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Learn a language with Duolingo: You know you’re being manipulated, but it works like a charm

I decided to improve my Swedish language proficiency through DuolingoAnd this app turned out to be a piece of manipulative food, due to the awful heap of gamification techniques in it. Gamification is the addition of game elements to services or activities that are not games in principle, in order to increase attractiveness. For example, think about competition and reward. In Dutch you can call it “spelling”.

Gamification is of course not new or reserved for digital environments. For example, in judo there is a system with different colored belts and sleds, from which you can deduce a person’s level, but it also forms a reward system. The band is something to work towards. There are also badges that Scouts are allowed to wear on their uniforms if they demonstrate a certain skill.

Duolingo is blasting at the seams with these kinds of techniques. For example, the English language app provides “experience points” and “lingots” for every exercise or test you successfully complete. Your experience points then determine your place on the leaderboard, where you stand among the other participants and whose best players are promoted to a higher “league” at the end of the week. Contest! And while I’m still not entirely sure if the other participants are real or fake, it encourages daily practice and this is essential when learning the language.

To keep up with your daily practice, there’s also Line, where the app keeps track of how many consecutive days you’ve practiced. This greatly motivates to do some exercise in the evening before bed.

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With the ‘lingots’ you earn through exercises, you can then make purchases and equip your avatar with a gold suede tracksuit or buy a ‘freeze line’, so you don’t go back to zero if you miss a day.

Finally, you’ll see progress through an overview of the chapters you’ve completed successfully (“Past Tense”, “Animals”) and through the “Achievements” you can have, such as “Sniper” if you’ve completed a number of exercises without errors.

The interesting thing is: experience points, badges and languages, scoreboard locations, nothing. They are icons. Preparation. They only exist, and only have value and meaning, within the Duolingo universe. But you still want them. And you know you are being manipulated right in front of you, but it works like a charm.

And manipulation feels good, too. I think the app helps me achieve the goal I support. Duolingo isn’t the fraudulent and manipulative in-store salesperson who wants to sell me something, but the equally manipulative personal trainer who – at my request – wants to make me fitter. And with that I want to make sure I get back to the gym often, of course.

Jasper van Kuijk on Twitter: Tweet embed

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