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The language learning process

As a speech/language pathologist I spent many years teaching language to children with disabilities. Now as I work on learning Spanish I am studying the process as well. The advantage of these programs to me is that you can spend as much time as you like, have fairly good feedback and can learn at your own speed. Right now in translating, I have started to perceive phrases rather than just interpret word for word. I know this program is weak on the production end. It doesn't really evaluate your pronunciation. But what processes do you see going on in your own learning?

October 2, 2012



I have found Duolingo to be an excellent way to learn Spanish. I absolutely hated Spanish when I took it in middle school almost 40 years ago. I stumbled on Duolingo 3 months ago and took to it immediately, it is a lot of fun! Within a few weeks of practice, I found myself being able read newspapers in Spanish with a fair degree of comprehension. About a month ago I started speaking on Skype with people I found on the language exchange site "The Mixxer" which helps me learn conversational Spanish. I have just started to more formally teach myself learn verb tenses and other aspects of the language I find difficult. However, through repetition, I find that I now have enough intuitive knowledge of the language that more structured learning is easier. I hope that Duolingo adds more sections with more vocabulary, idioms, and lessons specifically designed to teach advanced aspects of the language that English speakers find difficult. Keep up the great work, Duolingo!


As I said in my recent message to you, my main response to this site recently has been increasing frustration that it encourages literal and word-for-word translations rather than natural translations. I have pretty much given up on it as a learning resource; it helped me a bit to review, but I don't think it will help me to advance.

A much more useful site, in my opinion, is lang-8.com , which I have used mainly for Japanese study. At that site, each user writes journal entries in the language being learned, and native speakers correct those entries sentence by sentence, and make comments. Depending on the particular person who does your corrections, you can get some excellent teaching help there, much better than what is available in most textbooks. You are expected, of course, to provide help for people who are learning your own native language. I've learned more there (and also enjoyed conversations with people) than at any other website. Some people there also make speech recordings (often using audioboo) and ask native speakers to criticize their pronunciation. Others do dictation exercises from videos or tape recordings. Some people also make appointments to meet via skype.

livemocha.com has a nice exercise where a learner records a reading passage aloud in the language of study, and native speakers give critiques. The language exercises at livemocha are very elementary and are marred by terrible proofreading-- I corrected dozens of errors, but gave up because I didn't see any changes made in response to my reports. Also, the writing exercises are really dull, so one doesn't get into interesting conversations with other users as a result of them. Finally, it has now become a pay site, so I'm not convinced it is worth it.

smart.fm (originally iknow.com) is not bad-- they've put some effort into good UI and useful exercises-- but the lesson content is only vocabulary, and not extremely well chosen vocabulary (at least not as regards the order of learning). Also, they have become extremely expensive since converting to a pay site.


wow, fuonk, you have done a lot of work in this area. I do agree it would take a variety of resources to learn all aspects of any language. I'll have to check out some of those other sites. thanks!


I find it really interesting how I have learnt here. So many lessons I have felt lost, that I was learning the specific lessons by rote, and that was the only way I was advancing.

But all of a sudden I start to intuit certain sentence constructs (I didn't always read / absorb the notes that went with the lesson!).

I'm also now able to read Spanish news, and I have been rewatching Futurama in Spanish. While I don't get everything, I get the overall story / plot, and it seems to get easier.

When I first started, I largely ignored the translation side of things, and just stuck to lessons. But now I feel I get more out of doing the translations, it really helps to review others answers, I found it a good way to get out of doing poor sounding word for word translations, and to get a better result.


That is what I was thinking. I was very frustrated through certain sections but suddenly realized I am starting to comprehend whole phrases here and there. I suspect we are unaware of some of the progress we are making at times. Spanish news. That is a good idea! I tried to watch a Spanish TV channel and it was way too fast for me to process.


@DonnaMarie I have watched a couple Spanish TV shows too. At first I thought they were way too fast, but I watched anyway (not understanding a thing), but over time, the pace felt less frenzied and I started to pick up the odd word here & there.

I'm from Australia, and I found that the SBS (Special Broadcasting Service, Government sponsored TV & Radio for multiple languages) has a Spanish radio segment that you can listen to online: http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/spanish/

So I hit play on my laptop (and then pause it) in the morning, and then listen to it on the train to work. So now I get local news, in Spanish in the background while I do other things.

Like you were saying, we don't seem to be aware of the progress we are making, and I think it is the same with just listening to it as well.

The brain is an amazing machine!


I've really been enjoying DuoLingo as a way to learn French. A few semesters ago, I began listening to instructional French language CDs in my car on my long drives to and from grad school. So I already have a decent vocabulary and listening/pronunciation skills. But I couldn't spell anything! So I've been enjoying starting from scratch with French Lesson 1and being forced to spell everything. It's not a perfect method, no, but all learning is good learning.

In Spanish I'm already fluent but my language has become very casual and regionalized over the years. I've forgotten a lot of the formal phrasing and academic language. So, while DuoLingo is infuriatingly literal and full of errors, it's also helping to polish up my skills.

I've been learning TONS, however, from answering questions. I've not only been answering questions in the Spanish section, I also went into the Englsih learning section of the site and have been answering questions over there. That has been wonderful, both to figure out how to explain the idiosyncrasies of English, and also to make sure my Spanish is clear enough to teach concepts to native Spanish speakers.

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