Learning Hacks: Swedish

Read this before talking with a native.

Read this before talking with a native.

Native.jpg

We’ve all heard it before. When learning a new language, the most effective way is to start speaking the language as quickly as possible. Although I do agree with this statement — especially if you’re conversing with a native speaker — you need to make sure you’re doing it correctly in order to get the most out of it. Sometimes jumping into the deep end and figuring out how to swim later is going to do more harm than you realise.

“But I want to learn a new language as quickly as possible!”

Yes, I get it. You don’t like the idea of slowing down, but there are some important things to consider before you even begin thinking about speaking to a native speaker.

 

Building up your database.

Eager learners cut to the chase and start talking to a native at the first opportunity. That conversation sounds a little something like this:

Eager learner: Hello

Native speaker: Hey, how’s it going?

Eager learner: Sorry, understand I not.

Native speaker: Oh, okay…. bye.

Okay, so it’s not going to be that ruthless, but what you’ve just witnessed is a wasted opportunity. What could’ve been a 5-minute conversation about where to find the local supermarket, became an awkward conversation that ended abruptly. Not having a basic foundation to work from will make the experience slow and frustrating. It’s important to have a basic knowledge of words and sentences before you start conversing with any native speaker. Rather than speaking and writing, the first few exercises you should be focusing on is reading and listening. You want to build up a database of words and phrases first, then once you feel confident with them, you can give those words a test run by conversing with a native speaker.

How do you build up your vocabulary database? Learning the 1000 most common words in your language is a great starting point. 80% of everyday language is constructed using only 20% of the language. Here’s one effective method that allowed me to learn the 1000 most common words in only a matter of months. Another effective way of building up your database is learning common phrases as well. Once you start to get confident with both words and phrases, you’ll be able to recall the words whilst talking to a native, making the conversation seamless. If you feel that there are still gaps when speaking, it’s a sign that you need to go back and build on your database. Expose yourself to the language as much as possible. Read books, articles, and comic books. Listen to audiobooks, music, and podcasts. Take note on the spelling, pronunciation, and rhythm of the language. What is important is that you close your mouth and open your eyes and ears.

The reason I learned another language was to surprise my multilingual girlfriend. I only had a few months to surprise her as I wanted to do it on her birthday. I focused on building up my database first, then when I felt confident enough with a few words and phrases, I started to talk to native speakers. It was liberating to be able to hold a conversation for a few minutes than for it to continuously stop, and start, and ruin the flow of my learning. Was I able to surprise her? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

 

What happens when you focus on speaking and writing?

Prioritising speaking and writing first can lead to all sorts of problems. Let me explain. Say that you’ve started learning a new language. You’ve immersed yourself in the culture, and you have picked up a few phrases. Now, you can even translate a few words. Feeling confident, you decide to write in your journal using only the new language. It reads a little something like this:

“Today a great day. I go visit my friends. We watching very funny movie. I am laughing.”

For someone who has only just grasped the language, this is great! Sure, there are grammatical errors, and the tenses are all over the place, but that’s understandable. After all, everything is still new. So what’s the problem? With no one to correct your writing, you’re going to constantly be making mistakes and not pick up on what is wrong with what you just wrote. From now on, you’re going to assume that the phrase, “we watching very funny movie” is correct, and so you will use that structure to write new sentences:

“I running to shop.”

“She reading scary books. ”

“They swimming in pool.”

By spending time on our database first, you’ll come across sentences that are in the correct format, allowing you to recognise what’s wrong, and what isn’t. How is it that children are able to learn a new language? When I was young, I didn’t read through a grammar book and study what a ‘conjunction’ is. Children are exposed to children’s books, they hear their parents talking to them, and they hear the people around them interacting with each other. For years, they are exposed to the correct way of conversing.

This doesn’t mean you have to live in the country for a few years in order to pick up the language. I know quite a few people that have moved to a different country and never really integrated themselves into their new environment. Even after 30 years, they can’t speak the native language as well as a ten-year-old! As such, you can expose yourself by reading native books, watching films and talking to the locals online. You don’t need to be in the country for that.

