How Gamification Can Help You Break Language Barriers




Imagine yourself at a workshop full of Africans in different cultural attires that represent all the colors of a rainbow. Africans from Francophone countries and from other Anglophone countries.

You are supposed to work together to come up with a particular solution for your countries but because of the language barrier, you have Duo. Duo's second name is Lingo and he is the translator.

Duo is your typical Ethiopian, handsome and pleasant with hair you feel like touching by mistake and saying oops I'm sorry! As you smile and walk away thinking - mission accomplished!

He tries to be at the workshop in good time before the sessions start and he also tries to translate what is said in a way that both parties understand satisfactorily.

But Duo is only human and on the third day of the conference, he has an emergency that he has to attend to. And so the rest of you are left looking at each other wondering how the hell you will communicate effectively without Duo.

This is until Francois comes in and saves the day. Francois is from Cameroon and has this interesting hat with green, red and yellow. Colors found on his country's flag. Although he is from a French-speaking country, he also knows the English language.

So you proceed with the session of the day with Francois helping with the translation. He too struggles to translate correctly.

The previous day, you already noticed from Duo how exhausting translating can be even when it's done by a pro.

Duo translated back in English when he was supposed to translate in French and vice versa a couple of times on that day. Because of this, he was met with looks of confusion and some squashed giggles.

I hope you have seen that picture because that was my experience earlier this year when I went to Ethiopia for a workshop organized for the gamification project Enter Africa at the Goethe Institute in Addis Ababa.

Since Enter Africa is an ongoing project during and after the workshop, we still have communication issues on WhatsApp. Some people translate but most times we English speakers are left wondering what is being discussed.

All these experiences, and the fact that in the evenings after the workshop I resorted to hanging out with the English speaking people in the hotel, sparked a strong desire in me to learn French.

I really wanted to interact with my newly made Francophone friends too but the barrier in language made that an impossible task.

This flame of desire was further ignited by a conversation I had with my cousin who happens to be a game enthusiast. I asked him if he had interacted with an app that uses gamification before and if so how it had worked out for him.

A spark lit in his eye as he narrated how the language learning app Duolingo had helped him ace his French exams. How he had scored the highest in the subject. And we are talking really high because he is currently studying Civil Engineering on scholarship abroad meaning he had also passed the other subjects.

I told him that I had learned a bit of French in high school before I picked art over french classes in my second year. A couple of years ago, I had also toyed around with Duolingo before I discovered and became passionate about gamification.

As a result of my phone's storage space problems, I had since uninstalled the app. Now I had a reason to reinstall it.

But wait.

There was a better solution. As we finished our conversation, he mentioned that there's no need to download the app because one can easily access it through a browser on the phone.

With that motivation from my cousin and knowledge on how to easily access the free platform, I resumed my Duolingo journey.

The following are screenshots of my experience so far with learning french through gamification on the app and how it is influencing my learning process so far. Just a heads up for those interested in the definition of gamification I defined it in my previous article.



List of achievements I have gotten so far.




An award for maintaining a 7-day streak of practice on Duolingo


Persuasion to complete a days lesson in order to join the leaderboard. A leaderboard is where your name as a Duolingo learner is ranked against others to bring about the competitiveness found in games.


In this case, I was number 28 on the leaderboard and had accumulated a total of 100xp(experience points)



This is the most recent shot of where I am currently ranked in the leaderboard. You can only imagine how excited I am to keep on improving.


I always earn points for completing my 20min daily goal

I was crowned for reaching level 1 in the activities category of my lessons



Advanced to the Gold league


Advanced to Sapphire league



Graph that compares previous performance with the current performance.


As I tracked my progress on the graph I was challenged to level up and 40 points later, I was close to the previous days level on the graph.

As Trevor Noah rightly put it in his book born a crime , language unites people even beyond race. So why not take the opportunity to learn it in a fun and efficient way for free.

It is important to note that Swahili is one of the languages you can also learn on Duolingo. I look forward to improving on my mother tongue through a similar solution one day. What about you?

I would like to you to join me in reimaginiing yourself fluent in the language you've always wanted to learn. Getting back to reality, open a new tab on the device you are using to read this and check Duolingo out. You will soon become your own personal translator.

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