Wow, almost a year since my last blog post :O, yikes! Anyway, to ease myself back in I'm just writing up a few comments on Duolingo, which I'm sure many people are already familiar with. I think I first heard about it from a friend of mine who's really into learning languages, and I like the idea of learning a few minutes every day. The game really tries to get you to stick with it by emphasizing your running streak of total consecutive days, but it turns out it's not as daunting to keep it up as you might think because they have items called "streak freezes" that replenish pretty easily, so much so that I only really have to do a few lessons a week to still maintain my streak. I think I'm more than two thirds of the way through getting to my full year streak, and although I had a brief foray with a couple other languages, the language I've been sticking with the most by far has been Japanese.
The app does a good job of introducing kanji (the character-based, i.e. non-syllabic, Japanese writing system) gradually so that you don't get overwhelme, and I think it also provides an option to just use English letters throughout if you want. The pace of learning new vocabulary has also been pretty smooth even with my half-assed approach. For Japanese in particular the app also lets you choose between typing in all the words syllable by syllable or just selecting already-written words as your answers, and since I'm not that hardcore I use the latter approach, which makes my daily lesson go even more quickly and minimizes frustration. The presentation is clean and uncluttered, and I like that the app lets you approach it in different ways. I'm not sure if the Japanese lessons let you practice speaking, but that's not something I was interested in working on anyway. The ads are reasonably unintrusive, and I never feel like I have to shell out any actual money for it. It seems like the main motivation for spending money is to have infinite hearts (i.e. the number of mistakes you can make), but the app gives you five hearts as it is and they seem to replenish pretty quickly. You can also pay to have more opportunities to earn EXP, but that mainly seems to be so that you can increase your league rank which doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than to bragging rights.
Overall, Duolingo is an app that I've been happy to keep in my daily rotation and I don't have any plans to drop anytime soon. I definitely know more Japanese than I did before, and it has made me more motivated to continue studying Japanese (although I don't really have the time to invest in it very seriously at the moment). It's a pretty easy recommendation, and the best language-learning app I've tried so far (although my experience has been pretty limited).