Learning a new language is a tough and generally expensive process. Common methods include signing up for courses through a local school, or purchasing software such as Rosetta Stone. However, one company is aiming to change this by offering a completely free service that 'gameifies' the experience to help motivate students. Duolingo currently includes programs for learning French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese, while additional languages are currently being worked on through crowd support. In order to access the full suite of tools a student needs to log into the website, however, all of the lessons can be accessed from the free iOS app.
Having recently been updated for iOS 7, I decided to take our chances at learning a new language. After setting up an account you are presented with the first lesson, which provides a few very basic words. However, if you are already familiar with the language you can jump ahead by taking one of the tests and proving you are fluent in the basic skills.
Despite having a basic knowledge of French, I decided to go from the start for the full experience. The early tests do a great job of providing helpful notes whenever a new word or concept is introduced, but at the same time doesn't hold the students hand all the way through. The tests are a mixture of translating text from French into English and vice versa. Vocal tests are also placed throughout the lessons, but these can be disabled in the event that a student is in an environment where speaking isn't an option.
After a week of use I was able to progress through the first few stages, and must admit found myself learning a lot more than I anticipated. I went in not expecting much from a free service, but came away feeling as though I really was on the right track to improving my fluency in French. The gamification aspects certainly helped with this as well. At the end of every lesson you are awarded a score based on your performance, along with a graph that tracks your personal progress. Friends can then put their personal scores up against each other and compete to reach fluency the fastest.
While the learning style will certainly not be perfect for everyone, it is certainly worth a try. Duolingo will never hinder your progress and ask you to pay to continue, nor will you be bombarded with any ads or other distractions.