I love learning languages. From a very young age, I always had a passion for languages other than my native English. In middle school, I started with Spanish. I flirted with French while in high school and college. Then in my 20’s, I dabbled in Danish. Now that I am old and wise, I just practice Japanese. This new adventure began some years ago.
I own multiple apps on android and iOS devices, books, workbooks, and even flashcards. Do you remember flashcards from school? The thing is, Japanese or Nihongo or 日本語 is hard, and I use whatever methods help me remember.
When I first decided I wanted to learn Japanese, my intern at the time, told me that he used Duolingo to learn Russian, also a very difficult language, and suggested I try it. At the time, Duolingo did not offer the basics that I needed for the Japanese language, so I quit and used other apps.
About Japanese 日本語
Unlike English, which has letters. Japanese has characters that represent syllable sounds called syllabaries. After some years of practice, I know the first two Japanese syllabary sets and I am working on the third and most difficult.
- Hiragana – ひらがな – 46 core characters + 25 additional by adding diacritical marks
The most basic Japanese syllabary that uses syllables instead of individual sounds.
- Katakana – カタカナ – 46 core characters + 25 additional by adding diacritical marks
Used to write foreign words and some noises. Although it’s different from hiragana, it represents the exact same syllables.
- Kanji – 漢字 – roughly 2,136 for 99% fluency, although there are over 50,000
Chinese characters used in the Japanese language to write individual nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Kanji are not phonetic, meaning you need to memorize each pronunciation individually.
What is Duolingo
Duolingo is a wonderful app for Android, Apple, and on the Internet that gamifies learning a foreign language. Duolingo launched to the general public on June 19, 2012. It boasts over 300 million users and at last count teaches 98 language courses in 38 different languages.
There is no limit to the number of languages you can learn at once, however, I only study Japanese. I started using it again in 2020, and they really added some great features that help with the language. Incidentally, Dr. SoS is occasionally reviewing French to refresh her learning from high school. The app keeps track of all your lessons and progress for each language and is very easy to navigate.
You work your way through a series of increasingly more complex topics. Each lesson works through a series of characters, sounds, words, or sentences. Sections contain 5 levels and each level contains 5 lessons. When you master a single level, this opens up the lessons directly below in the lesson tree.
Once you master all 5 levels for a lesson, Duolingo considers that lesson mastered and it turns Gold. You can, and should revisit mastered lessons to remember the content.
Gamification is the addition of game elements to non-game activities such as learning. Duolingo makes learning a language fun by adding typical game elements.
The first element and one that really hooked me was Achievements. They have awesome sounding titles like Sage, Champion, Legendary, and Conqueror. I achieved the Gold level in 10 of the 13 and will complete two more in 2021. In my opinion, the Conqueror is the most difficult because you have to complete all levels of all lessons in a language course.
The second element is community. You can add friends that you know in real life or make new friends from the those that also use the app. The great thing is that you can add friends in multiple ways. The app provides a community support section when a sentence stumps you. Tap a user that asks or answers a question and follow them. You can even follow others or they can follow you from Duolingo Leagues.
The third and final element I want to share is Duolingo Leagues. These are competitive groups of 50 different users that Duolingo places you in so that you can compete for who can earn the most amount of XP in one week. Make it to the top 10 of your league and you move up to the next league. The ten Leagues in order are Bronze, Silver, Gold, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, Pearl, Obsidian, and Diamond.
With all these and more, if you like games, this learning app helps you get your game on while learning.
How Much Does It Cost?
Duolingo is basically free. It uses the freemium model to pay for the service it provides. You can take an entire course and pay nothing. However, even though you do not pay out of pocket, you end up paying with your time. The app generally plays an ad after each lesson. This generates income for Duolingo to keep the service free, but takes up your time while you wait to continue with your next lesson.
As you can see from my 2020 in review, I rocked my lessons this year. I typically look at things from a mathematical perspective. If I spent 4,425 minutes learning Japanese in 2020, and each lesson takes on average about 5 minutes, that’s roughly 885 lessons. Some ads on Duolingo are short, others are long, and still others have their target marketing so fine-tuned that they suck you in and you spend far too much time watching them.
Let us assume I spent on average 20 seconds per lesson watching an ad. That means that I spent 17,700 seconds, or 295 minutes, or nearly 5 hours in 2020 watching ads. Well, in 2021. I would rather spend that extra 5 hours doing something more productive or maybe even learning more Japanese.
If you do not wish to watch the ads, you can pay $6.99 per month for Duolingo Plus. This removes the ads, allows you to download the lessons for offline study, lets you to make as many mistakes as it takes to finish a lesson, offers extra comprehension quizzes, and allows you to better track your progress. Best and most important of all, you are helping support free education!
This is why when Duolingo offered a year subscription for $59.99, instead of $83.88 for an annual subscription, I decided this was a great deal and paid for a subscription. This supports free education, saves my time by removing hours of cumulative time watching ads, and best of all no longer tempts me to purchase stuff I do not need from well-targeted ads. I consider myself a saver, but savings is not always about money and we all have a limited amount of time in our lives.
- If you are learning a language and decide to use Duolingo, feel free to look me up and add me as a friend to motivate you.
- I recently also found Duome.eu, which provides amazing additional statistics on your learning.
- If you are learning Japanese and have an android device, I highly recommend Raphael’s JA-Sensei. In addition to this phenomenal app, he has several apps for android that help with the basics and really hone your Japanese. For the computer, he offers Japan Activator which ties in with the app. I use this app every day to help with Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, vocabulary, and common expressions.
- To help with Japanese Kanji, I recommend the book Remembering the Kanji by James W. Heisig. I borrowed this book a couple times from the library before I finally bought my own copy.
I hope you found this post helpful for your own language journey.
読んでくれてありがとうございま。(Yonde kurete arigatōgozaimasu) Thank you for reading.
セーブオアスイムさん (Sēbuoasuimu-san) Mr. SoS