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Smartphones are the perfect time-wasters. These convenient handheld devices that do everything from making phone calls to stealing an idol from an ancient temple are likely going to be what you see in most people's hands these days when trying to busy themselves. I myself have found that when I get bored or have nothing else to do that I'll grab my phone without thinking, like second nature, and just start playing a game or refreshing Facebook just to see pictures of other people's food behind various filters. But one day I got to thinking that I could probably be doing something better with my time, and as it turns out the answer happened to fall into my lap in the form of an app called Duolingo.

Throughout my life I've been told that one of the smartest things I could do for myself was learn a second language. In high school we were required to take two years of a foreign language in order to graduate, and unfortunately for me I never took the requirement that seriously and only started learning the foreign language of my choice, French, my junior year. Although the class was interesting, learning a foreign language wasn't exactly my top priority at the time. Taking French wasn't exactly the most practical language to learn as people in my city primarily use English or Spanish. Regardless, at the time I hadn't realized just how important (or useful) learning a second language was until about two years ago when I noticed a lot of employers were looking for bilingual employees. Even employers who weren't looking for bilingual people still found the trait to be rather useful, particularly if you were bilingual in a language that was frequented in the area. I had always thought that learning a second language would really be useful if you planned on being a translator. Ah, sweet ignorance.

Having a lot of free time (being unemployed at the time and all) made me think, hey, I have enough time to start to learn a second language! Like any good avid TV watcher, my first idea was to look up what it would cost to start using Rosetta Stone. As it turns out, if I wanted to use Rosetta Stone I would have to sacrifice an arm, a leg and Riley in order to use it. Although I had plenty of free time, I only had the free time because I was unemployed, and therefore didn't have much money to spare. I can't remember the exact price the program cost, but visiting the website now it costs $179 just to purchase Level 1. You'll get a much better deal if you purchase Levels 1-5 at $349, but it's still a truckload of money for somebody having financial issues.

To make a long story short, Rosetta Stone never happened and once employed I had forgotten all about my ambition to learn a second language. Whether it was the cost of having to do so or the lack of free time I suddenly had with working full-time and parenting, possibly both, I'll never know. But as it turns out, learning a second language might not be completely out of the question after all now that some developers are using smartphones to our advantage as an educational tool.

I was introduced to Duolingo about 3 months ago at the recommendation from a friend who was using it to learn Spanish. He told me that not only was Duolingo convenient by being available both on the computer and on the app store for free ("Now and forever," they say), but also because it had one other trick up its sleeve that it uses to immerse users. I have mentioned in articles before that I'm a pretty big fan of video games, and strangely (but awesomely) enough, Duolingo actually implements game-like features in its lessons to help make sure you're learning each lesson. In the beginning you are given four hearts, similar to The Legend of Zelda games, and for every question throughout the lesson you get wrong you lose a heart. If you lose all four hearts you must repeat the lesson with at least one heart remaining to move on. If you complete the lesson you earn coins. By completing lessons you also open up more advanced lessons and this is how you progress.

How effective is Duolingo, and is it a waste of time? Of course, learning methods are different for everybody. I find that I enjoy my time on Duolingo, likely because of seeing the application as both a learning tool and as a game, but not everybody is as interested in games as I am. Certain studies have shown that Duolingo can be as effective as an entire first-year semester of college in a little over 25% of the time it would take to learn it through University. As taken from a report from Pandodaily:

"Conducted by professors at City University of New York and the University of South Carolina, the study found that 34 hours on Duolingo was equivalent to the value of a first-year college semester, which takes in the order of 130+ hours. The same study found that Rosetta Stone users took between 55 and 60 hours to learn a similar amount."

Duolingo seems like a great starting tool for those who are interested in learning a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) language. By learning through Duolingo, you're also helping to "translate the Web", that is, you are helping to translate the parts of the web that nobody wants to pay for by means of crowdsourcing. In exchange? You might not be getting paid money, but you are receiving the gift of education while having a good time (hopefully) doing so. I know that I have been enjoying my time spent on Duolingo, which is now even more available since it has been introduced to the Play Store on Android as of May 29 of this year, making it available to iOS and Android users. While the application has yet to appear on Windows Phone 8 or BlackBerry, the application will hopefully be available to these platforms soon so users of all platforms can use this convenient and fun method of learning new languages.

Images via Duolingo


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