For the past few months I've been schlepping over to my iPhone or Nexus 5 to use the amazing Duolingo language learning app. But now Duolingo is available on Windows Phone, and it’s a mostly faithful translation of the mobile app I was previously using elsewhere. So I can continue learning Spanish on my favorite smart phone instead.
Duolingo had previously teased that support for Windows Phone was on the way, so this wasn't a complete surprise. (I'm wondering if a Windows 8 app is coming too, actually.) But if you're not familiar with the service, and are interested in actually learning a foreign language, you should look this one up. My wife was using Duolingo to continue her years-long study of French, and I had independently discovered the app later, and we both agree—having tried numerous other methods—that this is the way to go.
First of all, it's completely free, which makes absolutely no sense to me because it's so good I'd pay for the more advanced lessons if I could. And second it's both fun and effective: it uses some video game-like exercises to drive language learning through both repetition—the same or similar phrases are used repeatedly in a lesson—and usage diversity, where those phrases are used in different ways in that lesson.
Duolingo supports many languages—Spanish, Danish, Irish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Dutch (Netherlands) at the moment—and offers a variety of exercise types in each lesson. For example, in the Windows Phone version of the app, you can listening/translation, and multiple choice challenges, and the app awards you for being correct, and for hitting your goals each day. (And if you miss your goals, you'll make the in-game owl—don't ask—sad. You don't want that to happen.)
I do have a couple of complaints about the Windows Phone port. It's not perfect.
First, the spoken voice used in some exercises is more clearly a recording, with an audible hiss that I don't hear on Android or iOS. That may be the phone I'm using—Lumia 735—or it may just be the port, I'm not sure. But the audio seems lower quality to me, and when you're trying to hear something so you can translate it correctly, that's a problem.
The second issue is also audio-related: In addition to the exercise types noted above, on Android and iOS Duolingo also offers a spoken phrase exercise type where you speak a written phrase back to the app and it analyzes what you say and gives you a pass or fail. This exercise type didn't come up once in the two lessons I tried on Windows Phone this morning, leading me to believe that it's simply not available on Windows Phone. That's too bad: while I do question the accuracy of this lesson type on Android and iOS, actually speaking in the language you're trying to learn is important.
I'll spend some more time with this app each day going forward—it's the only way to learn—but for now I'm just excited that this app has been ported to Windows Phone. I'll check it out on a few different Windows Phone handsets, too.