 

Getting feedback.

With any skill that you’re trying to learn, feedback is essential. When conversing with native speakers, it’s important that they constantly correct you on what you’re saying. Remember the poorly constructed phrases I wrote earlier? It’s important to share your written work with natives, let them critique your work and give you constructive feedback. That way, you can understand where you are going wrong. The same applies to talking. Once you’re confident about speaking to a native, make sure they stop and correct you every time you say something wrong. Otherwise, you’re always going to assume the greeting, “Hello my friend, how are you very much?” is always correct and will use it on every person you meet.

 

What to bring to the table.

I find that it’s important to be prepared when speaking to a native speaker. Similar to the wasted opportunity that we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to spend 60 minutes talking to a local and come out of the conversation with nothing learned. An exercise that I like to do is write out a paragraph or two in my chosen language. It could be something as simple as writing about what has happened during the day. I’d then take this paragraph to a native speaker and ask them to correct any mistakes. With an exercise like this, you have to check your ego at the door as there are going to be tons of corrections — especially if you’re relatively new to the language. The first time I did this, my paragraph was riddled with mistakes, and I was told that even a seven-year-old could write better than me, but I knew I had to continue doing this as it was beneficial for my learning.

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These corrections helped me understand where I was going wrong. Now that I’m aware of them, I should be making those mistakes less frequently. This technique is a simple feedback loop that will speed up your learning rate. Getting constant feedback is important to the development of your learning, and it should be included in not only your writing but also when you talk as well. I favor writing feedback exercises over talking because it can be difficult for the native listener to constantly stop you when you make a mistake whilst talking. Sometimes he/she let mistakes pass, and you don’t get the right amount of feedback. With a pen and paper in their hand, I find they're more comfortable correcting your mistakes. Some people are too shy to say that you’re wrong. Hence, make sure you decide on the right person to give you feedback.

 

Where can I find native speakers?

It’s all well and good to know what to bring to the table before you sit down with a native speaker, but where exactly do you find one? The obvious answer is in their homeland, but what if you can’t afford to take frequent trips out to the motherland? Don’t fret, below are a few options that’ll do the job.

 

iTalki.

This is a website that I’ve been using for quite a while now, and I’ve never had the need to leave the house — or even my pajamas. iTalki connects learners with teachers. From Swedish to Yiddish, there are a plethora of different languages to learn from and an endless amount of native speakers to converse with. It’s easy to set-up, and once everything is confirmed, you share Skype details with each other and move the conversation over there. Just remember to keep in mind everything I mentioned before you look into this. You don’t want to waste your hour because your foundations are weak!

 

Local Communities.

If online isn’t your thing, and you'd prefer a face-to-face interaction, then finding local communities in your chosen language would be for you. Meetup is a website that brings people together based on what you enjoy. You can start a group yourself or join one locally. It’s a great way to meet new people with similar interests.

 

Friends and Family.

Do you have any friends or family that can help you with your chosen language? Are you not asking them because you feel embarrassed? Nonsense! Put your ego to the side and ask for some help. You’ll be surprised that a lot of them are willing to give their time to you. When I started learning Swedish to surprise my girlfriend, I reached out to my cousin who is half Swedish. We talked on a weekly basis, and she really helped me out at the beginning. Since surprising my girlfriend, she’s continued to help me.

 

Conclusion.

Conversing with a native is essential to further your understanding of a language, but it should not be your focus if your foundations are limited. Make sure you first dedicate time to learning new words, then take it up a gear and learn common phrases. Always ask for feedback, and don’t be ashamed to make mistakes — we all start somewhere! I’ve documented my entire journey of learning a new language. If you want to see my journey and find out what other techniques I’ve learned along the way, click here to find out more.

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Are you struggling with picking up another language? Is learning something new difficult for you? Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

How to improve your memory.

How to improve your memory.

