DuoLingo is actually pretty fun

Last summer, I started playing with the DuoLingo app.  My wife originally started looking at it as a resource for teaching our son a foreign language (which is going to be part of his curriculum this year), and I thought I'd check it out.  After all, I figured we had an upcoming vacation in Mexico and it couldn't hurt to brush up on my Spanish, right?  (Turned out it wasn't really necessary - we spent the whole time on the resort and nearly everybody spoke enough English to communicate.  But that's not the point.)

Turns out it's kind of a fun little app.  Sure, the presentation is very cartoonish and oriented toward children, but not distractingly so.  More importantly, it offers enough gamification to keep it interesting and allows you to do lessons in very small bites.

I subscribed to the premium package (since I figured it would be a family thing), so I haven't really messed with the free version much.  I'm not sure how much of a difference that makes to the user experience, so caveat emptor.

The exercises cover a good range of capabilities.  They include basic written translation exercises, where you read a sentence in one language and translate it to the other, either though free-form typing or a pick-a-word interface; fill-in-the-blank exercises where you have to complete a sentence; listening exercises where you type back what you hear; speaking exercises where you read/repeat a sentence; and stories that you listen to and then answer comprehension questions.  For most exercises, the interface allows you to tap a word to get the definition, which is handy.  There are also tips that you can access and which get displayed if you get a question wrong too many times.

The gamification aspect is what I find interesting and enjoyable.  There are a number of aspects to it, so you can go as deep as you want.  These include daily challenges, like completing 12 listening exercises; long-term challenges, like learning a certain number of new words; levels to progress through; various streaks to establish and maintain; leagues to compete in; and even "friend quests" to work with another user to collectively reach a goal, like a certain number of lessons completed in a week.  You can earn "points" for leagues and challenges by completing lessons and "gems" that can be used to buy power-ups by completing challenges.  You can also buy gems with cash, if you're so inclined, but they're really only used to buy "streak freezes" or "time boosts", which you don't really need.

The thing that really helps me stay with the app, though, is the lesson sizes.  They're very short.  It varies, of course, depending on what type of lesson you're doing, but it's not a big time commitment at all.  The fastest can be as short as one minute, up to maybe 6 or 7 minutes.  Sure, you're not going to learn all that much in 5 minutes, but reinforcement helps.  Smaller lessons give you lots of opportunity for review, so you can pick up new stuff slowly and get comfortable using it.  And most importantly, if you're busy, you're more likely to actually do small lessons on a regular basis.  Is that the path to rapid fluency?  Clearly not.  But it's still a way to improve your skill with a language.