Web-gaming review: Duolingo

Duolingo杭州夜生活m teaches you a new language, but its format is extremely game-like.After last week’s Tueday indie review got away from electronics and into the world of table-top  collaborative storytelling, I’ve decided to go even further afield and review something that could hardly be called a game at all.

Duolingo杭州夜生活m is a website that offers free lessons in German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, as well as offering English lessons for those who speak the aforementioned languages. It is a free service, making money by offering translation services to clients: they submit documents for translation, and Duolingo students translate them as part of their lessons.

So, why is a website that promises to teach you Portuguese featured here on Screen Play, a video gaming blog? The answer is in how Duolingo teaches. Lessons feel like levels of a computer game: you have lives, represented by little hearts in the top right corner, and getting a question wrong loses you a heart. Lose all your hearts and you fail the lesson, requiring you to start again.

Completing lessons awards points, and accumulating points lets you advance levels, just like in a role-playing game. You can compare your score with your friends who are also learning, and there is a high score table showing who currently has the most points among your friends.

It’s a strange way to run a language learning website, but it works. In preparation for visiting Cologne for Gamescom in August, I have been learning some basic German. After a bit more than a week, completing at least one ten minute lesson each day, I am slowly mastering the arcane mysteries of German pronouns, and I have a vocabulary of over 300 words.

I have been surprised by just how game-like the lessons can feel. Like a game, some levels can be quite easy (I breezed through four lessons of numbers) and some can be punishing (accusative pronouns felt like a boss battle). Tough lessons can be retried over and over, and the repetition helps to reinforce words and concepts in your mind.

There is also a wealth of support material available, including a list of all learned words with all their various forms and individual practice sessions, discussion forums for every question so you can get advice and share tips, and an immersion section that drops you into full-length articles in your chosen language to thoroughly test your skills.

Of course, the best bit is the price: nothing. You don’t even have to tolerate banner ads, since the site pays its bills with translation services. For those on the go, there are also free apps for Apple and Android devices.

Okay, enough of these weird quasi-games. I’ll be reviewing a great indie video game next week, I promise!

– James “DexX” Dominguez

DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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