Today I completed my 76th consecutive Spanish lesson with Duolingo. Why Spanish? Why Duolingo and why is the number of days important? This isn’t my first attempt to learn a new language. My work brings me in contact with a number of different languages and while I try, the project is usually over before I make it past hello and goodbye. I’m simply not wired to learn a new language unless it involves computer programming.

Living in Texas gives me plenty of incentive to learn Spanish. If nothing else, I would like to know what’s on the menu. When Audible offered Pimsler’s Spanish during a two for one sale, I knew the time had come. My first lesson with Pimsler got me to “disculpe” (excuse me) and a realization that my language skills have not improved with age. Listening to an audio book wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to be. That’s when I remembered Duolingo.

Many years ago, while working with a French customer, the program manager encouraged me to try Duolingo. One brief lesson a day and I would soon be able to converse in the language. At least that was the way it was presented. Somewhere around day five I got busy and my attempt to learn French went by the wayside as well as the app from my phone.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that abandoned Duolingo in the early days. The program has embraced gamification in a complete revamp. Watching me at my lessons, my wife asked me if I was playing video games on my phone.

The reviews warned me that rather than teaching you fundamentals, Duolingo relies on repetition and memorization. I can’t disagree with that but I’ve listened to less than 20 minutes of my Audible Spanish. I have far more time invested in Duolingo and I feel I’m actually learning.

Despite the marketing hype, Duolingo is not going to make you an expert in your language of choice. They claim that several lessons of Duolingo are as effective as a complete semester of school. Given how much I remember of my high school Latin, I won’t dispute that statement but it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

Duolingo teaches you words, phrases and little bit of conjugation. I still remember how much time I spent conjugating Latin verbs and how much I hated it. Duolingo won’t make you a scholar. On the other hand, it will enable you to understand and be understood in a foreign language.

The app is free but that doesn’t stop them from encouraging you to subscribe. You start with five lives. Every time you make a mistake one life (heart) is … No, you really don’t care how the game is played. If you think the way I do, you want to know how much will it cost and what will I learn.

They make it challenging enough to keep you advancing, give you plenty of encouragement, allow you to set your own goals and give you a comparison with your peers. All of these are classic game techniques and Duolingo incorporates them well.

How much does it cost? The app is free but with every lesson you complete you have to watch an ad. Make too many mistakes and you have to buy more lives with points that you’ve earned or wait until the next day. After 76 days of actively playing, err, learning, I can say I haven’t spent a penny.

Their subscription price is not outrageous. It starts at $12.99 a month and drops to $6.99 if you pay for a year in advance. You can also use points to refresh lives but points only keep you playing. Subscriptions are the only way to keep from watching ads.

Seventy six days later, what don’t I like? Pronunciation is always difficult for me. Duolingo uses a speech recognition routine straight out of the eighties. When my dogs are barking and the app recognizes three words I haven’t yet said, there’s a problem. When it can’t recognize a word I’m know I’m pronouncing correctly, “mi”, there’s a problem and a major source of frustration. Nor are the translations perfect. Like any test, there’s also been a few times when I know I was right and I still got told I was wrong.

Another complaint is spelling. Although I don’t see a way around it, Duolingo gives you very little leeway with respect to spelling. Speed reading has caused me to perform poorly in English spelling (at least that’s my excuse). I’ve now become proficient as a bilingual misspeller.

On the very strongly recommended side, if Spanish isn’t your thing, you can also choose from a multitude of other languages, including French, German, Klingon, High Elvish and my next language candidate Navajo. Why Navajo? That’s a whole different post but I’m fairly sure it doesn’t have Latin roots.

Oh, just in case you do decide to try Duolingo out, following this link will allow me to watch a few less ads, . Either way, you really owe it to yourself to check them out. I was delighted when I realized I knew the name of my favorite Mexican restaurant meant grandfather.

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