Real World Analogues & Language Learning Apps

By Jamie McSloy / April 8, 2018
dopamine language learning apps featured image

Real World Analogues, DuoLingo And Your Rate Of Learning

I mentioned real world analogues before, and I’ve talked about language learning a few times.

For those who aren’t regular readers and don’t have all day to read the above articles:

Real World Analogues: Instead of getting addicted to the digital world and instant stimulation of your dopamine reward circuit, take pleasure from learning real world stuff and not being a zombie.

Language Learning: Straightforward if you know how brains work, and if you don’t, then you’re out of luck because nobody can come to a consensus.

(Don’t even talk to me about the average “language hacker” who apparently knows fifty languages and can say three sentences badly in all of them. Get out of here with that talk.)

Now, some people would take my real world analogue stuff and say, “Rather than play video games, I’ll learn a language.”

That’s fantastic and obviously a better use of your time. But then people take the next seemingly logical step and say, “I know – I’ll use DuoLingo because that’s a computer game for learning a language!”

(Time Out: If you’re enjoying this article, then you should probably sign up to my mailing list, where I give out ideas and business tricks that I don’t share publicly. Click here, fill out your details and get yourself on the list! You won’t leave this page.

Now Back To The Regular Programming Schedule…)

Let’s find out why that’s a bad idea in this article.

Instant Gratification Is Your Enemy

Part of the reason the world is filled with unhealthy, depressed people is because marketers and tech gurus have basically mastered the art of getting everyone addicted to a constant stream of dopamine.

We’re all guilty of this at times. We check our notifications and I can’t be trusted near fast food places because I like the fact I can have a cheeseburger in two minutes without doing anything to get it.

But be under no illusion: instant gratification is largely unnatural and you want to avoid it.

In terms of Duolingo and other apps – they give you instant gratification. “I learned a new word!” but they’re not very good.

You get the hit of feeling like you’re learning a language, but you’re not. You won’t be able to hold good conversations in a language after six months of doing DuoLingo unless you’re supplementing it with something else.

Something that works where Duolingo doesn’t.

Let’s move on…

Learning Apps Aren’t Effective Because Learning Isn’t Quite So Algorithmic

I’ve tried Duolingo numerous times. I’ve tried Memrise and Anki as well.

Anki is better than the other two, though I don’t recommend it because it’s a pain to set up and a dated program.

But it’s better than the two above because you can set the rate of learning.

With DuoLingo, it’s slow. It assumes you can master about twenty words a day or something really low, but it makes that take fifteen minutes.

Pimsleur’s language program is guilty of this. It uses spaced-repetition as a method for teaching you. This absolutely works. But then it wraps that up and a twenty-five minute session (your daily learning period) gives you about five or ten sentences per day.

Now… even the most basic and boring of rote learning systems is more effective than this providing you aren’t hampered by some major learning difficulty.

If I told you to remember ten random items and told you that you had twenty minutes to memorise them, you’d be able to do that.

If you’re above average in terms of intelligence and you’re not a wimp about using your brain, then your capacity is much higher than Duolingo is going to give you.

“Jamie… if DuoLingo is so bad, why do people use it?”

They use it because of the dopamine hit. It feels good and it’s a more interesting activity than reading stuffy grammar books and memorising those first 1000 words or so that you need before you can do more dynamic learning.

Apps Don’t Invalidate Brain Science

I’ve written before about intelligence and how it can be increased.

Once I made the mistake of pointing this out on a forum, where some guy who thought he was a lot smarter than he was pointed to a study which said brain training programs don’t work.

Then a bunch of idiots piled onto me and said that because Dual-N-Back training didn’t permanently affect IQ, intelligence was fixed.

Like I said, they’re idiots.

If you think that an app where you pick random squares and recall which order they come in is going to make you drastically smarter, then you are being naïve. Of course that’s not going to work – for the reasons I’ve stated above.

But that doesn’t invalidate the fact that you can learn stuff.

Duolingo is similar: It’s not very good for actual language learning. As a vocab tool it’s ok but so slow it’s unusable.

The fact that Duolingo isn’t very good doesn’t change the fact that the system behind it – spaced repetition – is legitimate.

Final Thoughts

For language learning, put in the hard work.

For improving brain function, put in the hard work and live a better lifestyle.

A better lifestyle includes being more healthy and it also includes avoiding a bad lifestyle. In this case, we’re talking about reducing your exposure to instant gratification provided by gaming apps masquerading as learning devices.