german language

Achtung: Language Learning Platforms

German Language Learning Platforms-What you should be aware of
das Ausrufezeichen – the exclamation mark / Image from Pixabay

This is an updated version of my Article about Duolingo & Co. in a much gentler tone than the original article and a few modified insights.

Inspired by a few commenters, I would like to clarify a few things beforehand.

  1. I do not offer a product or service similar to Duolingo or any other language learning platform. My videos solely focus on German grammar and my tuition costs 4.000€ or more. My videos are rather a supplement (!) to any other German course or software out there and it is highly unlikely that a Duolingo user switches to my private tuition. I personally don’t have any benefit nor do I take pleasure from criticizing other people’s hard work. Everybody is free to evaluate my material under the same standards and I welcome any constructive criticism as it helps to improve my material and my work. And I hope that is also the attitude of other producers.
  2. Therefore it should also be clear that I do not compare my products or services to those mentioned in the article.
  3. As for the intention to raise attention, sure, I would love you to check out my material, yet I sincerely figure that those programs and platforms that I discuss here do have significant flaws that you should be very aware of. But it is still up to you to use whatever program you like. After having read this article you can make a more educated decision.
  4. All my claims follow solid reasoning. Should you have a better and proven argument or find a mistake in mine, I have no problem, updating it, as that is what improves my work. So far I unfortunately have not come across better arguments than mine.

Language Learning Softwares like Duolingo claim to help you learn German

While in the following I will refer to Duolingo, much of the criticism applies to any other language learning software out there. They are called Busuu, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, Tell Me More, Talk to Me, BliuBliu, Rocket Languages’ German just to name the most known language learning programs respectively language learning platforms.
I will simply call them „Duolingos“ as that sounds the catchiest but they all suffer from the same problems. Just let me make one thing very clear at the beginning: The idea and the efforts behind Duolingo and it’s competitors is remarkable and absolute worth being further developed and acknowledged. Watch this entertaining and impressive TED-talk by Duolingo’s CEO Luis von Ahn  to find out what it actually is all about.

The following article also wants to show that even in 2015 it is still a challenge to learn languages online or via software.

In my opinion you shouldn’t use any of the above softwares exclusively if you are serious about learning proper German in the shortest time possible. Some of them might prove as worthwhile add-ons to your regular learning as they seem to push ones motivation. Also if you don’t have access to any better resource or simply can’t afford standard tuition, then yes, you might want to play around with those.

In the following I would just like to raise your attention regarding relevant flaws so that you are aware of them and can find workarounds for them.

 

What am I Exercising Exactly?

Duolingo is a nicely programmed and optically well designed platform to learn a few languages. I am mostly concerned about German so I took a closer look this weekend and here is what I found:

learn german online with duolingo

At the very beginning one is asked to select the translation of e.g. ‚the woman‘ and three images with a woman, a man and a girl are shown. Below these images there are the German terms for the person on the picture (I blurred these out of © reasons but you can still recognize what I am talking about).

I wonder what this exercise is about. There is nothing achieved by performing this task as you could still successfully solve this task even if you wrote anything in Marsian below the photos. You will come across such introductions every once in a while and they are pretty common among such programs. Rosetta Stone e.g. uses four pictures with solely the German term written below each photo so you associate the German word directly with the image. I can find some sense in that although it still lacks depth. But more about that later.

This is also a good example for the shallowness of many of the exercises that I have found in Duolingo & Co. Often there are only three options given as a possible answer. Which then can simply be guessed. A 33% chance is far to high to let anyone be certain about his achievements. They also don’t require any thinking but are mere acts of visual recognition. And that’s one of the easiest task to perform for your mind as it is a recognizing machine. You can recognize a man or a woman (or many other things and beings) from pretty far away solely by certain clues that you have been trained in or were born to see. Recognizing visual clues is necessary to understand but it is a very weak form of learning. After all you want to be able to understand and use language and not only recognize it visually, right?

 

Lost in Translation 

There are much more challenging exercises in Duolingo that make up for this a bit. But one still has to remain attentive. Take a look at this screenshot here:

learn german online with duolingo

Again, the execution of the exercises is lovely. I especially like the ‚almost correct‘ and that they take it easy on the capitalization in the beginning while mentioning it. But as soon as there is more than one kind of mistake, Duolingo goes down on its knees. Do you see the ‚is‘ in the German translation? This even more serious mistake is overlooked by the machine and can as easily be overlooked by the man or woman in front of the screen even though the correct transcription is given in the green field.

