On the planet of the apps: Between Glossika and DuoLingo, who wins?

I have been trying these two language-learning apps every day for a month now.

You may recall that I wrote about them three weeks ago, when I continued to review my rusty German, since I used to be pretty good at it—fifty years ago, that is, my German was pretty good. You might think that that’s so long ago that I might as well be a beginner again, but actually I kept up a low-level acquaintance with the language over all those years, partly through linguistics and partly just for general purposes (he says vaguely).

With all due respect for McWhorter’s preference for Glossika, my report at this stage is that I much prefer DuoLingo. Mostly it’s just more fun; Glossika is just less motivating. Also, DuoLingo offers optional grammatical explanations, which I think are necessary to feel comfortably knowledgeable. Glossika is too much like doing fieldwork: lots of unstructured data that require you to postpone thorough understanding. Let’s look at a random example that illustrates two important strengths and two important weaknesses of Glossika:

The strengths are that you (the user) get a chance to speak, and that you are given a phonetic transcription in IPA to help you speak correctly. That’s International Phonetic Alphabet, not India Pale Ale. And of course it assumes that you know how to read IPA notation. If you don’t, you can and should learn it!

The weaknesses are that there is no feedback on the accuracy of your speaking, and there’s no context to help you learn the somewhat unusual syntax of the sentence.

Now let’s look at a few DuoLingo examples, also chosen somewhat randomly but illustrating both strengths and weaknesses again.

First of all, the sentence is slightly odd. Not impossible or ungrammatical, but still odd. But there’s no denying that it adds interest.

Here’s another example:

Say what? This is a good example of McWhorter’s complaint about sentences that no one would say. And it’s not even a sentence.

OK, a legitimate complaint is that this is much too easy. Totally obvious, in fact. But if you view it as a learning tool, you will agree that a few really easy examples are nothing to complain about.


Fortunately this sentence isn’t true, at least in my case. But it definitely adds interest and illustrates basic subject matter.

So there are a bunch of examples for you to chew on. Give one or both apps a try!

Categories: Linguistics, Teaching & Learning