Language Learning: Online vs Offline

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve just started taking Russian classes. I’m taking these after having gone to Russia two years ago, and having “studied” it on Duolingo.

Duolingo is a free language-learning site. The courses are easy to follow, and start with the basics before moving through different pieces of grammar and the vocabulary of various topics. It rewards you with “lingots” to spend in its store whenever you complete a lesson, level up, or reach a milestone in your streak of active days.

There is some criticism that it focuses too much on making learning fun, and that much the same as at school, memorizing answers doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve learned anything.

Duolingo: Learning tool or fun game?

Both. Making learning into a game makes you more inclined to keep at it – it took me about a year to get through my course, and the only reason my streak got broken was because I travelled and wasn’t able to get online.

I also do feel like I’ve learned by using it. I admit that I didn’t read the grammar notes with each lesson, and those probably would have helped me learn even more, but even so I have a large vocabulary and an idea of syntax and grammar.

It really depends on you

Have I learned from Duolingo? Sure. For people who are confident about practicing and learning by making mistakes, it’s probably a great way to learn for free.

However, if you aren’t one of those people, I think “real” classes are necessary to refine what you’ve learned. I spent a year on Duolingo, but then learned things – simple things – in my second class that were news to me.*


Something I discovered through the Duolingo forums, “laddering” is learning a third language through your second language. For example, if you’re an English speaker, you could ladder by taking the Russian for German speakers’ course.

Or, for my own real-life example, you could learn Russian in a class designed for Greek speakers. The idea is that it helps you learn the third language while also continuing to improve the second language, and it helps with concentration. I didn’t do it intentionally, but I am going to stick with it now it’s happened.

In my case, Russian is also more similar to Greek than English. There are more similarities in the alphabet and verb formation, and even to an extent in terms of “what you see is what you read” when it comes to spelling. (You know, unless it’s an unstressed O which is pronounced A, just to be really confusing. [Something else I didn’t learn/totally forgot during my time on Duolingo.])

* For those who will understand this, those things were:

  • Его. Not actually pronounced “eyo”, but “evo.” Why? Because if Г is between Е and О, it’s pronounced like a V. Who knew?!
  • Что это/Кто это. Like I said, I didn’t really focus on grammar while using Duolingo, so I didn’t make a note of any rules. In class, I thought I got it: что for things, кто for people. But no. It’s что for non-living things кто for living things, not just things v people.




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