A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Duolingo is a game-based language-learning website. Kids have to register to use the site, and they can use Google, Facebook or an email address to do so. They can also friend other users by clicking on any posts they've made to the site forum to access their profile. Users sometimes also post requests for other users to friend them. You can't directly email other users through the site, but some exchange email information on the forum.
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What's it about?
Duolingo is a game-based language-learning tool. Students first choose which language they want to learn. Beginners can start with "Basics 1" or more advanced learners can take a quick "Placement Test" to determine the appropriate starting point. Instructional practice activities cover all four skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) and require users to go back and forth between the target language and their self-identified native language. When students make an error, they see the correct answer and can open a user discussion related to the question for further feedback on the mistake. Users see their streak count (their number of days in a row spent using the tool) and their hearts (like lives remaining in a video game). Users earn experience points (XP) for their time in the app, and their user profile (visible when signed in) displays badges with their level and XP and flag icons representing the languages they're learning. Users can also switch to Immerson Mode to enter translations of key phrases and longer passages; this crowdsourced knowledge base plus an active message board make for a lively online community of language learners. English speakers can elect to learn Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, or Turkish; other languages have similar (if slightly more limited) options. Students can sign up on their own to use the Duolingo site or its corresponding app (which is how most users access the service); both are free. Most relevant to the classroom, students can also participate with a Duolingo for Schools account, which is also free and which lets teachers link to their students' accounts and track their progress. Teachers can sign up for a free account, add class sections, and share a link with their students to let them sign up to join a particular section. Once students enroll, teachers can monitor their progress (with an overall course view or a detailed list view) and assign homework targeted for individual students' needs.
Is it any good?
Duolingo breaks the complex details of language-learning into manageable, meaningful chunks. Users don't just read about how the language works; they're guided step by step through exercises and they get instant, detailed feedback. The lessons use several methods to help kids understand vocabulary words, usage, verb conjugation, and other elements. They view photos to learn terms, translate sentences back and forth beween languages, and type in phrases that a narrator reads aloud. If they make a mistake, they’ll see the correct answer, and their responses help the system customize future lessons. Kids can also opt out of sections if they're familiar with the material, making this an especially engaging, helpfully differentiated experience.
The site's clear, comprehensive format serves users with a range of abilities and language experiences. The game-like features -- like experience points, hearts, and streaks -- all help make the tool rewarding and addicting in equal measures. The teacher dashboard takes this progress tracking a step further and turns those scores into something meaningful and actionable for a teacher. It's easy to use this data to get a detailed, realistic sense of your students' time on task and their growing abilities across skills. Overall, this is a rigorous, appealing tool for supporting language instruction at all levels.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about interacting online with strangers. Should you ever accept or send a friend request from someone you don't know?
Duolingo helps people learn a new language. What are the advantages of being able to speak more than one language? How can your kid use any new language skills?
Learning another language can help strengthen understanding of your primary language. Talk about what English grammar, sentence structure, and other elements your child has learned recently in school. Are there any similarities between English and what your kid is learning on Duolingo?