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When I first approached learning a new language, I came across some great advice to speed up the process; learn the 1000 most common words used in that language. It won’t make you fluent, but it’ll definitely help you get by. Similar to the 80/20 rule, you’ll find in life that we only use 20% of our vocabulary to construct 80% of everyday conversations. So I went off to figure out the most common words and try to learn all 1000 of them. The start was difficult, I didn’t have a system to help me memorise each word and my memory failed me at times. Countless times. Who do I blame for that? My deteriorating brain? At the time of writing this I’m only 28, so that can’t be the reason— at least I hope not! After doing a bit of research and figuring out how to improve my memory, I came across a technique that helped improve it dramatically. This technique is something that we’ve all been aware of at a very young age, it is none other than the use of flashcards.

Before you roll your eyes and switch over to another article— hopefully another one of mine— I’m not talking about those flashcards that your teacher would show to you during your time in nursery. I’m talking about a specific software that takes flipping cards to a whole new level. Anki is an open source software—  that means it’s free of charge! Their slogan is,

“Powerful, intelligent flashcards. Remembering things just became much easier.”

Each digital card is fully customisable. You can add images, audio files, videos, whatever you can think of! As Anki phrases it, “the possibilities are endless.” Before I go into the benefits of flashcards and why Anki is a reliable tool. I thought it would be best to share my experience so far with the software.

Before we begin, I wanted to add that it’s important to prioritise learning over entertainment. What better way to develop yourself than by learning a new skill? I try to learn as many skills as possible, break down the entire process and share it with you. Once a week I update you on my progress, do you want to stay-up-date and learn how to pick up a skill or two? Click here to sign up to the 1-minute report card.

How I’ve been using Anki.

Look at all of those cards that I need to remember!

The image above is my homepage for Anki. Every flashcard sits in a deck, think of it as a folder, a place for you to organise all your cards. You’ll notice that I have quite a few decks in my account. I’ve come a long way from only memorising the 1000 most common words. I’ve added new decks that focus on a variety of topics. Now that I’ve become more comfortable with individual words I’m trying to become comfortable with useful phrases as well, another practice that is known as sentence mining.

With a tangible deck of cards, you have to write the question on the front and fill in the answer on the back. With Anki, you have to do the same thing but in digital form. However, each card is fully customisable giving you the freedom to be creative in your learning. Want to add an image to remind you of the answer? Or add an audio snippet of someone speaking the language? The possibilities are endless and it’s really down to how you want to use Anki for your own learning experience.

Filling this in can be boring.

It can get tedious filling in each card, especially when you have to enter in a 1000 new words. What I found most useful with Anki is that there is a community of learners that are willing to share their own decks. At the bottom of the home screen is a little button labeled, ‘Get shared’. Once clicked on, you are navigated to a new window and presented with a search bar that grants you access to trawl through their database of popular decks. A simple search of the word ‘Swedish’ came up with 50 results of detailed decks; I downloaded three of them! I would recommend you try out this feature, there’s an endless amount of free resource that you can take advantage of. I even typed in the word ‘Geography’ to see what would pop up, there is a community for almost every topic of learning.

So many decks to choose from!

Another feature that I am quite fond of are the detailed statistics for each deck. I am a man who enjoys looking at statistics (some of you might think of me weirdly now) and seeing the visual representation of small improvements. With that being said, Anki provides updated statistics for every deck that you can go through. Below is a screenshot of my progress with the 1000 common words deck. I’ve been using this deck for just over 5 months now, you’ll notice that I’m quite confident with 674 words and I’m still new to 131 of them. I do find this feature useful, getting instant feedback and knowing that I am progressing gives me comfort and motivates me to continue. Being able to say that I’m confident with over 600 new foreign words goes to show that I’ve come a long way. Before using Anki, my memory was all over the place, but after committing to going through the decks every day, I can clearly see an overall improvement.

Quite happy with my progress so far.

How does it work?

So how exactly have I been able to learn hundreds of new words and phrases? Well, there is some science to using Anki and I hope that by now you can see that it does work.

 

Spaced Repetition Systems.

