By Conor Sanchez
Before I moved to Nicaragua, one of the most helpful preparation tools I had was the free language app, Duolingo. This zero-ad, gamification app makes language learning highly addictive and super mobile, with each lesson including practice for speaking, listening, and writing skills.
As an English teacher in rural Nicaragua, I never thought I’d be able to use it in a classroom setting. But then I saw how many students have smart phones. There’s free WiFi in the central park and the university I teach at has two computer labs. I was even more thrilled to learn that the app had recently introduced a platform for teachers (dashboard.duolingo.com), which allows us to monitor student progress and provide individual feedback.
The biggest challenge my counterpart teachers at the university and I have faced has been motivation. Students from all majors (from civil engineering to business administration) are now required to take 900 hours of English conversation courses to graduate. Some are fine with it, while others are flat out resistant. Our big task has been to find ways to get students more excited about learning a new language and recognize the competitive benefits of being bilingual. In some ways, I felt like we needed to trick them into caring – at least initially.
We decided to use Duolingo as a platform to get students to compete with one another for points. Language learners at the university have been organized by their major as opposed to language level, which would probably be a more effective system, but that’s another story for another blog post. What it did allow me to do, however, is leverage the students’ pride for their major and channel it towards some friendly competition via their progress on Duolingo.
For now at least, I can’t point to some huge indicator as to whether students are now more proficient in English (although one study shows 34 hours of Duolingo is as good as a semester of foreign language training), but I can say students are enjoying the program. It breaks up our routine and allows them to utilize the Internet and technology in a way they’ve never done before. As a teacher, it’s great to be able to monitor their progress remotely and provide feedback in person.
I’m looking forward to see what Duolingo comes out with next and how it will continue to adapt its program for schools, particularly in the developing world. Costa Rica and Guatemala are already piloting the app in some public schools, so creating a platform designed to help teachers around the world can only lead to wider adoption.
For teachers out there thinking of using Duolingo in the classroom, here are three easy steps to getting started:
1. Get Students Signed-Up
The first thing I did was set aside an hour for each English course at the university. I had all students go to Duolingo.com to create a username and password. This took some time since students rarely use their emails and many of them had forgotten their passwords. Once we figured that out, however, students immediately began going through the lessons individually.
2. Track Their Progress
The next thing I did was collect all their emails. As that was happening, I logged into Dashboard.Duolingo.com and created a new section for the class. When you create a new section, Duolingo will create a link for you to send out to your students (see photo below)
Send out the link to the students’ emails and wait for them to accept your request to track their progress. Afterwards, you’ll receive an email that looks like this:
3. Show off the results!
Here’s the graph I made showing how the various majors faired during the first month. I printed this out and taped it all over the university for students to see.