Soon after I met my boyfriend two and a half years ago, I decided that I should try and learn High German, as I knew that I would be visiting Switzerland a lot, and I wanted to be able to communicate on at least a rudimentary level with the local servers in pubs and restaurants. Now that I live here, it’s even more important to keep going with learning the language.
There aren’t many options to learn Swiss German online, and most locals recommend learning High German first, as a way into the language, since Swiss German is notoriously difficult to learn, as it’s not a written language. Besides, since Germany, Switzerland and Austria all understand High German, it’s a more useful language than Swiss German, which is only understood in Switzerland, so High German seemed like the best option for me.
I’ve tried various methods of learning German, from watching German for beginners series to going to Migros Klub Schule (definitely the best method for me). I’ve also used the popular language site Duolingo for over two years, so I thought I would do a review of it:
It is very easy to get started on Duolingo, it takes about five minutes to sign up, and it is very intuitive and straight forward. You have a language tree, which consists of different topics, for instance animals, and then you click on the topic and have to do exercises around this theme. The exercises usually involve translating sentences or filling in gaps or speaking a sentence aloud (don’t worry if you’re a complete beginner, new words are highlighted, and you can click on these and find out what they mean, so you don’t have to figure it out alone.)
Once you have completed a topic, another one is unlocked, so you can continue working your way through the tree, becoming more competent as you go.
Overall, Duolingo has a high level of usability, however it does have one major flaw; it has a bug with tasks that require you to use a microphone. A lot of the time, Duolingo’s microphone is not able to recognise what you are saying, even if you are saying it properly! Lots of Duolingo’s users on its forums report having to shout multiple times for the microphone to recognise any word at all, and sometimes, depending on what server you’re using, microphone tasks don’t even appear, meaning that one of the most important aspects of learning a language, speaking, is often neglected on this site! 6/10
As with anything, the more effort you put in to Duolingo, the more you will get out of it. That said, I do think Duolingo isn’t as effective as it could be. For one thing, since the microphone feature has a bug on it, it can put users off trying to speak the language, as they mistakenly believe that they are mispronouncing their new language, when in fact it’s more likely they are experiencing the same technical glitch as many other users.
Secondly, a lot of the sentences that Duolingo asks you to translate are strange and obscure, and would almost never be useful in a day to day setting. There is even a website, which collects examples of weird Duolingo sentences, with the most recent examples listed as “Why is there a carpet in the garage?” and “the dog is beautiful”. When it’s difficult enough to do basic things like ask for directions in a new language, the last thing you need are sentences that are irrelevant and useless.
However, on the positive side, Duolingo is great at reinforcing words you’ve already learned, and is also brilliant for teaching new words as well. That is why I would argue that Duolingo is somewhat effective – I’ve learned more with Duolingo than I ever did studying German at school!
6 / 10
Duolingo is absolutely free, which I think is commendable. It certainly makes it easier to get started if you don’t have to pay a registration fee! 10/10
Overall Rating: 22/30
I will continue using Duolingo until I finish my German language tree (which will probably take me another two years at the rate I’m going) as I think it has helped improve my German comprehension, if not my speaking. I would recommend it to anyone looking to learn a new language, but I would advise that you supplement your knowledge with other methods as well, as I don’t believe you could reach fluency by using Duolingo alone.