There’s a new way to learn a language on the Internet for free.

It’s called Duolingo. You learn by translating sentences. And as you learn, you and millions of other users will participate in translating documents on the web. It’s a clever idea, but is this a good way to learn a language? Or will the learning get lost in translation?

Linguist Daniel Midgley weighs in on this episode of Talk the Talk.

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What’s the best way to learn a language? People have tried a lot of methods over the years, and they’ve all worked pretty well, mostly. The problem with figuring out what works is that language learning is a complex phenomenon, and the whole thing might be less about what teachers are doing, and more about what learners are doing.

With that in mind, I was very surprised to find that Duolingo works tolerably well, if the learner is motivated. (But then, many other approaches will also work.) The upside with Duolingo is that you’re not just learning a language — you’re also translating documents on the web. It’s quite ingenious. So on this show, Ben and I talk about it.

And if learning a language is one of those things you’ve always wanted to do, Duolingo is a free way to do it at home, with no stress.

Show notes

Luis von Ahn’s TED talk


Google Image Labeler game

A brief intro on Duolingo

Duolingo helps you to learn a language, while translating the entire web.

Even novice users do a good job of translating, when you aggregate their answers.

But is this a good way to learn a language?
Apparently, yes, about as good as a semester in a university course.

The actual report

Show tunes

‘Teaching Pupils’ by The Bank Holidays
from the album As a Film

‘I Learned the Hard Way’ by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
from the album I Learned the Hard Way