Learn a Language Through Games

duolingoRED Hearts are guest posts on I Heart Daily from the authors of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today. Today, Lisa Chau, 26, in Chicago, tells us how playing a game is helping her to learn Spanish: 

Who are we kidding? If you had asked me if I could speak Spanish a few months ago, I would have straight up said no (albeit maybe with a ridiculous attempt at an accent, no). I’d taken two semesters of Spanish in the 7th grade, so the extent of my skills ranged from hellos and goodbyes to asking for permission to go to the bathroom. Other than that, I would have been completely hopeless if I ever found myself deserted on the streets of Tijuana.

Good thing I found this awesome mobile app called Duolingo, which uses gaming mechanisms to help you learn a new language. If their claim is correct that 34 hours spent on Duolingo equals an entire semester of language in college, then I’m a quarter semester in now. How scholarly of me! The app also offers English speakers lessons in French, Italian, German, Portuguese -- even Dutch, Danish and the old Irish “of your ancestors.”

Duolingo is fun enough and reward-motivated enough to feel like you're playing a game. Except here you're actually being productive. (Seriously, crushing candies has gotten me nowhere in life.) In order to unlock the next level of lessons, you need to earn a certain number of hearts. In order to score a full set of hearts, you have to answer all the questions correctly. Pure addiction.

The app give you in-lesson grading so you can go over your mistakes right away. It also uses type and audio to help you exercise both writing and speaking skills on a daily basis. Over time, the score bars for earlier lessons weaken -- your earned hearts begin to disappear, encouraging you to go back and re-earn them. This push to review past material keeps the learning fresh in your mind.

My favorite time to play Duolingo is during my commute. Not only does it keep me occupied on the train (eight-plus hours of entertainment and knowledge to date!) but it also usually ensures me a spacious corner to myself. Nobody wants anything to do with the crazy girl muttering to herself in any language. I'm not fluent yet, but at least I can ask, "Why are you going to the bathroom here?" if I ever have to. Let's hope that never happens.

RED Hearts guest poster Lisa Chau is an author of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today, which is out in paperback.