Live Q&A: What is the best way to learn a language?

Are apps and online courses enough to make you fluent? Photograph: Alamy

Are apps and online courses enough to make you fluent? Photograph: Alamy

There are more ways than ever to learn a language, but how do you find one that suits your learning style and routine? Join us on 24 October, 1-3pm BST, to discuss

Since its launch in 2012 the Duolingo app has gained 50 million users. Its success has led it to become one of the names synonymous with the tech revolution in language learning, and not without good reason. In a recent interview for the series, its creator, Luis von Ahn, said: “There’s an independent study that shows that if you use Duolingo for 34 hours you learn the same as you would in one university semester of language learning.”

So does this mean that the days of poring over verb tables and memorising vocabulary lists are well and truly over? Not necessarily. Aside from the obvious fact that acquiring a new app doesn’t simply equate to mastery of another language, it may not be an approach that works for everyone.

Tech solutions to learning a language like Duolingo clearly have some advantages: they allow you to fit your learning around your lifestyle, and in many cases are cheaper than formal lessons. But, as Alan Haburchakshared during our online learning challenge, one month of trying to learn Spanish using only his smartphone left him crying out for some verb tables.

Duolingo’s naturalistic approach is reminiscent of how we learn our mother tongue as children; you are encouraged to absorb grammar by context and association rather than memorising rules. This technique, however, left him rich in vocabulary but unable to make real progress without a real understanding of the patterns and structures that held the language together. […]

(From The Guardian, Holly Young, 22.10.2014)

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