Sometimes you get introduced to something techy that you weren't looking for, but you suddenly realize that it is what you need. That happened to me a little while ago. My Nerd was talking with another Nerd and they got talking about the fact that the Nerd friend was learning Italian through a web site. I've been wanting to progress beyond my very basic Italian for sometime, so this sounded right up my ally. We both signed up and I got cracking.
The site is duolingo.com and it is free! Sign up is a breeze and you can start taking lessons right away. You can learn English, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. When I started, the Italian was in Beta, but it has been upgraded now.
Your homepage looks a bit like a flow chart. Some lessons are required to be completed before you can move on to others. Sometimes you will have a couple of subjects available to learn. Lessons aren't the type of lesson where you sit down and learn this is how you do this. They start very basically with words and pictures. You are asked to enter the correct word or article. If you get it right, you go to the next question. You have 3 hearts per lesson. You lose a heart for every mistake, and if you make a mistake when you are out of hearts, you go back to the beginning of the lesson. I have spent a lot of time in some of the verb tense lessons. That is the time I'd like someone to just go over the tense rules with me so that I can get it.
Lessons get progressively difficult as they continue to build on what you've already learned. When new words are introduced, they are highlighted so you can click to find the definition. When you complete a lesson, you get 10 points for finishing, then another point per heart left. When you finish all the lessons in the subject, you get a cup and can move on to another topic. Nerd friend and I are friends on the app, so I get a notice every time he passes me in points. When he passes me, I work a little harder to gain the lead again. A little friendly competition keeps it interesting. The really cool thing is that he is in England and I am in Canada.
You can take lessons online, or you can use the iPhone app. I like both options, they both have different benefits. Lessons have a variety of questions. Some are read to you and you have to give the English translation--on the iPhone, for this option, sometimes the words are given to you and you just have to choose which ones to use and in what order. Some questions are dictation. You have to type what is said to you. I started out having to use the slow speed for this, but I can now get most of the dictation in the fast speed. For new words, you sometimes pick the article and type in the word. Some questions are multiple choice. They give you the sentence in Italian, and there are 3 different responses in English. You have to choose which one(s) are correct.
On the website, I like the feature that you can report an error. From time to time, the correct answer is not correct. Being able to report it flags it for someone to look at and fix.
I guess the real question is am I learning any Italian? And the answer is that I am. I realized it when I saw an Italian cartoon posted on a friend's web page and I was able to get the joke. It was a great feeling. I don't know that I'll be able to speak much Italian, but I will have to bug my father to speak it with me and see if I'm getting anywhere.
If you are looking to pick up a new language, or just strengthen one you already know, you should give it a try!