For the very first issue of our school’s newsletter, I wrote a blog post that noted several apps that make it possible to learn written and spoken Korean. These were useful but fragmented, requiring a significant effort on the part of the student to patch together into a realistic program for learning the language. If you tried using those tools but became frustrated or confused, I have good news: one of the best-known apps for learning languages, DuoLingo, has finally released a Korean language program alongside its dozens of other popular language courses.
The program is available for Apple and Android smartphones, and you can also practice through your web browser on a desktop/laptop computer. All versions are free, and although you can pay monthly fees to remove ads, it’s not necessary because they’re not very intrusive.
I’ve been working my way through the DuoLingo app for Korean, and it’s comparable in many ways to the Rosetta Stone process for learning a foreign language. After spending some time on the Hangul alphabet and other fundamental sounds, the course provides a nice mix of written and spoken language, vocabulary and grammar. Having it as a smartphone app instead of a desktop program makes it easy to bang out a quick lesson or review during those spare 10 minutes that you catch here and there, instead of doing something inane like Facebook or [insert social network here]. However, you can also use your account account to log onto the Duolingo website, which contains more detailed notes about the meaning and usage of the subject. This means the app is excellent for keeping skills sharp but the full site may be better when introducing new concepts.
This recent release from DuoLingo makes it much easier to learn the language through a straightforward set of steps, where previously it was necessary to buy expensive programs like Rosetta Stone or pay monthly fees and/or patch together a number of different free apps, each of which focused on one or two narrow sets of skills.
The one weakness I’ve seen from DuoLingo so far is that although it has a spoken comprehension component (i.e. where you transcribe audio) there’s no mechanism for you to practice and receive feedback on your own spoken Korean. This is common throughout most language learning tech I’ve seen, which is probably not too surprising if you’ve ever tried and failed to get Siri, Alexa, or any of the other leading voice-to-text services to understand your spoken English. DuoLingo’s extremely widely-used Spanish program does provide feedback on students’ spoken language, so as this technology improves and the user base for Korean grows, it seems possible they may address this in the future. Note that the Korean module on DuoLingo is also still in beta, so there may be errors or other problems, though I haven’t noticed many so far.
If you decide to play with DuoLingo and start learning Korean, let me know, as I’ll be interested in hearing what you think of the software, as well as how you progress. If you want to take your practice to the next level, and would be interested in forming a group to practice together, leave a comment to that effect below, so I can gauge interest.