So today I reached a fifty day streak on Duolingo! I've been using it to learn French since the end of August, when I realised that the three months of summer had rusted my French skills. I've had a couple of good streaks so far; a 30-day one was my best before this, I think. I discovered Duolingo through Tumblr, so I guess the timewasting was good for something.
In recognition of this momentous (okay, only for me) event, here are some things I like about Duolingo.
1. It's Fun
Being on the Internet and not something students are forced to use, Duolingo is smart to make its user interface friendly. The whole site is decked out in vibrant primary colours, with a bird mascot and pleasant sounds when you get a question right. In short, it's designed to make learning French as fun as possible, and it succeeds as nothing else I've seen does.
2. Its Reward Scheme
I don't know if this is the right name for it, but see the ticked fire icon in the picture at the top? Seeing that tick and hearing the triumphant sound when you do another day/finish a lesson respectively brings an endorphin rush. They say something on the website about how it's been engineered to work so seamlessly, and I believe it.
3. Lesson Structure
Oh God, I sound like a teacher now. That's what Duolingo manages to avoid doing. This links in with #1, but instead of normal French (i.e. memorizing phrases and looking at long boring tables of verbs), you learn by being asked to translate things. You can hover over words you don't know to have them translated for you, but usually you can guess because it gradually builds. I personally always learn better by testing, but I think this is at least more engaging than normal language-learning for everyone.
4. Lets You Choose Skill Level
By the time I started Duolingo, I'd been learning French for four years. So if it had forced me to start from the beginning and work all the way up to my current skill level, I wouldn't have had the patience and would have quit. But it let me take a test at the beginning, like a streaming test.
5. It's Free!
Knowing how great it is, I couldn't believe this. Duolingo is totally, 100% free. Translations and lessons are drawn up by volunteer bilinguals, and the only ulterior motive Duolingo has is that one choice for exercises is translating Wikipedia pages from your native language to your chosen language. Everybody wins.
There are some qualifiers: Duolingo primarily teaches you to read and listen to French, so your oral skills aren't as improved (you can choose to have oral skills tested, but this doesn't work well unless you have a good computer microphone, so I opted out of that). Also, it is still language-learning, so you have to come back to it often (preferably every day), even if you just do one lesson a day.
I 100% recommend it. Give it a try.