Duolingo Adds the Missing Link
There is a very big gap between studying a language and using it. This gap comes when you want to get away from canned phrases, strict scripts and trying too hard to keep perfect grammar without making mistakes. But this is tricky.
You probably know what I mean. You study your language books (or audio or program or app or whatever) and then you get faced with the language in real life, and your brain freezes. You're exposed to the language out of your usual learning context. Real life isn't following the dialog you learned or exact vocabulary you studied. You have to think on your feet and you feel like you're not ready.
An awesome technique to use when you get to this point is chat bots. You can chat within a limited context with a non-human so you don't really feel nervous or pressured to be perfect. You have to use the language creatively, productively, and spontaneously. But finding a chatbot has been difficult. I don't want to chat with a bot at an insurance company just because that's the only one I can find. You need one in the language you want and in a context you're willing to use. That has been a real trick. Until now.
Duolingo has started to add chatbots to its list of features. They have them for Spanish, French and German, with different personalities and the ability to adapt to you. This is huge.
This is the missing link in the learning chain between studying and using a language. I have a list of techniques I use to go from complete beginner to using the language productively and the chatbot begins to fill the biggest and most important gap in that chain.
So far, it is only available for the iPhone app, and only text, but Duolingo will add a voice chat ability in the future. My hope is that they will continue to add chatbots for all their languages. If Duolingo develops this further, it will be revolutionary for language learners. More on this soon.