 

Randomness Kills Interest

Another issue I see is that these translations are random. There is very little context as the sentence you have to translate are ripped out of their context. While that is still better than learning isolated words, our brain prefers greater context. Not for nothing do we love good stories and we wouldn’t read a bunch of isolated sentences to our children at bedtime.

Although Duolingo mentions the grammar, it doesn’t get clear in the exercise itself. But more about German grammar later.

If you provide information in its  greater context, you don’t have to motivate the learner by adding fancy jingles or highscores. The motivation will come from understanding something intelligent in a foreign language.

To give you an impression of what I am talking about here a few examples. The following sentences were taken from consecutive exercises:

•Meine Freundin macht Internet-Seiten >> Darum sehen wir einen blauen Himmel. >> Ich spreche mit meinem Freund am Computer >> Ich habe keinen Hunger geha
bt.

• My friend creates webpages. >> That’s why we have a blue sky. >> I speak with my friend at the computer. >> I wasn’t hungry.

Those are just random sentences even though the CEO claimed in his very interesting TED-talk that the examples in Duolingo would be ‚real content‘. He can only have meant those later exercises in which pretty advanced learners are confronted with translating real life articles into the chosen language. But until you get there you will have spent plenty of hours with the kind of information mentioned above.

 

Reden ist Silber…

All in all Duolingo offers all necessary kinds of exercises. There’s reading, writing, listening and even speaking. But the latter still seems to be in its beta phase as I wasn’t able to get the computer to understand what I was saying (just to remind you: I am a native German testing their German learning program) nor was I able to replay what was obviously recorded. I tried it on a fully functional 2011 Macbook Air with the newest OS, so that might be a specific issue with my machine. But I also tried it on a new iPad Air where it understood my speaking but I also could have said just anything and it would have been accepted as correct. So, when I was asked to repeat: ‚Ja‘ I would say ‚Nein‘ and get away with it, meaning the machine accepted it as ‚correct‘. I tried that several times with the same results.

And simply getting one’s utterances through the voice-recognition is not yet proof of correct speech as they usually have a quite high level of tolerance. Rosetta Stone (RS) and Rocket Languages (RL) seem to be exceptions.  They also show the sound waves and compare yours to the original ones. That would be pretty neat feedback if it worked. I’m not sure anymore regarding the precision of that feature in RS but in RL it simply seems useless to me. Take a look at this screenshot of my try to pronounce a German sentence to understand my harsh conclusion:

learn german online with Rocket languages German

The problem in Rosetta Stone as well as in Rocket Languages and Duolingo is that one just has to repeat what was spoken by the computer a few seconds ago. That’s not really a substitute for a conversation partner as you are not really using the language but merely copying what you hear. But this could be used to train your listening comprehension and auditive memory. It would be nice though if you had the possibility to deactivate the writing. But of course you can always close your eyes.
Another issue I have with this feature is that you don’t really get corrected (except  visually by being shown the sound waves in RS or RL).
It seems that no software is capable yet of correcting your pronunciation or sentence melody and that’s often crucial to be understood properly.

It would suffice for now to have the option to be able to record your speech and then have the opportunity to play that back right after the original sentence so that you can compare your speaking to the original. I’m not certain whether RS is not offering such a function at this time (04/2015) and will take another look. RL offers this function and uses dialogues as context. That’s a huge plus.

 

Listen Well

I am a big fan of dictations. Duolingo offers mini-dictations that also give the learner the opportunity  to slow the pace of the spoken sentence. But they have chosen to let a computer read the sentences that you are about to type. And while quite often that sounds surprisingly good, individual words are often mispronounced and deprived of their natural melody. Just one sample. Try to understand first before you read the transcription at the end of this article.

