Learn a Language for Free. Seriously, This Time.

Learn a Language for Free. Seriously, This Time.

I’ve been hurt before. You may have been, too. The promising, free download or website sign-up that offers simple, quick interactive lessons to help you learn a language. But then, a roadblock. An in-app-purchase is required to continue. Or the app has suddenly become dependent and transformed into a premium service.

Duolingo is different. It’s an app for iOS, Android, and the web that promises to be free forever. Well, I’ve heard that before. What’s different now?

Here’s what’s different: while you learn from the app, it is actually putting you to work for them. In exchange for free lessons, you end up translating real-world documents. Every one of the millions of users work in collaboration to translate the web. Duolingo never relies on your dime, and it can indefinitely support itself while offering you free lessons.

And the lessons—aside from the business model—are where Duolingo excels. It presents bite-sized lessons that take no more than five or ten minutes to complete. Each teaches you some new vocabulary or grammar tidbit, and makes sure you can type it, speak it, recognize it, and translate it all in the same lesson. You get Zelda-style hearts you lose if you make errors, and upon successful completion, you gain experience and level up. The app keeps track of your experience, number of words learned, and how many days you’ve practiced in a row. I honestly can’t tell if I’m learning or playing a game.

Looking at French, there are nearly 70 skill categories to complete, each containing an average of five levels, so you can rest assure that this will take a while to complete. While English-speakers can currently only choose from German, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, Duolingo says more languages are coming.

If you’ve been strapped for time and cash but have always wanted to learn a language, all it takes with Duolingo is a few minutes a day.

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