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Have You Played… Duolingo?

"The cat eats the coat"

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Get a bucket ready, friends, I’m about to use a disgusting word. Duolingo is the only successful example of “gamification” I’ve ever encountered. It’s a – okay there it is. Yup. That’s it. Let it all out. You’ll feel better afterwards. Better out than in, they always say. Or, in Spanish: mejor afuera que adentro.

For those still vomiting, Duolingo is a language-learning app that gives you bitesize tests and grants XP for completing them. You might do a little module titled “Basics” in Dutch and learn the word for “bread”. There are achievements for keeping your lessons up for 7 days in a row, or earning over 200 XP in a single day, or finally completing a whole course. You also earn a currency called “Lingots” to spend on silly cosmetic gear for the game’s owl mascot, or on bonus modules, like “Flirting”. It also asks you to speak the words aloud at points. So fellow commuters might see you saying “You have beautiful eyes” into your phone in a foreign language. It’s a rollercoaster.

Most users play on phone, but you can do it on PC via web browser too. It isn’t a perfect teacher. You’ll learn a lot of vocab, and be confronted with grammar, but the reasons or rules behind the grammar are never explained. You just have to power through with trial and error, sometimes diving into the comments section for help from fellow lingo learners. It also has a ridiculous idea of “fluency”, and proudly tells you you’re 20% or 55% or 71% fluent, as if this is something that can be calculated by a program that listens you you shout “JAY VOO-DRAY OON CWASSONT” into its machine ear. It also has annoying ads on phone that’ll put people off.

Despite those things, I still recommend it to anyone taking up a language. Not as a single magic wordbullet that’ll teach you Swedish, but as an excellent supplement to whatever other classes or language exchange groups you’re attending. It won’t teach you a language, no matter how many achievements it offers. But it will help a lot.

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