of acquiring new and complex disciplinary content through a foreign language. This chapter provides an overview of some recent computer-based gamification tools that may be applied in EMI and multilingual university settings. More specifically, the main features and advantages of these tools for these specific educational contexts are explored. This chapter may be useful for researchers and practitioners in the field of EMI and multilingual teaching in higher education.
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Gamification has emerged in recent years as a resource that incorporates game-related elements and mechanics into the classroom to foster students' motivation, engagement, and further competences. With the proliferation of English-medium instruction (EMI) and multilingual degree programs at university nowadays, new and innovative teaching tools are desirable to help students cope with the double-challenging task of acquiring new and complex disciplinary content through a foreign language. This chapter provides an overview of some recent computer-based gamification tools that may be applied in EMI and multilingual university settings. More specifically, the main features and advantages of these tools for these specific educational contexts are explored. This chapter may be useful for researchers and practitioners in the field of EMI and multilingual teaching in higher education.
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This study investigated whether adding supplementary writing to an extensive reading program would increase its effectiveness for the development of grammatical accuracy. The participants were Japanese female college learners of English (N = 104) studying in an extensive reading program. The Japanese summary group (n = 34) wrote summaries in Japanese, the English summary group (n = 34) wrote summaries in English, and the Correction group (n = 36) wrote summaries in English, received corrective feedback, and rewrote their corrected summaries. All participants read an average of 2300 pages (about 500,000 words) in three semesters, and the Correction group's summaries were corrected 25 times. The results revealed that all three groups improved significantly, and there were no statistically significant differences among the groups on the three tests. The questionnaire revealed that the Japanese summary group spent 150 hours reading while the other groups spent about 300 hours reading, writing, and rewriting. The conclusion was that adding supplementary writing did not lead to greater accuracy and that it was inefficient.
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"Mr. Tanaka" is an adult who attended a class based on story listening and carried out a personal reading program over one year with the author's guidance. At no time did he "study" English, and at no time did he attempt to speak or write English. He gained 180 points on the TOEIC test in one year, the equivalent of about 63 points on the TOEFL, far more efficient than students in traditional EFL and ESL programs.
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Until recently, the assumption of the language-teaching literature has been that new languages are best taught and learned monolingually, without the use of the students’ own language(s). In recent years, however, this monolingual assumption has been increasingly questioned, and a re-evaluation of teaching that relates the language being taught to the students’ own language has begun. This article surveys the developing English language literature on the role of students’ own language(s) in the language classroom. After clarifying key terms, the paper charts the continuing widespread use of students’ own languages in classrooms around the world and the contemporary academic and societal trends which have led to a revival of support for this. It then explores key arguments which underpin this revival, and reviews a range of empirical studies which examine the extent and functions of own-language use within language classrooms. Next, the article examines the support for own-language use that a range of theoretical frameworks provide, including psycholinguistic and cognitive approaches, general learning theory and sociocultural approaches. Having explored the notion of ‘optimal’ in-class own-language use, the article then reviews research into teachers’ and students’ attitudes towards own-language use. It concludes by examining how a bilingual approach to language teaching and learning might be implemented in practice.
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The usual approach to vocabulary learning is to present students with a list of words to be memorized, present them in the context of a text, and then provide exercises to "reinforce" the vocabulary. The purpose of these studies with beginning level German-as-a-foreign language university students in Japan was to determine whether beginning level students with limited vocabulary in German could sustain their interest in hearing a story for over 20 minutes, and to determine how much vocabulary could be gained just from hearing stories, without a list to memorize and supplementary vocabulary exercises. The first experiment showed that hearing a story had a higher acquisition/learning rate than a list method. The second and third experiments showed that supplementary focus on form activities were not worthwhile on vocabulary acquisition/learning, and that the rate of acquisition/learning was .10 words per minute during the seven weeks. It appears to be the case that students acquire six words per hour when they hear stories, while they learn 2.4 words per hour in traditional classes.
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Duolingo, a free online language learning site, has as its mission to help users to learn a language while simultaneously using their learning exercises to translate the web. Language is learned through translation with, according to developers, Duolingo being as effective as any of the leading language learning software. For translating the web, machine translation is not good enough and relying only on professional translators, far too expensive. Duolingo, we are told, offers a third way, with translation as a by-product of its language learning. Translation which will be, if as promised, almost as cheap as if done by machines and almost as good as if by professionals. Launched in June 2012, Duolingo boasts already at the time of writing 300,000 active language learners ready for the task. This article independently assesses the extent to which Duolingo, at its current stage of development, meets those expectations.
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The study investigates the effect of explicit contrastive analysis and translation activities on the incidental acquisition of single words and collocations. We compared three high school groups of learners of the same L1 and comparable L2 (English) proficiency. Each group represented one instructional condition: meaning focused instruction (MFI), non-contrastive form-focused instruction (FFI), and contrastive analysis and translation (CAT). The target items consisted of ten unfamiliar words and ten collocations in L2English. The MFI group performed content-oriented tasks which did not require attention to the target items. The FFI group performed text-based vocabulary tasks which focused on the target items. The CAT group was assigned text-based translation tasks: from L2 into L1, and from L1 into L2. During the correction stage, the teacher provided a contrastive analysis of the target items and their L1 translation options. Time-on-task was kept constant in the three groups. After completing the tasks, the three groups were tested on the retention of the target items by two tests: active recall and passive recall. A week later, the participants received the same tests. The CAT (contrastive analysis and translation) group significantly outperformed the other two groups on all the tests. These superior results are discussed in light of the 'noticing' hypothesis, 'pushed output', 'task-induced involvement load', and the influence that L1 exerts on the acquisition of L2 vocabulary.
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This study reports on two experiments on input enhancement used to support learners’ selection of focus of attention in second language listening material. Eighty-four upper intermediate learners of Spanish took part. The input consisted of video recordings of quasi-spontaneous dialogues between native speakers, in tests and treatment. Exact repetition and speech rate reduction were examined for their effect on comprehension, acquisition of decoding strategies, and linguistic features. Each of three groups listened to each utterance of the dialogue three times, in different speed combinations: fast-slow-fast, fast-slow-slow, fast-fast-fast, respectively. A fourth group served as a baseline and received no treatment. Comparisons of pretest and posttest scores showed significant effects for all three parameters. No difference with regard to effect could be established between treatment conditions.
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Situated in the context of learning second language (L2) pronunciation, this article discusses from information-processing and pedagogical perspectives the role of repetitive practice with L2 input and of explicit focus on its form-related (phonological) properties. First, we report the results of an auditory word-priming experiment with 60 L2 learners of Spanish varying in degree of L2 pronunciation accuracy; these results suggest that both repetition and focus on form have measurable benefits for processing L2 speech. Next, we discuss these findings in terms of information processing and its relationship to L2 pronunciation teaching. Finally, we describe a communicative framework for teaching L2 pronunciation that is compatible with the outlined information-processing principles, that is, a framework that includes meaningful repetition and form-focused activities within a communicative context.
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There is an increase use of wireless technologies in education all over the world. In fact, wireless technologies such as laptop computers, palmtop computers and mobile phones are revolutionising education and transforming the traditional classroom-based learning and teaching into anytime and anywhere education. This paper investigates the use of wireless technologies in education with particular reference to the potential of learning new technical English language words using Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging. The system, developed by the authors, called mobile learning tool (MOLT), has been tested with 45 1st-year undergraduate students. The knowledge of students before and after the experiment has been measured. Our results show that students enjoyed and learned new words with the help of their mobile phones. We believe that using the MOLT system as an educational tool will contribute to the success of students.