There are three possible answers:
It is very useful.
It is somewhat useful.
It is not useful at all.
All three answers are correct, depending on why the learner wants to learn a foreign language. If your objective is to impress your friends and relatives by speaking a few simple sentences in a new language – Duolingo is very useful.
If your main objective is to read and write and have the ability to lead a simple conversation in a new language – Duolingo is somewhat useful.
If your objective is to speak fluently and use a foreign language for business or study – Duolingo is not useful at all. I would even say it is rather harmful since it reinforces cross-translation into the mother tongue – the main barrier in becoming fluent in a foreign language. Learners of Duolingo pay a price they are not aware of: it is nearly impossible to think in your mother tongue and speak in a foreign language.
Question: How to transfer my new vocabulary, the collocations, and phrases from my passive memory to active one?
All conventional methods of learning English belong to Passive Learning and it is obvious why this information is in passive memory. They dissect the language into individual components and teach reading, writing, pronunciation, speaking, and grammar separately. After years of hard work the learners still are not able to speak In English fluently.
It is hard to persuade teachers that English is a skill to be trained since they believe that the only option for teaching it due to large class size is to lecture about the language. There is a much better solution that I will describe after elaborating on why all conventional methods involve passive learning.
Question: How do we bridge the gap between technology and pedagogy?
It seems to me that technology and pedagogy have different criteria for making fast strides forward. When new technology is introduced, the inventors try to anticipate the future. They don’t care about the past.
When new pedagogy is introduced it traditionally incorporates detailed reviews of dozens of leading specialists in the field, and only then do the authors introduce their own new vision of some pedagogical topics. Read any scientific publication in applied linguistics, for example, and you will find this is the case. In this scenario, the inventor of the new pedagogy is looking backward rather than anticipating the future. How can we change this attitude that has been dominant for a hundred years?
New technology without new pedagogy results in poor teaching being delivered faster and more efficiently.
Copyright © Language Bridge Technology, 2017
Question: Should we use flashcards to help acquire language skills?
We offer a few excerpts from the article Why I don’t use flashcards.
We completely support them and came to the same conclusions, but let the author,
Randy the Yearlyglot, speak:
“I know that this post is going to upset a lot of people. Stop using flashcards. Stop using SRS (Space Repetition Systems). Stop learning vocabulary from lists, or decks, or programs. Stop. It doesn't work; it's a waste of time, and it's creating bad patterns in your brain. There are two things that make flashcards bad. And I don't just mean "bad" as in “ineffective”... I mean bad as in working against you!"
Learning anything (words and phrases) against its translation is creating extra steps in your brain. It's making you slow. It makes you think slowly, hear slowly, speak slowly. Here's an example. I'm learning Italian this year. Let's assume that I learned Italian vocabulary from flashcards. I might have a card that says "vedere" on one side, and "to see" on the other. Learning this way forces my brain to associate the word "vedere" with the word "to see".
The study says that while students exhibited high academic achievement in their home country, many found it difficult to adjust and adapt to the new environment, citing problems like language barriers. In my opinion, the Chinese Way of learning English—memorizing information about the English language along with thousands of words as translations into the native tongue—explains why language learning has gone so badly in the past. These students continue thinking in their native language when trying to speak in English, attempting fast translation of incoming and outgoing information while trying to make what they say sound natural. This is a very stressful situation and few students can function this way. Many fail since they don't have an English speech center in the brain.
Question: How to replace the Chinese Way of learning English with a more effective method?
The article Learn English, Chinese Style is an eye-opener: it describes the problem very well. Unfortunately, the article gives no clue how to choose between ‘Learning the Chinese Way’ and Language Acquisition.
In China, everybody learns English the Chinese Way! This method consists of memorizing English words as translations into the native language. Knowing what individual words mean does not mean that a learner will be able to communicate in English or understand the spoken language. When a learner continues thinking in his native language and tries to translate his thought from the native language into English and produce an English sentence, he fails. This is an unnatural process and explains why many Chinese can read and write in English, but so few can speak English or understand what others say to them in English.