My impression of Duolingo (Essay)
There's one thing I can say: I love this website. I just started using it 5 days ago and I'm already addicted. So far my Italian courses have been a pretty quick blaze because of previous experience, however i'm sure that soon I'll hit a point where I'll have to slow down.
I find it particularly enjoyable how this site has a more game-like fun to it, which is quite a difference from my original choice for learning, Babbel. The course tree is excellent for refreshing people who have been learning for a while, or for getting beginners started. The teaching patterns are quite effective. There is also the XP/level system, which is a good way to keep people interested. Especially for huge gamers such as myself.
Another significant feature on Duo is the forum (Discussion tab). This is a very smart feature to add, seeing as that it allows people who are learning ask for help from other users, or native speakers of the language they are learning. This makes up for any lack of explanation of words and grammar on each course.
However, like everything, Duolingo is not perfect. There are just as many cons as there are pros to this website. I did a test run on the French, German, and Portuguese trees and honestly, the synthesizers are atrocious. If there was ONE thing I could change about Duo, by far, my choice is the voice synthesizer. Never have I heard such a large amount of mispronounced and robotic sounding phrases.
(Interestingly enough, The Esperanto course doesn't even sound like a synthesizer. It HAS to be a recording, because the quality of the sound in Esperanto's courses are superb.)
Another con is the lack of good organization with the vocabulary (Words tab). Actually, everything about the vocab lists on Duo are done right, except for organization. There is no way to narrow the list or group words together by categories. (Someone correct me in the comments if I am wrong) This can be particularly annoying, considering that once you get to higher level courses you begin to stack up a very large amount of vocab. I have over 500 words and counting, which makes the list painfully long. One could argue that the flashcard feature is a counter-measure for this, however I personally disagree.
Are these cons at the price of the website being free? Mostly likely. Are these worthy sacrifices? That's up to everyone's personal opinion. I believe that if Duolingo is to maintain and improve it's popularity versus the competition, then it is crucial that they improve these cons that I mentioned.
All in all, this site is certainly superior to most other language learning options. I definitely enjoy this site, and see myself using it for quite a long time.
My final rating for Duo: B+ (86/100)
I started to learn German on Babbel as well, but I only stayed on there for a few days. And for a free website, who can complain about a few glitches. However, it would be really awesome if they fixed those. Happy learning!
Regarding Esperanto: You are right, the voice is a professional recording. The guy who did it actually has an account on here. I'm not certain as the origins of the other voices, but certainly some of them are computer generated.