Remember when I told you that my memory sucked when I started learning a thousand new words? Well it turns out I wasn’t the only one (phew!). Say I gave you 10 new words to remember, studies show that our memory rapidly declines as the days progress. By the end of the week, you’ll probably only remember 2 of them! The famous forgetting curve graph depicts how our memory deteriorates over time.

Look at that dip!

In order for us to combat our forgetful memory, we need to introduce a technique known as the spaced repetition system (SRS). This technique is pretty simple, you repeatedly review the information over a certain amount of time to allow the mind to absorb all of it in. The mind retains more when we regularly revisit the information. As the forgetting curve shows, trying to cram everything in one sitting isn’t productive, as you’ll eventually forget all of it by the end of the week. Having a system where you’re able to review the information at set intervals will make your memory last longer.

This goes to show that repetition is important.

That’s where Anki comes into play. The software includes its own algorithms that figure out when it’s time for you to review a specific card. It can tell when I’m not as confident with a card and let that surface more often than other cards that I have no trouble with. Also, don’t expect to go through the entire deck in one sitting. Anki understands that cramming everything in one day doesn’t make sense and it staggers the learning process. What does this mean? It means you’ll only be learning 10-20 new cards per day, and the remaining time is spent going through all the other cards that you’ve previously been exposed to. It took quite a long time for me to see all 1000 new foreign words.

This tells me that I'm quite confident with the card.

As you can see from the photo above, if I got the answer wrong it’ll let me revisit the card within 10 minutes. If I found it easy, I’ll revisit the card in 8 days time. Anki’s algorithm changes depending on each card. There are cards where the only option available is to review it within 1 minute, others where I will review it in 9 months time. Having this spaced repetition automated makes the whole learning process a lot smoother. Sure, you can use real flashcards, but to figure out when is a good time to revisit each card can get quite complicated. I’d rather let Anki figure that out for me; I’ve already got enough on my plate as it is!

 

Active Recall.

Did you ever have a method to prepare for an upcoming exam? I remember mine. A week leading up to my GCSE’s (end of secondary school exams) I would spend the majority of my days locked away in a quiet library. I would skim read a few books, underline ‘important’ information, transfer the notes to my notebook and then read them over again. I’d do this until lunchtime, take a break and then repeat until the end of the day. I realise now that this form of revision wasn’t the most effective way of learning, maybe that’s why I only ended up with 1 A, 5 B’s and 4 C’s (still, not bad!).

Reading books, listening to lectures and watching videos are all considered as a passive form of learning. This is not to say that it doesn’t work, but it’s not the most effective. Remember the saying, ‘in one ear and out the other’? That generally happens when the brain is placed in a passive state. Active learning— also known as active recall— is when you constantly challenge the brain, making it work by retrieving the information.

It's better to be on the right side of the graph.

How do you promote active recall? By constantly quizzing yourself on the answer. How do you do that? Isn’t it obvious by now? Every flashcard you interact with is getting you to actively recall the information stored somewhere in your brain. You’re constantly testing yourself and making the brain work, because of this, the information slowly moves from short-term into long-term memory, making it easier for you to recall the information. I wish I knew all of this when studying for my GCSE’s; I could’ve gotten more A’s!

What else will I be using it for?

It’s amazing to see how such a simple tool can help improve the mind dramatically. I guess there is a lot of truth to the phrase, ‘less is more’. I hope this article has shown you just how important— if used properly— the use of flashcards are. What I do want to stress is just how important it is to remain consistent in your learning. Being lazy with your flashcards will get you nowhere, your progress is determined by the actions you take consistently. Don’t expect your memory to become superhuman in a matter of weeks either, these things take time, but it’s a hell of a lot quicker than reading a book and cramming it all in.

Just remember, Anki can be used for just about anything. Currently, I’ve been using it to learn a new language, but I know Anki is a tool that I will continue to use whilst learning other skills. The next skill on my list is to learn piano, I’m certain I’ll be making new decks to help me memorise piano chords. Being creative when building your decks will help the process of learning more enjoyable. It can get quite monotonous flipping a card and seeing a word pop up on screen. Add a few images, insert sounds, it helps to be creative. One thing is for certain, by using Anki it will help improve your memory, which is important for when you’re learning any new skill. So how do you plan to include Anki in your learning?

