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One Word at a Time: Learning German and Translating the Web through Duolingo

German is a major global language. It has a number of regional variants and dialects, with nearly 230 million speakers spread out across the world. But still, a lot of people are initially hesitant to learn and speak German, unlike more "romantic" languages such as Spanish, Italian, or French. It must be the weird morphology, befuddling syntax, or the confusing need to assign genders to inanimate objects like telephones and chairs- that everything seems so confusing especially to those who speak English exclusively.

This is quite a shame since a number of important literary works were written in the German language. Have you ever wondered what it's like to read Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis the way it's supposed to be read? Are you curious if the same nuances in imagery in the English translation of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha are the same as in its original German? Apart from having the ability to read these great pieces of literature, learning even the most basic of German phrases is very helpful especially if you have plans on traveling to Berlin (undoubtedly one of the hippest party cities in the whole world).

Thankfully, Duolingo is here to make language-learning fun! The app is the brainchild of Luis von Ahn (the man behind reCaptcha) and is currently offering German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portueguese lessons to English speakers. 

There are two things that sets Duolingo apart from other language-education apps. First is that the system is refreshingly gamified; learners advance through levels, completing listening, writing, and translating mini-quizzes, while earning skill points along the way. In some sections, learners/players are equipped four "lives" to complete the quizzes; mistakes will eat up lives, and if they run out, they need to do the quiz all over again. Achievements can then be shared and showcased on your Duolingo profile. All players start out on the bottom rung of the skill tree, but you can take a placement test or test out of some of the sections if you already have prior knowledge of the language that you are trying to learn.

The other interesting thing about Duolingo is that players are actually helping out in the translation of the Web, one word and sentence at a time. The concept behind the app is the same as that of reCAPTCHA. In reCAPTCHA, all those squiggles and blurred pictures are actually direct images taken from real-life books which you are transcribing into computer text. In Duolingo, the translation tasks that you will answer are lifted from real websites. The translations are checked against the crowdsourced answers of other learners on the Duolingo platform, and you will be graded based on how close your answer is to the most popular translation. In essence, you're essentially helping translate the web just by using Duolingo!

No need to spend on expensive German lessons and bulky dictionaries. If you're looking for a free, easy, and fun way to learn the language- download Duolingo on your smartphone or tablet now. Viel Spass!



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