Duolingo sound sample (opens in new window)

 

Discuss with the Right People

Democracy is surely a nice concept but I am not a big fan of it, when it comes German teaching. We have a saying in German: „Zu viele Köche verderben den Brei“, meaning „Too many cooks spoil the broth“. In Duolingo you often have the opportunity to discuss the translation of a sentence or even a single word. If you click on ‚discuss sentence‘ you can find users that ask questions or help others with their answers. You can rate each answer by voting it up or down. So far so good. This is a great idea for upper intermediate or advanced learners but for beginners I find that too confusing. It might be too overwhelming and you can not really be sure about the quality of an answer as you don’t know who has given it. Even the best German learner might have a few blind spots here and there that they then transmit to others. This leads me to my dearest point: the lack of grammar explanations and learning aids.

 

Grammar: The Ugly Stepchild 

This is not the place to discuss the necessity and usefulness of solid knowledge about German grammar. You might find my point of view in many of my other articles on my blog here. While browsing through my learning tree I found some grammatical explanations in Duolingo but wasn’t be able to find them again once I was done with a certain chapter. There were also not too many of them.

Duolingo introduces tiny bits of German grammar in little speech bubbles as you can see in the second screenshot ‚all nouns are capitalized‘ which is a very nice idea but I can nowhere search for grammatical explanations except in the Discussion-forums. Luckily those have a search function which on the other hand requires me to know the grammatical term for what I’m looking for.

 

No Instruction on how to Learn German

I haven’t come across any instruction on how to learn things quicker or with less effort except in the main forum. And the advice that I had found was not really precise. The German language is often perceived as a difficult language but I honestly think that it is completely unnecessary as the basics are very quickly understood if explained the right way.

Another problem is that very often we make use of what we already know when learning a new language. That means we apply those techniques that we have acquired in school. Unless you had an outstanding German or other language teacher, your techniques are most likely self-tought and might be far from efficient. They probably did the job but you might already know how little is required to „just to the job“, right?

 

How to (not) proof Efficiency 

I understand that Duolingo heavily relies on a numerous user base and the money of VCs. Providing both interest groups with an official study that ‚proves‘ that the program is helping people to learn languages is surely beneficial for this purpose.

Yet, when it comes to numbers I am always skeptical. Although I have thorouhgly read through the description of the study, I am left with quit a   few significant questions:

  • If ~100 out of ~200 participants bailed out of the study, doesn’t that also say something about the quality of Duolingo or simply about the clientele that believes to be able to learn a language with its help?
  • Which elements of Duolingo are actually relevant for the found results and
  • how are they relevant for the progress that was measured?
  • What does the result actually say? I mean, what do I do with the information that „after working 34 hours in average with Duolingo the average of participants showed progress that is comparable of one semester in a language course at any college“?
  • How many hours of language instruction does a college student get?
  • How im
    portant are those classes for his or her success at the college?
  • Where do I find the control study/group that was instructed to work the same amount of time with their own or even without any (if such a thing is possible) method or help?
  • Isn’t the goal of most language learners to be able to speak that language? Why wasn’t the oral skill tested as well?
  • There were many other questions that came up while working it through but without the above questions answered any conclusion drawn from that study is merely worthless. And I apologize for being a bit harsh here but if you claim to have scientific proof, better make sure it is scientific. This study is far from it.

 

Conclusion

I am sorry to have taken apart such a good idea and also technically well executed product (with the exception of the audio/speaking part on my machines). But it is not Duolingo alone that doesn’t hold up to its claim to teach us the German language. All other softwares are also suffering from the same basic flaws: under- or overchallenging exercises, lack of greater context and lack of instruction (i.e. German grammar and language learning techniques). These programs are made for millions of learners and  using software to individualize and optimize the language learning process is certainly the right approach. But until today the programs that I have discussed in this article are far from being more beneficial than a solidly thought through self-learner book like e.g. those from Assimil (German with Ease). I find them harmful in the sense that they take away valuable time and in my evaluation prolong the learning process unnecessarily. They also approach German learning in a very unnatural way, mainly monolingual teaching, isolated exercises often far from reality, no specific vocabulary training, bad speaking training.

I simply would like to make German learners aware of the fact that they could do much better if they hired a professional private tutor. I understand that flexibility, a great UX (DL) and low cost are factors that are tempting and might let one overlook the problems that I have mentioned. And as my last article seemed a bit hostile towards these softwares, let me assure you that I am the first to adapt good language learning software for my clients as soon as it exists. So far I am working with memrise and yabla.com. I also recommend learners to get their writing corrected at lang-8.com. Those are excellent pieces of work that solve a very concrete problem efficiently. But the software that solves all problems is yet possibly ten years away.

