Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2013


Stellar language-learning tool feels like a game, teaches solid skills

Common Sense Says:
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6-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Comprehensive, clear lessons guide kids through questions and let them set the pace, personalizing the experience.

Cons: The games are great, but they'll work even better coupled with teacher-led differentiation and thoughtful classroom instruction.

Bottom Line: Duolingo's lessons provide a simple, effective, and engrossing way to learn a language.

Follow Duolingo's "lesson plan" (a description of how to use the tool in the classroom) to create your own blended learning solution for the classroom. Use the teacher dashboard to measure your students' progress and target in-class activities, whole-class instruction, or extra homework accordingly. Encourage kids to compare scores in a way that's appropriate for their age and level: For younger kids, reward them for the amount of time they spend in the app; for more advanced users, reward them for streaks and speedy progress. Feel free to encourage all kids to create their own accounts or create a single class account and use it daily for warm-ups or exit tickets. 

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Duolingo is a game-based language-learning tool. Students first choose which language they want to learn. Beginners can start with "Basics 1," or more advanced learners can take a quick "Placement Test" to determine the appropriate starting point. Instructional practice activities cover all four skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) and require users to go back and forth between the target language and their self-identified native language. When students make an error, they see the correct answer and can open a user discussion related to the question for further feedback on the mistake. Users see their streak count (their number of days in a row spent using the tool) and their hearts (like lives remaining in a video game). Users earn experience points (XP) for their time in the app, and their user profile (visible when signed in) displays badges with their level and XP and flag icons representing the languages they're learning. Users can also switch to Immerson Mode to enter translations of key phrases and longer passages; this crowdsourced knowledge base plus an active message board make for a lively online community of language learners. English speakers can elect to learn Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, or Turkish; other languages have similar (if slightly more limited) options. 

Students can sign up on their own to use the Duolingo site (and Chrome app) or its corresponding mobile app (which is how most users access the service); all are free. Most relevant to the classroom, students can also participate with a Duolingo for Schools account, which is also free and which lets teachers link to their students' accounts and track their progress. Teachers can sign up for a free account, add class sections, and share a link with their students to let them sign up to join a particular section. Once students enroll, teachers can monitor their progress (with an overall course view or a detailed list view) and assign homework targeted for individual students' needs. 

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Editor's Note: Teachers should know that Duolingo has some privacy concerns. Consult our full evaluation for details.

Duolingo breaks the complex details of language-learning into manageable, meaningful chunks. Users don't just read about how a language works; they're guided step by step through exercises and get instant, detailed feedback. The lessons use several methods to help kids understand vocabulary words, usage, verb conjugation, and other elements. They view photos to learn terms, translate sentences back and forth beween languages, and type phrases that a narrator reads aloud. If they make a mistake, they’ll see the correct answer, and their responses help the system customize future lessons. Kids can also opt out of sections if they're familiar with the material, making this an especially engaging, helpfully differentiated experience. 

The site's clear, comprehensive format serves users with a range of abilities and language experience. The game-like features -- like experience points, hearts, and streaks -- all help make the tool rewarding and addicting in equal measures. The teacher dashboard takes this progress tracking a step further and turns those scores into something meaningful and actionable for a teacher. It's easy to use this data to get a detailed, realistic sense of your students' time on task and their growing abilities across skills. Overall, this is a rigorous, appealing tool for supporting language instruction at all levels. 

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Interactive questions walk kids through lessons and reinforce concepts in various ways, like typing a spoken phrase or identifying words from photos. Users get instant feedback and earn points throughout.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids can easily gauge how far they've come, which encourages them to keep working and earn more points. Repetition rules the day: You need to practice words you've missed and get most questions right to advance.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Intuitive, user-friendly design makes for approachable, easy-to-use language learning. An extensive FAQ section offers usage tips. 

Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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