Want to see how Anki helped me learn a new language? I surprised my girlfriend by secretly learning one of her languages and surprising her on her birthday. Everyday leading up to the event I was on Anki building up my vocabulary. I wouldn't have been able to do this without the software.

How I learned Swedish in three months.

How I learned Swedish in three months.

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Before I begin outlining how I managed to drastically improve my comprehension with the Swedish language in a short amount of time, let me explain why I wanted to put myself through all of those long arduous hours. You see, there’s a girl involved. Don’t all great stories start like that?

My girlfriend was born and raised in Sweden and is of Persian descent, she’s multilingual and can speak English, Swedish and Farsi fluently, which at times I am quite jealous of. With English being her weakest of the three I would occasionally correct her on subtle mistakes. How to pronounce the word ‘determined’, correcting her v’s from her w’s as well as her g’s and j’s. Whenever I would stop to correct her she would jokingly say, “Whatever, I know three languages.” I would reply back with, “Two and a half.”

Every so often she would pull out a complicated word in English and I’d stop to ask her how she learned that word. She would shrug her shoulders and think nothing of it. I, on the other hand, would be amazed and wonder how hard it would be to learn a new language. Being born and raised in England and be of Filipino descent, I never really embraced the Filipino culture. Learning Tagalog (the native language of Philippines) wasn’t really that appealing to me. I stuck with English and always struggled with learning another language. In my early 20’s I gave Tagalog a go and failed miserably, I would periodically go on Duolingo and attempt to learn Spanish too. That didn’t last long either.

Regardless of my lack of experience with learning a new language, I decided for my girlfriends next birthday I would surprise her with learning one of her languages. I chose Swedish instead of Farsi because I thought it would be the lesser of two evils, plus my cousin is half Swedish so I thought I could reach out to her and get some tips. Not only would it be a nice surprise, I thought that I could hit two birds with one stone. Her dad doesn’t speak English well enough to maintain a conversation, so I thought I could use the skill of a new language and be able to communicate with him.

I had carefully planned this out, I wanted to start off by taking photos together with the camera on a tripod, then I would sneakily hit the record button and start talking to her in Swedish and not stop until she took me seriously. Did I manage to surprise her? I guess you can be the judge of that.

I had come up with this idea 12 months beforehand, but I didn’t really do much for the first 9 months. I had no idea how to approach learning a new language and I wasn’t taking the challenge seriously. I had purchased Rosetta Stone for Swedish and hardly used it.Occasionally I would jump on Duolingo for 10 minutes and be so lackadaisical about it. I was making little to no progress, but I could only blame myself. Then with three months left everything changed. I realised with the birthday looming, I had to get my priorities in order if I wanted to successfully surprise my girlfriend.

Instead of dusting off the cobwebs and jumping back into the Rosetta Stone program, I thought I’d do some research on useful techniques on how to learn a language within 3 months. I knew I had to put the work in and time was running out. So I committed to a minimum of 10 hours a week of studying Swedish whilst implementing the different techniques of learning a new language in a short amount of time. The goal wasn’t to be fluent in Swedish but have enough knowledge to get by and surprise my girlfriend. I do regret not taking the challenge seriously from the very start. Who knows, I could’ve been fluent by the time I surprised her. At least I now have enough knowledge to have a basic conversation with my girlfriend. If I keep up this progress I’m sure I’ll be speaking fluently in no time.

A useful guide that helped put everything into perspective for me was an article written by Arthur from Faster To Master.  It outlined how to learn any language fast and I got some useful tips from it. You can check it out here.

