Learning Spanish: Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone
I’ve got this thing where I want to learn Spanish. It never occurred to me to take it in high school or college or grad school… but every couple of years since then, I’ve made some half-assed attempt to learn Spanish. I tried books, flash cards, reading Spanish dictionaries and leaving telenovelas on all the televisions in the house. I didn’t have the time, money or inclination to get serious and take a class, so I tried to learn on my own time. Failing miserably, of course.
I finally broke down and bought the famous Rosetta Stone program, which cost the equivalent of several hundred cervazas, and was about as useful for learning Spanish. I did the whole program, wore the headphones, practiced every day, and in the end, all it enabled me to do was order breakfast when we vacationed in Mexico that year. Oh, and explain to the Spanish security guard that he needn’t be alarmed by the two wrestling men on the ground, they were my husband and his brother goofing around. I did this by pointing to them and repeatedly screaming “hermanas!” which means “sisters.” Nice job.
I’ve been feeling the urge to try again, but I felt trapped after failing Rosetta Stone. Hell, on the Rosetta Stone commercials people just looked at the Rosetta Stone packaging and they can speak Spanish.
I’d failed. I was just one of those people who can’t learn languages.
Then I read an article about a guy who speaks like 10 languages. He said he didn’t like Rosetta Stone and mentioned a free online learning program called Duolingo.com. He said it made him sad that some people think they just can’t learn languages.
Hey! I thought. That’s me! I make this man sad!
Why Duolingo is Better than Rosetta Stone
First off, Duolingo.com is free.
I went to Duolingo and burned through eight lessons my first day. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! And for the first time, I was actually getting it. All the odd sentence structures and the habit of tacking pronouns to the end of verbs became clear for the first time and almost immediately.
It’s only been 5 days, so I’m not calling Sofia Vegera to shoot the shit or anything. But I can tell you I am eager to get on Duolingo every morning. I look forward to it, like a treat. I stare angrily at my work, because I’d rather be learning “the book is about a horse.” (El libro es acerca de un caballo.)
Duolingo is simple to use. You work your way through a lesson, listening to phrases, translating them back and forth from English to Spanish or the other way around, transcribing them or guessing which phrase out of three is the correct translation. There is never a moment where someone just shouts “Verde verde verde! Rojo rojo rojo!” at you and you just have to memorize the word and move on. New words come up, but then are seamlessly used over and over again in the practice phrases, so if you don’t remember a duck is a pato the first time you see it, you probably will soon. Each lesson is short enough that you don’t get bored, and you can often hover over words to get the answer. That way you can guess, then double check before submitting, which actually seems to help and makes things much less frustrating. Half the time, Rosetta Stone acted like this is the way it is, we’re not going to explain it, just memorize it.
Each question in each lesson also has a chat area, so if you can’t figure out why you should have used “del” instead of “de,” you can click on the chat button and chances are someone else asked for an explanation and received it. It’s like having a teacher handy at every turn.
And, as you go, you score lingots, little red jewels, which can be used to buy special lessons and other silly things. Anything that feels like a game is a good thing for me. I’m very goal-oriented. MUST WIN LINGOTS. Oh, and you get three hearts at the beginning of each lesson. Each time you answer incorrectly you lose a heart until you have to start over. This also makes it game like.
I could go on and on, but if you’re interested, just go do it. You’ll see.
This isn’t a paid advertisement. I just LOVE this damn site and I wanted to share it.