September 21, 2017

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SLJ Reviews Duolingo for Schools | Test Drive

SLJ1503-TK-Duoling4Duolingo has just released Duolingo for Schools for grades 6 and up, based on its very appealing free site for foreign language learners. The site hopes to become a top tool for language teachers and students. Current offerings are English, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, and French, and the incubator shows other languages in the works.

Duolingo uses a mixture of activities; students listen, speak, read, and type in a simple interface as they work through words and phrases. For basic learners, the approach is very nicely done, with popups and extras to enhance understanding and game-based elements to increase motivation. Spaced repetition provides excellent vocabulary and usage support, especially for struggling students. Adept users will find it just as addictive and will benefit from being able to go further. There are several options for advanced learners to test out or unlock skills they have surpassed. Students can also find friends on Facebook and add followers to compete with.

Nice touches include the ability to slow down what you hear (click the turtle) and popup tips (“almost correct, pay attention to the accents”). One thing to note is that students can be sloppy and still successful: the site doesn’t care if you capitalize or add periods, etc. When a user gets an item wrong, tabs show up under the big red X to allow reporting of problems or to see others’ discussions of the item. Students also receive minor corrections with spelling: “You have a typo in your answer. Almost correct!,” as it shows them the corrected response.

Coming changes include a more detailed teacher dashboard, as well as options to add new words or phrases or rearrange the order of lessons. Improvements stem from discussion boards, the wiki, and Reddit communities. There are even userscripts: fan-made add-ons that expand functionality. Duolingo is very responsive to feedback—there’s a good chance that suggestions will be included as they adjust lessons.

SLJ1503-TK-Duoling1SLJ1503-TK-Duoling5What do teachers see via the dashboard?

Although Duolingo itself is built on a huge quantity of data from 20+ million active users, there is not much detailed student data available to teachers. The teacher dashboard allows for easy filtering by languages, groups, or time periods. For each student, it shows, at a glance, completed skill levels, as well as XPs—experience points for successfully completing certain activities—and the number of days the student was active. Skill levels plus XPs give rough guidelines of student progress. Teachers receive weekly skill and lesson summary reports, which can be easily shared with parents.

As the dashboard changes to yield more individual data about problem areas, teachers will see it more as a blended learning option, rather than as a fun extra. Duolingo pays impressive attention to feedback, and teachers are clamoring for more information about where students are hesitating or having to repeat lessons. The ability to preview lesson components, for example, will aid teacher planning.

Click the “Discuss with Teachers” button at the top of the dashboard and you’ll see a useful stream of topics, including a user guide and feedback. Teachers new to the platform can access more help via the wiki (http://ow.ly/J8CrC).

SLJ1503-TK-Duoling-DetailsWhere does Duolingo fit into language instruction?

Frederick Anderson, a French and Spanish teacher at Western Albemarle High School in Crozet, VA, says Duolingo is a highly motivating tool for practice and production of written and spoken language. It’s a confidence builder, according to Melinda Sears, a French teacher at Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, AL, and a wonderful review option. Duolingo is great for BYOD environments—students can choose to have it on their phones or tablets. Outside the classroom, Duolingo works well in afterschool clubs, as an academic extra for interested students, and as a way for younger kids to try languages, which they may choose to pursue in high school.

Teachers will want to have students use natural stopping points like the Tips and Notes, as well as the discussion tabs, to build analytical skills, and make connections with the structure of their native language. However, Duolingo is not truly immersive and doesn’t support deeper analysis, insight into culture, or creative choice-based options. There is very little capacity for improving speech. It takes time to learn any language, and true fluency requires teachers to help you evaluate and analyze, as well as a variety of people to communicate with.

Duolingo alone won’t teach enough of a living language to ever replace a quality in-person teaching program, but it absolutely belongs in every language classroom and on every school device.

Techman-Melissa_Contrib_WebMelissa Techman is a K–5 librarian at Broadus Wood Elementary School in Albemarle County, VA.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Adrianne says:

    I love Duolingo and recommend it to all of my friends who have studied another language and are interested in keeping up their skills. We are all 40+ years old. :) Plus, my 8 year old stepson enjoys it too! So glad to see it’s being used as a tool to complement in-person teaching at the school level.