I have no problem with you using any of the programs that I have mentioned in this article. After all it is your lifetime and you are free to waste it on whatever you like. I wouldn’t use them at this point in time and that is my very personal conclusion that I have given you a few solid reasons for.

If you are looking for a well-designed German language course for self-learners, I can recommend the Assimil-German with Ease series with audio. The dialogues are boring though yet the concept is efficient and offline.

Should you like any of the Duolingos, that’s totally fine with me. I see no need to criticize or discuss your personal experience or preferences. Maybe I have been able to make you aware of a few traps on your path to learn German and you can now enjoy it even more.

Either way I wish you success with your German.

Transcription from audio (DL) above: Wir haben Jacken. We have jackets.

8 thoughts on “Achtung: Language Learning Platforms

  1. Hi Michael,

    I can’t disagree with much of what you say. However many of these criticisms e.g. randomness, impersonal, lack of grammar explanations etc. can be applied to Memrise, which you are keen on. I’ve been using Memrise daily for Italian for about a month and feel that it is having an affect, but I’m not too sure that it is that positive. My brain seems to store the Memrise words in a separate location from that which produces natural spoken and written Italian and that is a problem with all of these types of software.

    For me, nothing beats the emotional connection of talking with real people about things which interest you. I’d be interested in hearing why you think Memrise is such a powerful tool and would hope that your explanations go beyond the spaced repetition basis of the programme.

    1. Hi John,
      memrise and the other two apps that I am working with and recommending are a different league. Those are tools for very specific problems. In case of memrise its learning vocabulary and organizing your repetition schedule. On its own, memrise as well as yabla or lang-8 are completely useless if your aim is to use a language properly. You will have to use them in conjunction with a system or method like e.g. the smarterGerman method. But also using them while learning German in a group at a language school will be way more beneficial than using their non-digital alternatives, which are vocabulary notebook, watching TV or finding a native to correct your texts in real life. Those apps solve a very specific problem and they do it much better than other apps or offline tools. That’s why I work with them. Duolingo & Co. though claim to teach you a full language which they simply don’t mainly due to what I have pointed out in my review and they are inferior at tasks that those three apps above simply solve better.

      I hope that clarifies why I praise memrise & Co. while criticizing the others.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for responding.

    I’ve used Yabla to good affect with my Italian to build my listening skills, spelling and grammar. Lang-8 is also highly beneficial for improving writing and associated skills. I’ve done all that stuff with Italian, but find that words learnt through Memrise tend to sit in another part of my brain and are not readily activated. It’s worse in fact; words which I thought I knew, have got lost in my memory after being placed in another box by Memrise.

    Let me put it another way. When you learnt German you listened a lot to your parents , family, friends and teachers, watched TV, listened to the radio etc. and had your writing corrected by teachers and family etc. I bet you didn’t learn vocabulary by learning words from the dictionary. No, you learnt them by seeing them and using them in context and that is where Memrise falls down. It isn’t natural. There is a big disconnect, which leaves a hole in reproducing these words naturally, in speech and probably less so, in writing, because you’ve more time to find the words.

    As for my German. I understand everything but really don’t feel Memrise will be beneficial in reactivating my spoken German,. The emotional connection in using it, and wanting and needing to use it, will drive the improvement in written and oral reproduction , if that ever happens.

    John

  3. Of course duolingos are add on and cannot be the main source of learning. But I use it when I am travelling and feel like playing a game. So let’s talk about the criticisms you have mentioned.

    1) The idea behind giving a photo and the translation is to teach the word and not to test your knowledge. This type of exercise appears only when you are learning the words for the first time.

    2) Of course they have programmed duolingo in a way that more than one mistake is an error. But the user being an “intelligent” human being can figure out whether he was almost correct or whether it was a typo or it was really a mistake.

  4. Sir, I loved your lectures about the German pronunciation on YouTube. (I also downloaded the iPhone app but didn’t like it that much).

    Regarding Duolingo, I have exactly opposite view: it is the best tool for the beginners I have ever seen. Then, the more one knows the language, the less Duolingo helps. Thus being a native speaker of German doesn’t really help in rating the German course: you should rather try learning another language from zero, do a Duolingo lesson every day and after several weeks reflect on what you have learned.

