Learn Another Language During Your Commute with Duolingo

I live in the Boston area, which means (as for many) I have a decent commute to work every day. I hate fighting traffic in the car, so I make this commute by train. I’ve written in the past about why I started carrying a Kindle rather than an iPad on this commute, so that I could read without being distracted by email, Facebook, and so forth.

I still keep the Kindle for my commutes home, but recently I’ve taken up a new activity on my commutes to work—the language-learning app Duolingo, which is installed on my phone. I start my lessons while on the platform waiting for my train, and continue them until I reach my daily goal (which is for me 50 points, or five lessons). I’ve found this a stimulating way to spend some of my travel time, allowing me to expand—admittedly slightly—my language skills during time that might otherwise be spent playing Words with Friends.

There are certainly problems with Duolingo that you can find written about by language experts on the web. The app’s automatically-generated exercises aren’t always directly applicable to daily life in another country—indeed, sometimes the sentences border on the absurd (I’m not sure I will need to emphatically declare “That is not my bird!” in German or Italian). And certainly if you need to learn a language for sustained academic work, an app like Duolingo probably won’t get you there. But if you are looking for casual exposure to another language, perhaps before a brief trip, Duolingo may serve very well. I’ve honestly been impressed with how detailed the lessons get. The translation model Duolingo employs can be quite frustrating—there’s not a lot of “telling how to”; instead you learn by doing, failing, and doing again. But I do find that model works, and if I persist through a lesson I do actually figure out both vocabulary and structure.

How about you? Have you found a great app for learning another language (or another useful skill)? Do you have any other go-to activities for creating rewarding commutes? Tell us about your favorites in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user slgckgc.]

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