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Lessons grounded in the real world? Tool for user-created lessons?

Greetings! As a teacher who uses Duolingo as a major curriculum feature, I'm constantly looking for ways to increase its utility. The following is just a thought experiment about doing that: (oh and I love the new Dashboard update--so visual!!!)

There seems to be general consensus that Duolingo teaches reading, writing, and vocabulary quite well and offers its users major exposure to grammatical concepts that lay a basis for future language studies. The algorithm, ingeniously designed website, game-ification of learning, instantaneous feedback, dashboard (and its amazing updates), are at the heart of this success.

I can truly say that as an educator, this tool allows for more real engagement and allows me to hold students truly accountable more than traditional teaching methods.

At the same time, it is generally accepted that Duolingo does very little to help prepare people to actually communicate in real life situations.

As Duolingo for schools becomes more heard of, I would expect many educators to balk at a tool that doesn't offer communication practice. To this point, I have dealt with this by attempting to integrate an immersion based experience that matches up with Duolingo's progression--so far it isn't even close to where I'd like it to be.

What I would like to see is a real effort to work this kind of work in to the pre-existing system. I keep seeing new exercise types cropping up, and my hope is that they keep evolving to allow us to practice something more like real communication.

In the same vein, I would suggest a couple other changes. First, make the lessons grounded in the real world and as connected to real communication as possible. Ideas: replace "Food" with "At the Cafe" or "At the Grocery Store". Replace "Common Phrases" with "Essential Everyday Phrases" or "Small talk". Creating a "Being A Tourist" lesson. These possibilities are endless--perhaps people can offer more ideas below if they feel so inclined. All too often the vocabulary and sentences are arbitrary--too much work has to be done to imagine using them in real-life situations--and that's highly unfortunate.

Second, I wonder if some sort of tool that allows users to create their own lessons and units could be of use. If done properly, Duolingo could find yet another way to put to use the creativity of its users--and the overall product may improve.

All feedback/thoughts/suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks! Again, any thoughts for units that are based on real-world experiences?

April 1, 2015



I have been thinking about the exact same thing. As a student, I could absolutely see myself making custom exercises. Definitely something that would add a whole bunch of functionality to the site.


Personalize the exercises would be great. For example, it is so easy for me to "write what you hear" that it is just a loss of time, i would love to be able to get rid of that and have more "translate this phrase" with the mic.


I guess the problem is that the website was created to translate the web, not to be a teaching tool. I agree it's time for a change, but i'm not sure if changing the trees would work. Maybe another way to approach this would be to generate a second tree for each course. As in: instead of simply bringing in bilingual programmers to add more and more languages, they could hire bilingual teachers to create a communicative tree apart from these vocabulary/grammar/reading/writing ones that we already have. They could be connected, so that words from the other tree are "seen" by the communicative one and not shown as new.

However we do know that there is a big problem with the extra lessons, because they show idioms that may have no equivalents and they don't allow literal translation, so it makes it impossible, in some cases, for you to get it right on a cell phone. This could easily be changed by allowing literal translation and then showing an explanation of the given idiom. This way, people could also understand an idiom the way it it conceived by the natives. Like "It was raining cats and dogs" makes no sense in portuguese, while "quem não chora, não mama" (those who do not cry, don't get breastfeeding) may seem odd for the meaning, which is "you'll never get things without asking for them".

The whole social network should also have a place for user who finish their trees so they can communicate in the target language and get to exercise with one another. This, of course, only makes sense if a communicative tree is implemented in the first place.


I would love to have skills that teach me how to navigate restaurants, grocery stores, bus stations, taxi cabs, and hotels. :)

Thanks for the input!

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