Duolingo uses a combination of spaced repetition, positive reinforcement, and some rote learning. These are proven methods to help someone acquire the basics of a language. Unfortunately, I found Duolingo is very slow in revealing context and relies on the user to go through the curriculum in a discovery-based methodology. In other words, guess and check until you have the word and context down. This may be useful in the beginning stages of learning vocabulary as others have said, but if you're serious about learning a language, I would recommend other methods perhaps coupled with Duolingo. I'm not disqualifying it quite yet.
When I learned Japanese, for example, I reached out to friends who were native speakers. And as cliche as it may sound, I had a motivator. I wanted to learn Japanese to understand Anime. Now, I can play Bokurano Daiboukenn games without translation, Shadow Rine, and of course, listen to Anime.
When I learned Mandarin, I wanted to walk into a Chinese restaurant and talk to some of the people there. That also motivated me to learn Korean. When I learned French, I thought, why not add a second Romance language to my skill set?
In my opinion, there are four kinds of people who learn a language: people who learn it as a hobby, people who learn it for professional reasons, people who are just interested in linguistics and enjoy the thrill of being able to speak to others in their language, and people who actually need it to communicate to others around them. Neither is better or worse. That is just a measurement by which people should take into consideration to determine dedication and level of fluency.
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