Note: This post became much longer than I intended. Skip to the summary if you don’t care about background.
My most favorite subject in school (if we assume lunch and gym aren’t subjects!) was always foreign language. I can’t explain why. It started with Spanish class in second grade, and I found it so much more interesting than anything else we would be learning. Over the years, it would be the one subject that never bored me. I took Spanish from 2nd grade to 6th, Italian in 10th for both high schools I attended, and French for 11th and 12th. Unfortunately, I recall incredibly little from my Italian and French classes, although that’s no shock since I didn’t keep up with studying outside of class. I took Italian because I was obsessed with Winx Club at the time (I now couldn’t care less about that show), and I took French because Italian III and the Spanish electives were filled. I still enjoyed French class – it’s where I met my best friend of now nine years – but it wasn’t my preference.
Somehow, I could recall a lot from the Spanish classes I took in elementary school, and I wanted to pick it up again, but I didn’t know how. I despise studying and, as an adult, classes are not free for students (and online free classes are garbage; they’re not taken seriously by any employer). In the end, Spanish became the only language I had any real interest in becoming fluent in because I’m surrounded by it. My job – and later, my boyfriend – only strengthened the feeling I was missing out on something. As it turns out, fluency in a non-native language is a pipe dream. There’s no way to learn every single word and prepare yourself for every conversation possible. But I figured I could still have fun with it.
Being broker than the devil, I didn’t have the means at the time to pay for learning. I learned about DuoLingo and signed up on 12/5/2016. I can’t tell you if I learned much because I’m not sure. I can tell you I kept up with the site’s lessons consistently, playing almost every day, until they changed the format. Supposedly, it was an improvement, but I didn’t like it and it killed my desire to play with it. After that, I dropped it and didn’t pick it again until a little over a week ago. Hey, I said I hate studying.
But I didn’t randomly pick it up. My care to learn Spanish seems to relate how well my relationship is going. I no longer work in customer service, so it’s not a necessity for work anymore. But five years in, I decided I should just do it, and 2020 being the hellhole it is, I needed something to do on my days off (my job never closed). I found two books that teach Spanish when I was picking out orders for my job, so I kept them in mind and ordered them for myself later. I enjoy reading them. I picked up DuoLingo again, hoping I could maybe get back into it, despite I still dislike the current version.
I did, but not for the sake of learning. It’s a time killer more than anything.
Naturally, different things work for different people. DuoLingo seems to not work for me, which sucks because it’s one of the very few free language learning tools that exists (then again, the expression is “you get what you pay for”). Supposedly, the web version is better than the app version, but I find them one and the same. I find DuoLingo to be child’s play. It’s a game I’d give my niece-in-law to keep her quiet for a few minutes. It’s easy. When I mess up, nine times out of ten, it’s because I accidentally hit the wrong button (the remaining one time is I need a word I haven’t learned or don’t recall how to spell). Apparently, repetition is its strength. That’s for sure because it puts me to sleep! I realize repetition is part of learning a language, but I don’t think it’s helping much when I’m falling asleep with the phone on my face. At this point, the only reason I continue to return to it is it’s cute. That’s it. I like cute, I prefer it, but it won’t help me learn.
I looked for something harder. Enter Rosetta Stone. RS is supposed to be the most famous language-learning tool… particularly for its price! I understand why. Even if I had the means to pay for language classes when I first found DuoLingo, I wouldn’t want to pay what RS asks. But an ad for a sale on their lifetime subscription service – one payment for unlimited access to all language lessons, and that’s it, and a payment plan if you couldn’t do the one-time payment up front – popped up on my FB news feed and I became interested. I asked for advice and looked at reviews, but ultimately, it came down to what I thought and if I felt it was worth. I tried their three-day free trial, but work took up two days. In the end, I took the plunge and bought their lifetime subscription on sale.
I’m likely getting ahead of myself, but so far, I’ve found it worth it.
At first, I disliked it. I started at the beginner level, thinking it’s best to start with basics. But I got bored very quickly. I thought it was child’s play like DuoLingo. It was proving to be too easy. I knew all of this. I don’t need to keep repeating how to say “boy” and “girl” in Spanish. I know! Heck, I remembered that from elementary school. I was doing the “travel” section with Duo, so I skipped to that in RS. It was more challenging. But then, it still made it feel like a waste because if I had to skip ahead, why bother?
I searched how to reset and I deleted the lesson plan Rosetta Stone made for me. I started at the intermediate level. Now was when it became good. At first, it was a few words I already knew. Then, it became harder. A big difference for me between RS and Duo is RS has me talk a lot more! I hate that because I feel awkward speaking in Spanish, even if I know what I’m saying. But it works.
Here’s an example: In DuoLingo, I am supposedly on level fourteen, yet only now is it trying to teach me numbers one through ten. In Rosetta Stone, within week two’s lessons, it was trying to teach me double digit numbers up to sixty, and week three had “two hundred” and “five hundred”.
Something else that aggravates me about Duo is completed lessons will sometimes fade a bit. You can ignore it, but I still find it irritating. DuoLingo claims to get harder, but it really doesn’t. Or if it does, I don’t see it. They have interactive stories, but those are easier than the lessons!
RS lacks any kind of reward system. You don’t get gems or hearts for completing a lesson (or lose a heart for a mistake). Your only “reward” is seeing the progress bar fill up. Personally, I think that’s better. I like games as much as the next person, but I feel like this explains why Duo is more addicting than engaging in my eyes. RS is not ugly, but it doesn’t go out of its way to be adorable either. Duo’s web version removes the heart system, which is a good choice in my opinion, but it makes their paid version a little less valuable (a feature of DuoLingo Plus is unlimited hearts). Of course, this is very much a “different strokes for different folks” thing, but it seems I do better when the goal is simply to learn, not to compete against others for who can earn the most XP in a day.
Again, I recognize I’m likely speaking too soon, but so far, Rosetta Stone has taught me more in a week than DuoLingo taught me in the one year I used it consistently. It’s not as cute as DuoLingo, but it’s working.
Pros of DuoLingo
- Fully free (there is a paid version, but it’s totally unnecessary, and the ads aren’t annoying enough to justify it)
- Strength in repetition
- Turns learning into a game (I don’t care about this, but it’s a plus for others)
Pros of Rosetta Stone
- Allows user to choose which level to start, and allows skipping ahead
- Is challenging
- User can choose different “plans”
- No reward system
- Zero ads
I feel weird for complaining something is too easy, but I want to learn, so perhaps it’s not such an abnormal complaint.