With the use of deliberate practice coupled with the Pomodoro technique. I managed to effectively study around 10 hours a week. Here’s what my schedule would normally look like:

 

Monday - 19:00 - 21:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

5-minute break

25 minutes of Memrise

5-minute break

25 minutes of watching an English film with Swedish subtitles

 

Tuesday - 0 Hours

 

Wednesday - 19:00 - 21:00

60 mins on iTalki

5-minute break

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of reading the book, “Essentials of Swedish Grammar.” - This was so boring and I dreaded doing this every time I picked up the book, but I knew it was essential for my learning.

5-minute break

 

Thursday - 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

5-minute break

 

Friday - 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of writing exercises

5-minute break

 

Saturday - 19:00 - 21:00

60 mins on Skype with my Swedish cousin

5-minute break

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

 

Sunday 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo.

5-minute break

 

That was pretty much it. Of course, the times were flexible and I would often shift things around depending on my schedule. I would mix and match the different exercises according to my mood as well. Regardless of the order, within a week I was trying to cover all the important sections of reading, writing and speaking. I would repeat this week after week for the entire 3 months. Keep in mind that I had to hide this all from my girlfriend, so whenever I was with her it was difficult to practice. There would be times when I’d only study 3 hours for the week as opposed to 10.

Even though at times I failed to study 10 hours a week, I still noticed a steep learning curve within the 3 months. Now that this is no longer a surprise, I have the luxury of practicing with her. I’d like to strengthen this skill to the point of confidently talking with her and hold a conversation about everyday life. I guess I just have to keep up what I’ve already been doing.

For anyone who is attempting to learn a new language or skill, practicing with an intense focus is essential. What helped me commit to each practice was by scheduling everything in advance. Keep track of how much time you commit to a skill and try and not to break the chain. You keep this consistent and I’m positive that you’ll see a major difference within 3 months time.

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Are you struggling with picking up another language? Is learning something new difficult for you? Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone. Who Wins?

Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone. Who wins?

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I remember coming across a YouTube video of a young man reviewing Rosetta Stone. I was watching this because I was contemplating whether or not I should purchase the iconic yellow language learning programme to help me learn Swedish. In his review, he mentioned he had reached the end of the programme and assured the viewers that almost 90% of buyers will not finish it. Although I had no idea who this man was, I took his statements personally and I wanted to prove to him that I was not going to be part of his statistic — If there’s one way of getting me to do anything, simply challenge me and I will blindly jump into the fray. So there I was, ploughing through the course, breezing through each chapter. Did I reach the end? Sadly, no. It’s tough for me to admit this, but I too became one of the 90% of people unable to complete the course. Why exactly? All I could put it down to was sheer boredom and laziness. 

Weeks passed and I felt like a failure. I was aware of Duolingo and its free service, but I assumed anything free wouldn’t give me enough value to successfully learn a language. I needed something to get me back into learning a language, so I decided to give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen? 5 months later, I can proudly tell you that I have reached the end of Duolingo and I was mistaken with the idea that ‘anything free holds no value.’

I reached the end. Hurrah!

I reached the end. Hurrah!

So is Duolingo better than Rosetta Stone? With the experience gained from being a user with both platforms, I go through a variety of categories to answer this very question.

Should I pay for an online course?

Let’s get the obvious one out the way. One is (somewhat) free, whilst the other is not. Not only do you have to pay for Rosetta Stone, but their products come at a hefty price. Since purchasing one of their products, Rosetta Stone has been changing up the way they sell their programs. The product I bought was a stand-alone piece of software that I had to download and install, this meant that I could only access it via one computer. From what I can see on their website, everything is subscription based and can be used across different platform. 

I spent how much?!

I spent how much?!

As you can see from the photo above, I was fortunate to purchase the product with a discount. I can’t remember what special offer was going on at the time, but boy did I grab a bargain! Parting ways with just under £300 for a language learning programme is asking a lot, no matter where you stand financially. Now, just like many other companies, Rosetta Stone has embraced the subscription model as well.

Looks like everyone is going subscription-based.

Looks like everyone is going subscription-based.

