My most common question when I started Duolingo was how much will I know upon completion. Thus, the following are my observations upon completing 95% of the Spanish tree over three months.
My main focus has been duolingo, but I have also spent time watching the Destinos video series (up to #22) and I have also read a few easy books. I have just returned from a week spent in San Jose, Costa Rica where I was able to spend a significant amount of time interacting with people in Spanish. Prior to the trip I spent one week completing the Pimsleur Spanish 1 set along with listening to Spanish radio stations. It is worth noting that prior to doing the Pimsleur CDs I could not understand anything spoken.
The Pimsleur CD made a huge difference in making the auditory part of my brain work. I found that many of the words I learned on Duolingo became recognizable on the radio only after completion of the Pimsleur CD even though it didn’t cover those specific words. It forced my brain to start listening for comprehension rather than for translating.
In Costa Rica I conversed with a number of people who were nice enough to speak slowly so I could understand. I also sat in on 5 two-hour lectures in Spanish in which an English translator was present, giving me the ability to sort of check myself after each Spanish statement. This one week really accelerated my progress. By the end of the trip I could understand large segments of spoken content, even if some of the vocab was still foreign. I also learned a lot of new words unintentionally, just by seeing road signs or hearing things said in context.
My worst ability is in speaking. I find that I have to plan out a sentence in my head for a few seconds before I can speak it, otherwise I speak too slowly trying to grab words out of the back of my brain. I found that I could make up enough semi-correct sentences to ask for, pay, or find things as necessary, but people had to do some guessing about what I was talking about. I also found that I can’t speak in the past tense at all, even though I can read and write it fine.
Finally, talking to people in real life is quite a bit easier than listening to the radio, because I generally know the context in real life. I believe I only comprehend about 25% of what I hear on local Spanish radio stations.
I recently reviewed everything on Duolingo up to my current level and took a test (http://onlinetest.intuitionlang.com/test_info.asp?testcode=ES), scoring a 38%. I could comprehend the basic idea of many of the sentences, but ran out of time near the end.
As so many others have stated, Duolingo alone is not enough, but it is a good start. It is good for reading comprehension and grammar practice. I find that its reliance on “listen and write” exercises causes my brain to listen for words rather than listen for meaning which does not help in any meaningful real life situation. I honestly think Duolingo could also afford to improve its lessons by incorporating contextual content.
These are purely my observations and I hope that they help others in tracking their own progress. I am very pleased with what Duolingo has helped me to learn and there is still much to do.
Having recently finished the Duolingo Spanish tree, I identify with a lot of what you've said here. I didn't use Pimsleur, but I listened to beginner-intermediate podcasts to supplement my learning on Duolingo. Showtime Spanish, especially, has been a great help to my listening comprehension. Like you, I've been making my way through Destinos (up to 19 now), and it was only through listening to people speaking Spanish that I was finally able to understand sentences rather than just individual words.
Forming sentences in tenses other than the indicative present is also hard for me. I feel like Duolingo introduces verb tenses too late into the game and that I don't get enough practice with them after I've learned them. In addition, because of the lack of useful everyday phrases (I would like..., I am looking for..., etc) and the relatively weak question section, it's hard to get started speaking the language.
I had prior knowledge of French, which really helped fast-track my Spanish. I just took that test you linked and scored a 61%, which I am quite happy with, but I found that what I struggled most with was identifying which verb tenses went where. When doing the verb lessons, it was stated in the title which verb tense would be practiced in each section, so you fall into a rhythm of mindlessly translating into that tense without having to identify why the tense is being used. This is particularly a problem for the preterite vs the imperfect, as well as identifying what triggers the subjunctive, which I feel I only have a very vague understanding of, despite having easily completed the related lessons.
That said, I love Duolingo and I am so pleased by the progress I've made through it.
Thanks for your feedback. I am quite a long way through the French tree. I did French at school many years ago and have been there on holiday several times so I am not learning it from scratch. I think Duolingo is good for teaching basic grammar. A lot of other sites just make you learn sentences. However I think to use a language effectively you would need a larger vocabulary.
My son who has lived in Spain recommended this site for podcasts. "inspiredbeginners Spannish" . The BBC also has an award winning course "MI vida loca" on line.
I've been watching the German series. Once I got past the first 5 minutes of episode 1 (which honestly did not look promising), I actually found it entertaining as well as educational. The learning points that are thrown in (like the phone calls that recap everything) are mostly well covered up so you don't feel like you're being lectured.
It's a 52-episode series designed specifically for Spanish learners. You follow the protagonist across several Spanish speaking nations as she tries to uncover a mystery. It starts off very simple with a bit of English guidance but gradually introduces you to more vocabulary and complex situations. It's a fairly old series so the wardrobe and technology is... interesting, but what I like about it is that you get exposed to many different Spanish accents and get to learn a little about the culture of the places that the main character visits.
Oh man, I have been doing Duolingo Italian since it came out. I can speak it like a 2 year old maybe 3. But this just got me excited cause my Pimsleur CD for Italian just came. I am so glad I read this discussion now. With Duolingo I can read Italian way better than I can write it from english. My grammar is awful. Duolingo and this Pimsleur both for free, I should be talking like a pubescent in no time.