Can language learning be anything, but tedious rote learning? In my quest to find an application that did not take me to some surreal kingdom or adopt an avatar alias, I came across Duolingo–a language application that seemed to be all it was touted. So, what is different about this language application compared to all the other ones that are out there? Well, it has been in beta format for the last 3 months and the interesting thing is the creators have applied the wiki formula of aggregated data input to improve its acceleration and accuracy in development. This translates to (excuse the pun) to thousands of users creating content that is self-generating! Now that it has been released to the public for German, Spanish, French, Italian and English, I tried it out to see if it was all it proclaimed. Guess what? It was and I had fun doing because of the learning game format.
It uses interactive activities that require you to select grammatically correct answers, input correct spellings or words and verbally repeat pronunciations with voice recognition checks. You gain a heart for every 3 correct answers and lose a half a heart for every incorrect one which appeals to the stimulus-reward side of learners. After each level of learning activities, which build on the previous learning points, you receive immediate feedback, an overview of what you have just learned, charted progress reports, completion points and recognition via an animated diploma that pops up to acknowledge your progressive achievement.
I can see applying this as a collaborative activity by challenging teams or individual players to increase their skill level against the clock or monitor each other’s progress with combined or group scores. The elements of input, instant feedback and achievement markers will prompt participants to keep improving. The rote aspect is blended into the varied activities so you do not sense the repetitiveness, but just the incremental gains. It is an excellent approach to self-directed language learning!
“An independent study assessing the effectiveness of Duolingo as a language learning tool found that 34 hours of Duo lingo was as effective as 1 university term. In other words more productive based on output” (Vesselinov & Grego, 2012). http://www.duolingo.com/
iTunes offers up an interesting application that is meant to initiate thinking about cultural diversity. It is part of the Race awareness Project (Baran, 2011) which was designed to bring art, technology and education together. Who am I, uses authentic photos of people to reveal learners’ own assumptions about race and nationality compared to how the people in the photos self-identify. It is meant to begin conversations with learners about human “physical diversity and racial identification”, but contains many components to consider “about the world in which they live, making them more knowledgeable, thoughtful, and empathetic” (Race Awareness Project, 2013). It is a free application that would serve as a wonderful icebreaker activity for a cultural diversity or intercultural communications course which although is intended for younger age groups, in my opinion, is also suitable for adults especially ESL learners who may have difficulties expressing these concepts in English.
I t begins with a new conversational tip at the start of each game to prompt critical thinking on concepts related to identification and race. For example: Is Caucasian or white considered a race? You begin by selecting a photo. Your opponent must solicit questions in order to eliminate other face photos from the screen display to arrive at the selected person. The phrasing of questions and word choice are the critical learning points that are meant to begin analytical discussions.
“Taking the time now to broach these conversations will not only inspire productive conversation today, but will also open up a space for sincere dialogue in the future” (Who am I, 2013). Its sister application Guess My Race costs $9.99 and increases deeper critical thinking levels.
It “will open your eyes, not only to racial issues, but also to a critical thinking perspective on culture and hegemony more broadly” to “foster respect, understanding and empathy” (Baran, 2011).
Apple (2013). Who am I? Race awareness game. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/who-am-i-race-awareness-game/id372945923?mt=8
Baran, M (2011). The race awareness project. Cambridge Diversity Consulting. http://www.raceawarenessproject.com/
Vesselinov, R & Grego, J (2012). Duolingo Effectiveness. http://static.duolingo.com/s3/DuolingoReport_Final.pdf
Lewis, B. (2013). Fluent in 3 months. http://www.fluentin3months.com/duolingo