These prices are considerably cheaper from what I paid in the past, but when compared to a free product in Duolingo, Rosetta Stone has no leg to stand on. When starting out, my initial reaction was to opt for a paid product as I thought it would provide more value to my learning. I don’t want to say that I wasted my money because I’ve yet to reach the end of the course, so I can’t really tell if the product is worth all of that money. The real waste is me giving up on it a few weeks after purchasing the product. That being said, I do plan on going back to it and completing the course.

 

I had no need for this.

I had no need for this.

Duolingo is completely free and you don’t need to pay any hidden fees to unlock extra content. There is, however, a Duolingo Plus option where you pay a monthly rate that provides you with an ad-free experience and the ability to download the lessons for when you’re not connected to the internet. I guess this will come in useful when you’re traveling with no Wifi connection—  it certainly would’ve helped me whilst commuting underground— That being said, I prefer to use Duolingo on a web browser in the comforts of my desk at home, which meant I was usually connected to the internet. Personally, the ads didn’t bother me one bit, so I never had a real reason to upgrade to a premium version either. With the lure of upgrading to Duolingo Plus not so appealing, I managed to get through the entire course without spending one penny.

Who wins?

Hands down Duolingo clearly wins in this category. There’s no competition between the two. With a free price tag, I’m surprised to see how much value it brought to my language learning experience.


How are both programs structured?

Both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone throw you into the language, you don’t really get a lecture as to how and why the language is constructed the way it is. You’re not taught the rules of grammar and nor are you given a reason for why one word works in a particular sentence and not in another. It’s because of this, it can be quite difficult starting out if you have absolutely no knowledge of the language. With that being said, both courses ease you into the language by introducing you with very basic words like ‘girl’, ‘boy’ and ‘car’. As you move further along, both courses start introducing full sentences like, “the boy in the car”, but they don’t really explain how to construct a sentence. Again, you’re left to your own devices to figure it out. I think that’s what’s lacking in a lot of language learning programmes. For me, grammar was one of my weak points— it’s something I still struggle with now— understanding how to construct a sentence and why it works would’ve helped me tremendously. It’s as if both courses expect you to pick up on how a language is constructed by going over a variety of different sentences over and over again. That’s not to say this method of repetition didn’t help— which it did— it’s just that I’m sure I would’ve gained more value if someone explained the rules of the language.

So how is Rosetta Stone structured? The product I ordered consists of 3 different levels that is broken into 4 units per level. Each level consists of different categories such as, “Language Basics”, “Greetings & Introductions” and “Everyday Things.” Each category is then broken up into a variety of small bite-sized lessons, which some of these lessons can last up to 5 minutes and go all the way up to 25 minutes. Keep in mind there are about 30+ lessons in each category, so there’s a lot of content to get through— no wonder a lot of people give up less than halfway! 

 

An endless amount of lessons to get through!

An endless amount of lessons to get through!

Rosetta Stone covers all the elements when it comes to language learning; reading, writing, speaking and listening. Photos are heavily implemented within the software, which I think makes learning a lot easier. Every word you hear is spoken by a local, which is a great way to train your ears and get used to the language. There’s a useful speech recognition software, that analyses your voice and visually shows you where you are going wrong. Although I can’t really vouch for this technology as it sometimes confuses a random shout as part of the Swedish language. In order to progress to the next level, you’ll need to correctly answer a certain amount of questions, anything below 90% means you have to repeat the lesson.

How is Duolingo structured? Similar to Rosetta it covers the basic reading, writing, speaking and listening. On the home screen of Duolingo, you are introduced with a language skill tree, similar to Rosetta you have to complete each category in order to progress to the next circle. You start off with the ‘Basics’ and then move into ‘Phrases’, ‘Questions’ and ‘Sports’. The whole Duolingo experience is gamified which I found helped motivate me to get all the way to the end. The inclusion of the different type of game mechanics such as learning streaks, community leaderboards, and achievement badges made the whole learning experience more enjoyable. There is a handy ‘Practice’ button that allows you to go over categories that you’re quite weak in, I did find this feature quite useful when I wanted to strengthen my weak points.

