Thursday, September 2, 2021

Duolingo Review by a Homeschool Mom

  Owl is Trademark of Duolingo, used by Fair Use
Like most homeschool parents, I want my daughter to learn foreign languages.                    

But, also like most American homeschool parents, I am not fluent enough in a second language to teach her myself.

So, I really need a package that teaches without me being the teacher. 

Ideally, a package in which I can be completely "hands off"
-and my daughter can learn without me even being aware of what she's studying.

Sound familiar so far?

Additionally, I enjoy studying foreign languages myself, and find it very helpful to have an online resource that teaches both conversation and reading and writing in a large variety of target languages. So, I have gotten a chance to have a good look at how more than one language is taught, on more than one platform. 

I have tried, and liked, several online packages for foreign languages. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Duolingo has a LOT of pedagogical advantages, and in many ways is brilliantly designed:

  • Native speakers for the audio
  • Discussion boards to answer questions as they arise
  • Notes that explain some of the grammar when needed
  • Practice that slowly and gently builds from comprehending the basic idea of a word or phrase, to writing by copying, to listening without text, to writing entire sentences, then moves on to the next topic.  
  • Review of past lessons
  • A very good free version
  • Motivation with leader boards, "Friends," and rewards called "Lingots," etc

BUT - there are also some disadvantages that a parent needs to be aware of when deciding whether or not to use Duolingo, or HOW to use Duolingo:

I have consistently found that the Duoling programs which teach foreign alphabets (Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Korean etc) do a very poor job of teaching the phonics of the target language. Often they have missing audio, poor audio, incorrect results, or very glitchy results. Despite comments in the discussion boards from YEARS ago - the same mistakes persist, uncorrected. I strongly encourage taking a few days to learn to read in the target alphabet before starting Duolingo, or you are likely to be very confused and discouraged. Most languages have simple teaching videos for reading their alphabet on Youtube. Jonathan Frate offers excellent Hebrew Reading lessons free. Additionally you might find lessons at a local Church (Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches often offer lessons in their respective languages) or Synagogue (Hebrew Reading Crash Course). 

The Duolingo courses we have tried do improve greatly after these initial glitchy phonics lessons - or I would not have even bothered with this review.

But, of greater concern:

Duolingo's creators are very proud of the fact that they promote an LGBT worldview and agenda to children & adults. 

See it in their own words at these links:

https://blog.duolingo.com/lgbtq-representation-in-duolingo-stories-and-characters/

https://blog.duolingo.com/pride-2021-meet-lgbtq-employees/

This means, that the student learns to understand and say things like "My sister's girlfriend" and "My brother's husband" But, phrases like "My brother's wife" or "My sister's boyfriend" seem less prominent. 

This also means that many of the stories to enhance learning center around a homosexual theme (I have never observed any titillating or graphic content)

It also means that sometimes terms are taught as strictly sexual or romantic which are not. For instance, in one language a word is taught as meaning "girlfriend" only. While, in the target language the word actually often refers to a daughter, a friend, or a female domestic servant. When I asked them about this in the moderation boards, they replied  that they try to reflect languages NOT as they are, but as they "should be."

This mindset also is demonstrated in many gendered expressions, in which the gender of the language is not made clear to the learner. For instance, "The Mechanic is wearing a uniform" might clearly indicate a female mechanic in a language that has a more gender aware structure than English does. But the English translation will not make clear to the learner that the gender of the mechanic is female. The pictures also will not make this clear.

Female cartoon characters might be used to speak expressions that could only be spoken by a male. Or visa-versa (to analogize to English - an adult man image might be used to speak an expression like "I am a ballerina" - and never make clear to the learner that this would be strange in the target language)

Or, a young girl, or gay man cartoon character might be portrayed as saying "I work as a Rabbi" in a target culture in which only heterosexual men are Rabbi.

Or, "I like you better than anyone else" might be the translation given of a phrase that in the studied language clearly indicates "I like you better than any other females" 

These flaws in the program can lead to confusion for the learner. 

These flaws can also have potential to lead to the learner offending others when visiting a country that uses the target language. Using female terminology to refer to a man - or visa-versa -  is still insulting in many, if not most, cultures.

But, in addition to academic confusion, or giving offense to native speakers, there is a greater risk: that our children might be deceived by the active promotion of these moral choices. It is important for us to love everyone - no matter what their moral choices. But, allowing an online platform to encourage our children to follow those moral choices is a completely different matter.

Since foreign languages are often studied by homeschool students without parental involvement, the product designers at Duolingo take advantage of this parental absence to influence children to accept their ideas. 

Duolingo now advertises that they have reached the milestone of teaching foreign languages to more Americans than our Public Schools do - that is a LOT of influence over young Americans! Not to mention the many other children around the world who study on the Duolingo platform.

And, make no mistake, the increase in promotion of  LGBT ideas in recent years does influence the number of young people who elect to adopt this behavior:

https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

In addition to these matters, you will also find other lesson topics as Ouija boards in some lessons or stories. And "Spiritual" vocabulary lessons are depicted by a Halloween-worthy ghost, not by any appropriate religious imagery for the target culture.

So, what can a homeschool parent do in light of this knowledge?

1. If you do choose to use Duolingo, contact Duolingo, and let them know your feelings on this matter. It has recently become a publicly traded company, so their board of directors may be contacted through social media.

2. If you do elect to use Duolingo (as we do), have family discussions about these representations in the platform, and use these lessons as conversation starters. Make sure you check in with your child's learning, and are aware of the ideas being presented. You might consider watching this movie as a family In His Image (it has some mature content, so be sure to preview). Discuss how you can love LGBT people - without endorsing or adopting LGBT behavior.

3.  If you wish to study a Biblical language, I'd encourage this site instead Mango Languages Biblical Greek as it is devout, reverent, and accurate. They also have Biblical Hebrew, though I have not tried that yet Mango Languages Biblical Hebrew. The monthly fee is very reasonable, and it is also free through some public library systems. Also Jonathan Frate offers excellent Hebrew Reading lessons free. He also offers additional Hebrew lessons for a fee, but I have not tried those, and cannot speak to their content.

4. Pray for those who work at Duolingo. The Bible makes very clear the danger they are currently in by seeking to have influence children in this way. "It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:2) Pray for them to come to know God and His Love.


*Duolingo Owl is a Trademark of Duolingo, used here by Fair Use for purpose of a product review.

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