I'll be going over the good things first about this app, and then will be giving the weaknesses I found in the app. But let's start with the good.
The Test Out Option
Not many apps give you the option to test out of a section of the course. This is a great option for people like myself who have been studying Japanese already and don't want to be bored with what they already know. Even at the very beginning of the Duolingo app, after you pick Japanese as your learning language, they give you the option to take a placement test. The placement test is available for those who already know a bit of Japanese. This option is probably what saved this app for me because with other apps I would get bored very easily.
The Different Ways of Learning
Many other apps only have one way of learning the language such as virtual flashcards with a multiple choice answer, and you just keep doing that throughout the whole course. That's boring and doesn't help you at all. You need a diverse way of learning a language, and Duolingo does give you that.
Like all other apps, they do have the flashcard method, but it's definitely not the main focus of the lesson. To teach vocabulary they use three different methods of flashcard. They use the simple kanji to English word, English word to Japanese word and a match the Japanese to English word choice. These are very simple exercises mixed into the lesson just to get you used to the vocabulary of the lesson.
This is the best part of the program. For those whose weak part of the language is forming sentence then this is a great app to practice sentences. They have it two ways, giving you a Japanese sentence and you have to type the answer in English (this part really opens your mind to how well your English really is) or they give you a sentence in English and using a word bank you put the Japanese words in grammatical order. So if you are not too familiar with forming sentences definitely pay attention to these parts as you'll start to memorize the patterns.
I will say that when using Duolingo's Japanese program as a beginner, you should already have hiragana and katakana to make things a bit easier. You can count this as a weakness in the app if you'd like but I find that it doesn't do well in teaching the alphabet. I personally believe in earning hiragana and katakana the traditional way of just memorization by repetition of writing it down on paper until you got it.
Good Job Messages
This is something little that I'm acknowledging but it's always nice to be praised for your hard work. Duo the Duolingo mascot makes sure to let you know you're doing well. He will poke his head into your lesson to praise how well you're doing. He'll leave you messages in both English and Japanese which is also a nice touch.
Tap to Look it Up
Language apps either throw you in blind when learning vocabulary or they drill you until you can memorize it but neither of these help when actually trying to learn. Duolingo kind of does this thing where they throw you into words you may not know or haven't gone over with you yet but you have an option to help you on your learning journey. If you see a word in Japanese you don't recognize or just forgot the meaning you can always tap over the word and they'll give you the meaning. Now, obviously don't rely on this function all the time or you'll never learn anything. Use it only when necessary.
This is neat to see. On your progression screen you'll start to see your older lessons' bar start to decrease or weaken. This is for you to keep practicing words or sentences you had trouble with in the past. The concept of back tracking your lessons are important because you don't want to just go over something and just say "Ok, I know it now." You want to be able to retain the information you are learning and keep on using that information so you won't ever forget it.
And now for the weaknesses. I don't have many at all. Only two to be exact, and it's actually only one because I don't really mind this first weakness.
So when you do encounter the sentence structure questions, especially the ones where you have to type the English, it may get frustrating. I'm assuming the app has a number of calculated responses programmed into the program that will give you correct answers. But you may just slip through that calculated number and actually type in something they may count as a wrong answer. Now, wrong answers are not that big of a deal to me as that is one of the many ways I learn. But some people may get their feelings hurt when they realize they counted their answer wrong just because of one word they added into their sentence translation. It's really not that big of a deal in my opinion, but I know it's something many people are griping about.
No Speaking Practice
Like a lot of other apps, there is no opportunity to learn how to speak Japanese. That's my problem with apps in general. Not many of these learning apps give learners the opportunity to practice speaking. Now I only tried Duolingo for a week and have not completed the app completely, but from what I've experienced so far there is no sign of a speaking aspect being in the app. Now, Duolingo apparently has this function in their Spanish program so maybe they will add this function to their Japanese program later on but we can only hope.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that it has helped you in some sort of way. I definitely think this app is worth trying out and pursuing. Many of my friends have been talking about this app, wanting me to try it out. I really wanted to hate it actually but I can't. There's way too many good things about it and not enough bad. I'll be continuing my daily study on this app along with my usual old-time flashcard study. You should never use only one method of studying! Always mix it up when you're trying to study a language.