    All your charges completely miss the point. Even in this lighter version of the article.
    1) What am I Exercising Exactly? – The example you posted is the very first phase of the class. And in this case you’re not exercising, you are learning new vocabulary. I don’t want to make this comment too long but I think you know well this charge it’s simply unfair.
    2) Lost in Translation – Again, nothing is lost in translation, you’ve just demonstrated a ridiculously rare technical mistake.
    3) Randomness – I even copy sentences from Duolingo because they feel so relevant to use in my daily thinking and conversations. More, I do use them. Once you conquer a tree and remember all the words and grammatical structures, you’re able to start writing a simple diary. But even using single phrases makes life richer, and that’s what Duolingo is about.
    4) The speech thing and melody – personally, I have disabled microphone because I simply read aloud everything after Duo. Sometimes I replay the sentence several times and say it with Duo. Yes, the melody of the language nor my own pronunciation is not perfect, but for a beginner who doesn’t have a great ear for languages this is anyway a brilliant way to catch all the sounds.
    5) Discussion – I’m a beginner and I’m not confused at all.
    6) Grammar – is taught naturally, unlike in your course. Personally I’m interested in language itself and linguistics but most people hate it. I don’t know if you teach children but it’s really hard to explain to them that grammar matters. Duolingo brilliantly shows how the incorrect or correct grammar influences the meaning. I’m not an English native speaker, my mother tongue doesn’t use articles and I actually learned how to use them correctly. I had known all the rules in theory for years – but at the end articles is something you just feel how to use. The same applies to most of the grammatical rules.
    7) Regarding the study, I actually agree with you. It sounds like bullshit, just like most of psychology studies around (I do study psychology so I might be biased here).

    Having said that, of course Duolingo alone won’t teach anyone a language because to really learn a language one has to immerse in it: have conversations (with buddies and natives), consume real-world materials (press, radio, TV, literature, songs, theatre), perfectly travel and live where the language in question is spoken. Still, Duolingo is a great starting point and a great add-up.

    I know it’s just one of many comments. I’m really disappointed because I already owe really much to Duolingo and appreciate that its team makes it so great even though it remains free. On the other hand, I do owe you the crispy German pronunciation (and still work on it with your videos).

    1. Dear Maria,
      thank you for making such an effort to prove a point. Please find my responses under your respective points:

      All your charges completely miss the point.
      >>> That’s never a good opener and sets a hostile mood in the recipient. I’ll try to hold back 😉 Let me also ask you what your professional background on language teaching is as you just dismissed 15 years of experience in my field plus 20 years experience as an avid language learner. To do so, you must show that your antlers are at least as big as mine. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a point in your upcoming comment but as I said: not a good opener. I am in challenge mode now. Let’s see where that leads:

      1) What am I Exercising Exactly? – The example you posted is the very first phase of the class. And in this case you’re not exercising, you are learning new vocabulary. I don’t want to make this comment too long but I think you know well this charge it’s simply unfair.

      >>> Unfair towards whom? It is bad teaching design and a simple waste of time. This exercise has no benefit whatsoever. And it occurs in the beginning, sure. But that is where many people, well, begin. But I admit, that it is not really worth arguing about it as it plays only a minor role itself. But it shows the mindset and maybe the quality that underlies the whole software. And that outlook is not a good one.

      2) Lost in Translation – Again, nothing is lost in translation, you’ve just demonstrated a ridiculously rare technical mistake.
      >>> There are plenty of such mistakes and again you react pretty intense (“ridiculously”). Whom are you really fighting for or with here? It can’t be me as you don’t know me and I don’t understand why you’d defend a business that makes millions with wasting your time by promising something it doesn’t keep up to (i.e. learning a language, DL is not free as you pay with your time and they turn that into money).

      3) Randomness – I even copy sentences from Duolingo because they feel so relevant to use in my daily thinking and conversations. More, I do use them. Once you conquer a tree and remember all the words and grammatical structures, you’re able to start writing a simple diary. But even using single phrases makes life richer, and that’s what Duolingo is about.
      So how many sentences do you copy and how many don’t you copy? What is the relation? I do not have the time to work my way through every single lesson on DL but I assume that the ration is at best 50/50 (I’m gracious here). That means you are exposed to 50% BS. You are most likely cherry picking, which is fine for you but I have another perspective that stretches beyond a single instance.

