This free site could teach you a new language more effectively than a college class or Rosetta Stone

You could start speaking Spanish in about half the time it'd take to learn with Rosetta Stone. Best of all, Duolingo is free.

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Knowing a second language is one of those skills that can really pay off. You don't have to pay for a class or expensive language learning software to quickly get started, though. Online language learning service Duolingo offers interactive courses in several languages--for free--and a new study suggests it's a more effective way to learn than other methods.

Duolingo commissioned the study (PDF) to find out how effective the program has been working. The study was independently conducted by Roumen Vesselinov, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Queens College, City University of New York, and John Grego, Professor and Chair of the Statistics Department at the University of South Carolina. These researchers used a common university Spanish placement test to evaluate Duolingo users' knowledge of Spanish after using the site for two months. (The nearly 200 Duolingo users in the sample started with no knowledge of Spanish.)

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The study found that it takes a user 34 hours (on average) to learn the equivalent of a first semester of Spanish in college. Spread over eight weeks, that's just 4.25 hours a week. TechCrunch notes that a similar study conducted by these researchers found that it takes Rosetta Stone users between 55 and 60 hours for the same amount of material.

Also of note: Those who said they wanted to learn Spanish for travel reasons had the best progress (17.6 points gained per hour of study) versus those who were learning for personal interests of school (5.7 points per hour).

Even without this "proof" of the service's effectiveness, Duolingo is an excellent resource for learning a new language for free. Lessons are presented as games of a sort, where you earn skill points and complete learning along a "skill tree." Besides Spanish, you can learn French, German, Portuguese, or Italian (or English for Spanish-, Portuguese-, or Italian-speakers).

While learning a new language, Duoling users are also helping to translate the web (which is how the service is able to remain free and free of ads).

If you've ever wanted to learn a new language--quickly and without cost--check out Duolingo here.

Read more of Melanie Pinola's Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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