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Doulingo is a new language learning website that is integrated into social networking sites (currently Facebook and Twitter) and helps provide translations of websites. It is not necessary to receive or accept any posts to your Facebook/Twitter feeds.

Starting out: When you log in to the website, it will present you with a choice of languages that you a. speak and b. want to learn. The choices are limited, but they are adding new ones continuously. Currently they are:

  • I speak English and I want to speak Spanish.
  • I speak English and I want to speak German.
  • I speak English and I want to speak French.
  • I speak English and I want to speak Portuguese.
  • I speak English and I want to speak Italian.
  • Yo sé Español, yo quiero aprender Inglés.
  • Eu sei Portugues, eu quero aprender Ingles.
  • Io parlo italiano, voglio imparare inglese.
  • Je parle français, je veux apprendre 'l anglais.
  • Chinese coming soon!

Once you make your selection it will present you with a Language Skill Tree -- a set of lessons presented in ascending difficulty. The first lessons are very simple. "Remember this word: 'la niña'"; "Translate this sentence into Spanish: 'I am a girl'"; "Translate this sentence into English: 'Yo soy un niño'". These are accompanied by a woman reading the Spanish (or whatever) sentences and words out loud. Changes in verb conjugation are highlighted, new (and old) vocabulary is defined by hovering over the text, and new vocabulary is added slowly. Best of all, it gives you clear and immediate feedback on any mistakes.

And it lets you win coins! Which are worthless, unless you want to show them off by posting them on Facebook. But it won't post unless you ask, and you aren't required to link up to a Facebook account if you don't want to. If you like games, these coins become somewhat motivating at higher 'levels'. Otherwise you can ignore them.

Speaking of higher levels...

Advanced Translating Skillz: Well, sort of. Once you've gotten through the first few practice lessons, you have the option of translating websites. Duolingo presents you with a few choices (Facebook comments, an Ubuntu technical support forum, silly threads off of random sites, etc.), and if you click through it will suggest a sentence for you to translate. If you don't like that one, you can pick another one. Once you find one you like, it will offer to test you on a few words that are at what it thinks is your language-learning level, and then let you try to translate. Hovering over the text will give you a word-by-word translation, and the reader-lady will read the comment out loud to you. Once you enter your best translation, Duolingo will check your translation against previous translations done by other users, and give you a percentage match. And this actually seems to work pretty well -- an excellent and rather surprising example of crowdsourcing.

There are already thousands of Duolingo users online, meaning that there are a lot of people to compare translations with, not to mention a number of user threads discussing vocabulary and grammar. I have only used the English-to-Spanish segment of the site, and I suspect that German and French might not be quite so popular.

I've been using the site for only a few hours, and already I like it enough that I had to node it. I suspect that there may be more noteworthy features to the site, and I will add them as I come across them. In the meantime, I encourage you to try it for yourselves. It is the best free on-line resource for learning a new language that I have come across.

I should mention that the site requires Adobe Flash Player -- not a problem for most users, but you won't be able to use it on your iPad.

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