      4) The speech thing and melody – personally, I have disabled microphone because I simply read aloud everything after Duo. Sometimes I replay the sentence several times and say it with Duo. Yes, the melody of the language nor my own pronunciation is not perfect, but for a beginner who doesn’t have a great ear for languages this is anyway a brilliant way to catch all the sounds.

      How do you know (!) that you catch all the sounds (properly)? My point was that the sounds DL provides are unnatural and therefore not advisable to imitate. Do you record yourself and afterwards listen to your recordings? But even then, how would you know that what you have recorded is close to a native German’s pronunciation? Especially when one doesn’t have a “great ear” for languages, it is IMPOSSIBLE for him or her to learn without a thought through feedback loop. DL doesn’t provide any nor does any software because technology is a mere decade away from reaching a satisfying level of voice recognition. What precisely is “brilliant” here? I am certain I would have noticed it if there was anything “brilliant” in DL except their underlying concept and marketing.

      5) Discussion – I’m a beginner and I’m not confused at all.
      A beginner is not always a beginner. As I know nothing about you, you might be an experienced language learner or simply a gifted individual and therefore belong to 1% or less of this planet’s population. You can’t come to conclusions valid for the majority of language learners from your own, very limited experience (again, I don’t know any of your background but if you were a language teacher you’d most likely have mentioned it). I have worked with over a thousand individuals and read hundreds of books in my field and related fields and am still researching the matter every bloody day and therefore my conclusions are based upon a much higher number of cases and therefore most likely are nearer to reality than yours. [Told you I am in antler-mode].

      6) Grammar – is taught naturally, unlike in your course. Personally I’m interested in language itself and linguistics but most people hate it. I don’t know if you teach children but it’s really hard to explain to them that grammar matters. Duolingo brilliantly shows how the incorrect or correct grammar influences the meaning. I’m not an English native speaker, my mother tongue doesn’t use articles and I actually learned how to use them correctly. I had known all the rules in theory for years – but at the end articles is something you just feel how to use. The same applies to most of the grammatical rules.

      My courses are completely irrelevant here as I nowhere compare it to DL. I also nowhere promise that my grammar course suffices as sole resource for anyone who wants to learn German. I keep things very (!) real. That is my biggest strength. In my private German lessons conscious grammar plays a rather small role and is an integral, almost intuitive part of the learner’s schedule. But I explain the grammar that is relevant as it is a huge (!) time saver and ignoring it is a crime to any mortal being with a limited life span. Your sentence “articles is something you just feel how to use” shows that you have no idea what you are doing when you are learning a language and might be proof that you are rather a highly gifted individual who is the absolute exception (see 1% above) in the language learning world. One does not simply “feel” how to use grammar. That gift is found on children after years of constant and repetitive exposure and trial and error, error and trial over and over and over again. I strongly recommend this fabulous article here which I recently had the pleasure to come across: https://aeon.co/essays/the-evidence-is-in-there-is-no-language-instinct

      7) Regarding the study, I actually agree with you. It sounds like bullshit, just like most of psychology studies around (I do study psychology so I might be biased here).
      No bias. It is bullshit for all the reasons that I mentioned in the article. It’s mere marketing. Their marketing is outstanding as it leads people to defend it towards rational criticism. I never claimed that one could not learn from DL. I also will never claim that one could not learn German in a group environment. But I do claim and have proof that DL and Co. as well as language groups DO waste a lot of time and therefore should be sought to be made obsolete asap. I also do claim that we learn DESPITE DL and groups and misattribute our experience to the tool resp. location. You are certainly familiar with Skinners experiments with doves and also other psychological flaws of our complex minds. I also recommend the book “influence” by Cialdini as an initial inspiration for further studies. Once we invest a lot of energy into a product (DL or group course) we rather tend to justify our investment by claiming that we have learned sth from it than seeing it realistically as a giant waste of our time. Also often peer-experiences are missing from one’s equation. If you knew for sure that you would have learned German with another software or approach in just 20% of the time it took you with DL, would you still defend DL?

