I’m sure that all of you are familiar with the famous language learning app Duolingo. They’ve been making news ever since they first come out on the App Store back in 2011.
But it took them six years to finally come out with a Japanese course! If you want to learn Japanese with Duolingo, now you can!
Well, I say that… But the truth is that right now it is only released in beta to the people who signed up for it. That includes yours truly of course 😉
If you’re familiar at all with how Duolingo teaches, then you’ve probably already got a good idea on what the Japanese course is like, but if you’re brand new to it then I’ll give a general explanation to their process.
On a side note, one of the investors for Duolingo is actually Tim Ferriss. He’s the guy who wrote a book on accelerate learning, called The 4-Hour Chef.
I wrote a review on it a little while ago and talked about how it can help you to learn Japanese faster than traditional methods. If you’re interested in checking that out, you can do so by clicking on the link below:
“Learn a language for free. Forever.”
Duolingo’s motto is “free language learning.” You can pay to have the ads removed for a month, but money is not required to get access to the full version of all of their courses. In fact, there are over 120 million people signed up!
Do you think that Japanese is the number one language? Well sadly it’s not 🙁 , Actually, English is the #1 language that people learn with the software. Go figure.
BUT! Japanese is the most requested language out of all of them. So we’ve got that going for us.
Duolingo takes a scientific based approach to teaching a language. One of those methods is gamification, where you can earn points for progression through the lessons, you can get experience that levels you up, and you can have daily streaks when you’re consistent in your studies.
Making it fun does a lot of things to help you succeed, like motivating you to stick with it and playing around with the language to really understand how to use it in different scenarios.
Another method they use is spaced repetition, where you learn a language and review it a lot at first, and then as time goes on you see it less and less often. This way you are always working on the harder/newer vocabulary and only occasionally review the easy ones you’ve already spent a lot of time on.
First you learn the sounds that the Kana systems make (both Hiragana and Katakana) and what they each look like. It does this by showing you a card of it, and making the Kana’s sound. You usually go over two different ones before you are tested on them to help reinforce what you’ve just learned.
Once you’ve memorized a decent amount of them, you get to play a matching game by selecting a Kana and matching it with it’s sound (written in Rōmaji). As you advance, you eventually start learning Kanji this exact same way.
Now obviously Kanji has both a sound AND a meaning, so there are pictures attached to their respective Kanji to help you associate the two together.
This is all in order to teach you how to read the Japanese writing systems and learn some basic vocabulary. Once you’ve got a certain number of words under your belt, it begins to teach you some basic sentences.
It usually does this by making you translate them either from English to Japanese, or the other way around from Japanese into English. Sometimes you type the actually words in, and other times you select individual words to form the phrase.
What’s cool about piecing together a sentence is that you get to hear an audio file of the words play when you tap each one. That helps to reinforce the information in your memory while you translate.
It will occasionally throw in a new word that you haven’t learn yet during this translation part, but it will highlight the words in yellow so that you can tap on them and see what the meaning is.
Of course, due to the limited number of sounds that are in the Japanese language, sometimes a word will have more than one meaning. You will have to read through each possible translation and decide which one makes the most sense based on the context of the surrounding words.
My Thoughts On It
First of all, I like it! I think that it’s a great way to learn some Japanese for free. That being said, there are a few bumps that I’ve run into while using it.
First of all, it doesn’t always play the sound bite when you click on a word during the translation parts. It’s actually only like a 50/50 chance that you will get to hear it.
Also, the Hiragana は gets pronounced “ha” which is technically correct since it’s selected in isolation, but since it’s used as the topic marker for the sentence it should actually be pronounced “wa.” That might be confusing for someone who is just starting out.
Also, they don’t explain the difference between Hiragana, Katakana, or Kanji during the lessons. So again, if you were new to everything then you might be confused since you will see several different Japanese characters that all share the same sound.
You might wonder “what is the difference between に (Hiragana), ニ (Katakana), and 二 (Kanji) when they all sound like ‘ni’ ?”
This isn’t as much of a problem with Duolingo’s sister app Tinycards, which is a flashcard program that you can use to learn all of Hiragana and all of Katakana. They are seperated into different decks, so you won’t be as confused by identical sounding Kanas as you might be in the main Duolingo course.
Also, there are no testing sections that prompt you to speak Japanese. You can always repeat what the app says by using The Shadowing Technique, but unless you go into each lesson with this tactic in mind, it’s all too easy to take a more passive role while learning.
This leads to a situation that my friend told me about (he used Duolingo Spanish) where “you can understand what is being said, but can’t say it yourself.”
All things being equal, it would be better if you could speak Japanese too.
Check It Out Yourself
Now that I’ve told you about it, here is where you can sign up to try it out for yourself:
Just remember that it is still in beta testing at this point (6/1/17) so all of the problems that I mentioned might very well be gone by the time you use it yourself. Also, I’m not sure if it is open to the public just yet. But it doesn’t hurt to try and join anyway!
Like I said, Duolingo is great! But there is only one Japanese course that I recommend above the rest. Click on the link below to read about that one!
Now I would love to hear from you about this topic!
Have you used Duolingo to learn a language before? What about Tinycards? Let me know with a comment below!