New data shows that those who use Duolingo — a popular language app — can learn the equivalent of four semesters of university study. The app is free for all, and parents and teachers say it is a good supplement for students of all ages who are learning from home this fall.
Averill, 10, is quite the Duolingo master. Her Spanish teacher recommended the app to pair with her in-class lessons a few years back. Averill took that one step further.
She's currently learning Korean. When she masters that, it will be her third language.
"My dad is Korean, and so my grandparents speak Korean," Averill said. "I'm trying to learn it because we're planning a trip to Korea to visit some relatives and I'm trying to learn it so I can speak to them a little better than I can right now."
She likes to take what she's learned and practice on her grandparents. So far, she says, she's doing pretty well.
Korean and Spanish are two of the 39 featured languages on Duolingo. This spring, when COVID-19 sent America into lockdown, new users flocked to the app. Dr. Cindy Blanco is a learning scientist at Duolingo.
"Our new users spiked 66%, which in any other time would be enormous, but the spike continued the rest of the month," said Dr. Cindy Blanco, a learning scientist at Duolingo. "Our new-user growth in March was 113%, which is unprecedented — kind of the word of the year."
People were also downloading the app to keep their language skills sharp and because teachers needed help.
"The most important thing to not fall behind in a language course is to keep getting in front of that language," Blanco said.
As a Doctor of Linguistics, Blanco is a Duolingo user herself. She's currently trying to keep up with her Russian. She's already well-versed in Spanish, French, Catalan, Italian and American Sign Language.
Blanco says Duolingo offers all sorts of content, including lessons, short stories, podcasts, and even a virtual language practicing event. Because Duolingo is app-based, it means users can access it from anywhere, anytime.
"It's more important than ever that we create products that can meet people where they are and where they are is at home with small handheld devices," Blanco said. "So, how can we get language learning literally in your hands?"
It's also fun. The program moves away from textbooks and worksheets that many find monotonous, especially when it comes to language.
"We often associated language-learning with dry high school classes of textbooks and worksheets," Blanco said. "So, to see something that's fun, that you like doing, you're deceiving yourself. 'Well, I can't possibly also be learning, I'm enjoying it too much.'"