      Having said that, of course Duolingo alone won’t teach anyone a language because to really learn a language one has to immerse in it:
      What exactly do you know about immersion? Are you aware about the harm that the largely misunderstood concept of immersion causes? (see Berlitz, Inlingua and almost any language school in Berlin or even Germany). I recommend W. Butzkamm for further research: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Butzkamm

      have conversations (with buddies and natives)
      Also not helping without guided instruction. Rather dangerous for the averagely (!) gifted German learner. People do not simply learn from conversing. Ideally they do but in reality most people need a solid base to benefit from such an occasion. I’m talking about proper German here by the way. It’s easy to learn some sort of German somehow over a longer period of time but you won’t even reach level B2 with such an uncontrolled approach. Look at migrants in your home country that came in their 30ies and stayed there for 10, 20 years. Younglings adapt quickly but they usually also go through some educational system.

      , consume real-world materials (press, radio, TV, literature, songs, theatre), perfectly travel and live where the language in question is spoken. Still, Duolingo is a great starting point and a great add-up.

      I know it’s just one of many comments. I’m really disappointed
      What are you disappointed about? If you like DL, then like it and use it. Maria, it is your lifetime that you are investing and how could anyone object what you do with it? I have a steep agenda of saving millions of hours of lifetime and DL is wasting those. I don’t think that many DL users stay too long with them but I have no way of finding that out as that information is certainly classified. After all DL is worth several million dollars and a well thought through business.

      because I already owe really much to Duolingo and appreciate that its team makes it so great even though it remains free. On the other hand, I do owe you the crispy German pronunciation (and still work on it with your videos).
      Again, DL is not free as it wastes a lot of people’s time and time is the most valuable resource mortal beings have. Free often is too expensive. I’d prefer to pay a thousand Euro for an app if it saves me 100 hours of my lifetime. Wouldn’t you?

      Antlers down. I hope you see this dialogue in a sporty way like I do. I find your criticism not convincing to revoke any of the points I made in those articles. I also do never attack anyone personally nor do I waste my time fighting against DL & Co. A guy called R. Buckminster Fuller once said: You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” That’s what I dedicated my life to: to make inefficient learning institutions and tools obsolete.

      My best wishes and viel Erfolg weiterhin mit Deinem Deutsch.
      Danke noch einmal für Dein Engagement.
      Michael

  5. Thank you for the effort you’ve put to prove that Duolingo and similar software doesn’t teach you the language. This article has quite negative beggining, content and ending, just to prove the point, which is I’d say, in itself pretty obvious conclusion.
    I attend to German courses in my city with professional tutors, where almost third of the group consists of people who decided to start learning German because they made good progress on “Duolingo type software”. Being one of them, I’d say having a tutor and a group is important to dive in to the language, but having such software is important to wet your anckes.
    Next time, Instead of turning people away from successfull tool, try to offer something that enhances it or helps to transition to proper way of studying the language. Critisim is appropriete only when it offers better alternative. For people spending only 30 minutes a day for a free app, moving to professional tutor and buying learning material in a switch isn’t a smooth transition. Just sayin…

    All the best,
    Patrick

    1. Dear Patrick,
      everyone is free to use any software they like and I also state that in my article. Just because in your (or any one elses) experience (!) people seem to have learned German while playing with DL doesn’t mean that DL was actually responsible for it nor does it proof that DL is the best option. According to my experience AND research I can safely say that DL is by far not the best option and rather a waste of time. So is any (!) currently available language software or platform. People tend to learn DESPITE bad learning setup and software, not thanks to them. And it’s quite a common fallacy that one can or should only criticize something if he has a better solution. The point of my article was to make users more aware of the downsides of DL & Co. so that they can pay attention to the tricky parts when working with them. And a better alternative to the mentioned tools would be a podcast or a small book like Assimil just to mention two options. I have more articles in this blog in which I discuss suitable materials to learn German. And I’m also working on a better solution to the current platforms. Stay tuned (until 2018).

      Also, your experience is anecdotal and therefore does not disprove my points. If you like to discuss any point I made in this article, feel free to bring valid counter arguments.
      And by all means: spend your time as you like but be careful what to promote to others unless you have thoroughly studied it. Experience is only the trigger for wanting to dig deeper into a matter.
      Enjoy your German learning and viel Erfolg weiterhin.

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