/ Duolingo

One tree down, chopping the next.

I have finished my first language tree on Duolingo[1]. About one and a half years ago I started to refresh my then very rusty school spanish. A lack of motivation caused me to stop a few times for several months, but a friend kept going consistently and eventually brought me back to Duolingo. I took it as a challenge to catch up with him in terms of XP. The gamification aspect of Duolingo does help a lot - so if you don't have any friends on Duolingo: Get some!

Last sentence: "Ellos habrían cambiado"

Screenshot of last sentence

"You can now read 76.9% of all real Spanish text"

Yep, that's right. You don't get to 100% with 1584 words (which is obvious), but I always wondered where Duolingo thinks you're at after completing the course.

What do I do now?

That seems to be one question that always arises when someone finishes the tree. Duolingo isn't really prepared to provide a segue into more advanced learning material. I really hope that their plan to provide advanced courses[^11] and new teaching features sees the light of day soon.

My current plan is to keep the language tree golden and start the reverse tree (ES->EN). Additionally I want to keep growing my active and passive vocabulary by translating articles in Duolingo Immersion, talking to native speakers and continuing writing my WotD[^12] articles. In order to improve listening comprehension I have started watching Spanish movies and listening to Spanish radio stations.

What can I do to improve my progress?

There are many ways to immerse yourself in a language. The more you hear the language being used around you the easier it will become deepening your understanding.

You don't have to travel to a Spanish speaking country to talk to natives. In many big cities you can try and find a Tandem[2] partner to talk to. If you don't feel confident enough to meet people, WeSpeke[3] makes it possible to get in contact with other language learners online. This way I was able to get in contact with people from Honduras, Colombia, Costa Rica and Venezuela. The experience is incredible as you not only practice the language but also get to know new people and their cultures.

Duolingo Immersion provides an additional great way to improve your vocabulary and get feedback from other learners (albeit indirectly by corrections and votes) by uploading Spanish language articles that can then be translated to English.

Memrise[4] has a lot of courses for Spanish that help you memorize the vocabulary. I am honestly surprised by how effective it is and how much it improved my Duolingo experience. Previously I had to "peek" several times during lessons because I couldn't recall the meaning of a word. After starting the "Duolingo Spanish Vocabulary"[^13] course it became a lot easier to completely avoid peeking.

Initally verb conjugations weren't that hard to remember, but about half-way down the tree the course introduces you to Present Perfect, Past Particle, "Gerund", Future Perfect and finally Subjunctive and Past Imperfect which makes verb conjugation a lot harder. Sadly Duolingo hasn't a feature where you can just practive verb conjugation in different tenses and moods. I found it to be helpful to practice verb conjugation on a piece of paper. You simply pick a (hopefully regular) verb and write down all the forms and repeat that with more verbs until you feel confident enough about it.

Conjugating verbs alonge isn't much fun so you should try to construct sentences with them. While this is a tedious task I decided to write down one sentence for each new verb I learn. Getting feedback from natives is essential here as they will tell you if you are using the verbs correctly or whether your sentence structure is erroneous.

Finally, the easiest and mostly passive thing you can do is listening to Spanish language music. Spanish music is incredibly rich in variety and you should be easily able to find something that matches your taste.

How much time should I spend on learning?

The time you need to progress obviously heavily depends on your affinity for language learning. If you are used to learning languages you will most likely progress much faster in less time.

Personally, I like split my time between Duolingo and Memrise. I set the Coach[^10] to 50 XP which makes sure that I practice enough to keep my tree golden at all times. I use "Strenghten Skills" several times until I can consistenly reach at least 18 Points at the end of each session. After that I start doing new sections and repeat the process.

I use Memrise to increase my vocabulary. After finishing above mentioned "Duolingo Spanish Vocabulary" course I moved on to a few other courses which have the 5k most common Spanish words. Usually, I make sure that all words that need review are reviewed and then try to add 20-30 new words every day.

All this amounts to around 30 to 45 Minutes split throughout the day.

Additional Resources

There are an incredible number of resources for Spanish learners online. First of all SpanishDict[5] has been an invaluable resource providing translations and conjugation sheets. LanguageTransfer[6], a project by Mihalis Eleftheriou, also offers a Spanish course that is great to listen to. Similarly CoffeeBreak Spanish[7] provides a podcast for beginner to intermediate listeners that introduces you to new grammar structures or sheds light on the use of the subjunctive. Finally Extr@[8] is a Friends-esque show with 13 Episodes that is easy to understand and helps to improve listening comprehension.

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun with Duolingo and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Additional material is however definitely essential to make real progress. The gamification aspect of both Duolingo and Memrise is very addictive and often times made me chose language learning in favor of some other time wasting activity. It feels good to understand people in yet another language and be able to coverse with them. My inherent perfectionism will push me to fluency eventually and I am looking forward to that day.

Screen of completion screen


  1. Duolingo ↩︎

  2. Tandem Learning ↩︎

  3. WeSpeke ↩︎

  4. Memrise ↩︎

  5. SpanishDict ↩︎

  6. LanguageTransfer Spanish ↩︎

  7. CoffeeBreak Spanish ↩︎

  8. Extr@ Spanish ↩︎