Play to Learn


I especially like the second part of our event theme: Learn to play, play to learn.

Play to learn is something I have started doing years ago already when I got interested in languages. I come from a place where languages are everything but sexy and learning them… well… everything but fun. Wild guess? I’m French. Fortunately enough not everyone from France is perfectly English-proof and some of us even speak German or Spanish…

Today, learning doesn’t have to be a punishment anymore. I do it every day, and I like to call it a hobby. I want to talk about digital: I like all things digital and how the world is changing around it, and I love how easy it is to learn playfully thanks to, say, a phone.

Do you know Duolingo? Duolingo is an app featuring a green owl (worth mentioning) and helping you learn languages. Millions of people around the globe use it to learn English and belong to the international community – others like me just want to get a taste of Norwegian, Hungarian or even Irish. As of today, no less than 62 courses are available (and counting).


Memrise is another great app to learn languages, but also… basically anything you’d like to learn, from flags to the US Presidents. You can also build your own course featuring your boyfriend’s favorite dishes if this is something you have some trouble remembering.

So what did technology change in the way we learn, in this case, languages? First of all, obviously, learning went mobile: you are not bound to a specific location anymore to improve your skills. But to me this is not the main part.

Learning was made fun.

Hello, short-term goals and rewards.

A good way to eradicate demotivation and boredom when learning is to stop make high achieving the only way to success. The real deal here is to be consistent and learn every day, not to be the best or the fastest.

Even if the learning process is in all points different between the two (theme-based in Memrise and following a learning tree in Duolingo), both have included a very effective gamification. In Memrise, you earn points every time you study – the points are merely useless, but first, they’re points, and second, you get a cool title every certain amount of points gathered. At the time being, I’m a “Memonist”.

In Duolingo, the way to go is to set a daily goal. For every lesson learned or reviewed you get a certain amount of points to reach it. The more regular you are, the longer your learning streak will be. How cool is it to see that you’ve been making progress every day for the past 546?

Creating your own courses, translating material or simply being active in the community are as many other ways to make your learning journey a walk in the park on a sunny day.

I have spent many hours (days ? weeks?) on these apps which is why I wanted to focus on them, but a couple more are worth mentioning as well like 94 degrees and QuizClash for general knowledge or Yousician to learn an instrument. Thousands of others are out there to fit the learning experience you are seeking: as far as I’m concerned I should get back to learning how to say “I am an apple” in Norwegian.

Let us know what your favorite learning apps are! I’d hate to miss out on something great.

Text written by Emilie Calmettes, a TEDxOtaniemi volunteer