Perhaps one of the best features of Duolingo is locked away in the Labs section of the site. Once you’ve finished the main Duolingo courses you’re left in a bit of a void. You can understand a bit of the language, especially when you read. But your knowledge isn’t complete enough that you could say reading was easy. In an ideal world you’d be able to find reading material that is suitable for adults (i.e. not dull as dishwater) and has an audio version that you can play to get the pronunciation set in your mind that isn’t in a stupid children’s character voice. For me, reading has always been the next logical step for improving and increasing vocabulary after a Duolingo course.
This is where Duolingo stories comes in and its implementation is nothing short of genius. To disappoint a lot of you from the start – it’s only available in Spanish and Portuguese (hopefully they’ll expand this out). Duolingo stories consists of a number of short stories. These stories present themselves line by line and are read out by voices for the narrator and various characters. For this reason they tend to be heavily conversation based. After each line is spoken you can use the familiar Duolingo method of hovering over words you don’t understand to get a pop-up explanation. This means you can leave the dictionary on the bookshelf and save a huge amount of time, but still understand virtually everything.
From time to time you’ll be quizzed on what just happened. This is generally in the form of an exercise that will ask you which option says the previous thing in a different way, or which word means the same as a particular explanation. These are generally very simple but it ensures that you stay engaged and don’t cheat yourself into thinking you understand! Because the story has “follow along” style audio, sometimes this question also asks you to fill in the blanks based on what you just heard. At the end of the story there’s always a section that asks you to pick the option that summarises the story and then a word exercise where you match the foreign and English words.
While it would be wrong to claim that every story is interesting, or indeed that any story at this level of understanding is particularly gripping, it’s certainly the most fun way to advance after finishing your language learning tree. I’d even go so far as to say that, if you’re like me and enjoy reading more than the main Duolingo “game”, then you could start it before finishing the tree.
The only problems with Duolingo Stories, as far as I can see, is the previously mentioned fact that it is for a very very limited set of language pairs and that there are a limited number of stories. However, Duolingo are currently running a competition for story submissions so it’s to be expected that a new batch of additional stories will be available in the not too distant future.
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