Such a simple, yet beautiful interface.

Such a simple, yet beautiful interface.

Duolingo features a robotic voice that doesn’t sound as natural when compared to Rosetta Stone’s audio. It’s not the best voice to listen to as you don’t really pick up the local pronunciations. Each stage is text heavy, rarely are you presented with photos as a learning aid. The interface of the Duolingo is simple yet beautiful, it’s easy to navigate and it’s one of the reasons what drew me back to learning with Duolingo as opposed to Rosetta.

Who wins?

In terms of structure, I give this one to Rosetta Stone. Although both cover the basics very well, Rosetta has the slight edge with the use of local speakers and more use of images. 


What other perks are available?

What else does Rosetta Stone have to offer? Well, if you were like me and only bought a stand alone and don’t have access to the subscription services, there’s not much else you can do with the programme. Committing to a subscription grants you access to live tutoring with native speakers, talking with other learners and playing different types of games. Is it worth getting a subscription? I can’t answer that question as I couldn’t justify spending a monthly amount when I could have access to all of Duolingo’s features for a small fee or even a free rate.

What does Duolingo have to offer? I already mentioned the gamification element to Duolingo, but there’s also an element of experimentation which you can find on the Labs tab. This is where there are ongoing experimental projects that could lead to something or be discontinued at any time. So far these include ‘Duolingo Stories’, where they use dialogue to help learners improve their reading. This is only available in a limited amount of languages. They also have Duolingo events where you can connect with other learners face to face. There’s a huge community and there are events held all over the world, you can find one in 6 out of the 7 continents. There’s also a podcast available to listen to that talks about real-life stories. This, unfortunately, is only available in Spanish, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they expand it to a few more different languages. If you want to get a recognised trusted certificate that shows how proficient you are in English, for $49 you can take an online test at the Duolingo English Test Centre. Who knows what else Duolingo will come up with?

Who wins?

Duolingo easily wins this category. The culture of constant experimentation and each project being so easily available gives no chance for Rosetta Stone to compete with Duolingo.


What else can you use?

 

Very similar to Duolingo, but with a slight twist.

Very similar to Duolingo, but with a slight twist.

Although this article puts Duolingo up against Rosetta Stone there are other available language learning courses out there. Memrise is similar to Duolingo and makes good use of the language learning techniques of mnemonics. It too is also free, but there is a Pro version that gives you some added perks. I’ve used Memrise at times, especially when I wanted to break the monotony of Duolingo and Rosetta.

 

Never tried this.

Never tried this.

Babbel is another language learning course that you can use, although I’ve never used it, there are people out there that swear by it. Similar to Rosetta Stone you have to pay a subscription in order to use their product. It’s for this reason, why I’ve not attempted to give Babbel a go. I had already spent money on one product, I’m not going to spend more money on something else that is similar.

I find that there are cheaper and more easily available techniques to help learn a new language. Sentence mining, learning the most common 1000 words and the scriptorium method are techniques that you don’t need to spend a penny on. I can certainly say just those three alone were a lot more effective than completing Duolingo.

Where do I stand?

So who wins in the end? It’s really down to preference. When comparing two language courses to each other it reminds me of the age-old argument of “Mac vs PC”. Which one is better? Ultimately, both are tools that help you navigate to reach your goal. Each has a different interface, one is slightly more expensive than the other but each has a fanbase that swears by it. Being a user of both Mac and PC I eventually made the decision to stick to PC because it was a lot cheaper. It’s for a similar reason why I personally put Duolingo ahead of Rosetta Stone. The value I got from this course far outweighs what I paid— which was nothing! I’m sure I would’ve got a lot of value from Rosetta Stone, and I plan to finally reach the end. 

What I must say, is that neither course will get you to a high-level fluency in any language. I used each programme as a supplement to my studies. I would talk on the phone, read books and watch tv shows, then occasionally refer back to the course. I didn’t make it my main source of learning, as you should do too. Just like a computer, treat these courses as a tool to help get you to your end goal.

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