If you’ve done any searching at all for language learning apps, you’re sure to have heard of Duolingo. This app is extremely popular and well-know as a language learning tool.

It’s free (unless you want to buy extra hearts, coins, or gems for reaching new levels). But is this app that promises you can learn a new language in 15-minutes a day really worth your 15 minutes?

No matter which method you choose, it is absolutely essential to have something to help you learn your new language. Whether it’s a program or a live tutor, you need to find the resource that works for you and keeps you motivated to learn.

As part of my I-tried-it-so-you-don’t-have-to series, I am evaluating Duolingo to let you know if it is really worth your time and attention in your language learning journey! Let’s see how Duolingo stacks up!

 

Duolingo: Getting Started

 

✅  Duolingo makes language learning easy and accessible to anyone and everyone. It’s an app you can download onto your mobile device so you can practice your new language anywhere and anytime.

To simplify things, Duolingo’s lessons are divided into modules organized in an order created by the programmers to help you progress through different topics of language learning.

✅  As of 2018, Duolingo has 33 languages you can choose from (all of the most popular languages as well as some lesser-studied ones like Swahili, Esperanto, Hawaiian, and even Klingon).

This is perhaps the widest range of language learning options to choose from as even Rosetta Stone only offers 30 languages.

❌ While this may be exciting to many language learners to be able to learn multiple languages at the same time, the problem with having so many options to chose from is that there are often errors in the languages they do have.

In fact, there are entire Duolingo Forums on mistakes, errors, and confusions in each of the languages.

✅ After you choose your language, Duolingo does offer an option to test your level instead of starting from the very beginning. While their evaluating program is not the best, it is really nice not to have to begin with how to say “hello” when you are at a higher level.

Duolingo: How it Works

Once you get started on your program, you’ll have the option to set a study goal. Duolingo knows that language learners often need help staying motivated to learn and they have done a great job creating their program to encourage you to study in a game-like manner.

You can allow notifications and the little Duolingo owl will send you reminders if you forget to study (although, I’ll be honest, I always ignored those reminders myself).

✅ In addition to the daily goal, they’ve made it easy to see your progress with level bars in each module, crowns for the modules you’ve completed, and earning gems from the treasure chest each day.

It’s a really game-like way to learn a language.

Duolingo’s goal is to keep you learning constantly in the app, so you get rewarded for a “streak”.

This is the number of consecutive days you spend learning your language in the Duolingo app.

The idea being that the higher the streak, the more quickly you will learn.

Don’t be fooled though, Duolingo isn’t in this just to offer languages for free to millions of people. They have to make their money somehow to pay for the app creation and updates, as well as their employees.

❌ They do this through 2 methods. The first is through ads. An ad will pop up at the end of each lesson. If you want to remove the ads, then you have to pay.

The second method is through the shop where you can purchase power-ups and bonus skills to further enhance your learning.

Ready for France?

Duolingo: What are the Lessons Like?

Duolingo lessons are a mix of matching vocabulary, translating, writing what you hear, and repeating sentences.

✅ This app will have you learning in complete sentences from the very first lesson.

❌ Although, it always bugged me that the first word in the sentence is capitalized in the options. Because then I’m not really thinking about the translation, but just looking for the correct capitalization.

 

Duolingo’s Legendary Absurd Sentences

The more recent versions of the app are better at this, but some strange and absurd sentences still exist.

❌ Here are examples of some sentences you would probably never use in real life but have been used in Duolingo:

  • I am death
  • I was kicked out by my Italian mother because I did not eat enough pasta
  • Excuse me, have you seen my tarantula?
  • Are two half brothers one brother?
  • I hate everybody
  • Avoid meetings with Russian politicians
  • When am I a man?
  • This is a special group for persons without toes
  • The cat went out to lunch with the pig yesterday
  • When I was closing the suitcase the body was not in it.
  • The fish went out for breakfast
  • Sit on the cat not on the dog
  • A speed camera was chewed by a bear yesterday
  • What is tea? What is water? Who am I?
  • My cat never wants to shower.
  • Their elephant drinks milk

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Duolingo: Will it actually help me learn a language?

Each language is different and Duolingo definitely has its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s look at each of these and you can evaluate if it will work for the language you want to learn.

 

Vocabulary

✅ Duolingo allows you to learn new vocabulary words in isolation as well as in sentences.

This is one of the things we love most about the app. Instead of just learning new vocabulary off a list or picture dictionary, you will learn new words in context.

And while sometimes the context is really odd and strange, you are at least learning sentence structure as well.

Another thing we really like is that Duolingo shows you how to form questions. This is one challenge I saw as a language teacher.

Many of my students had difficulty forming sentences on their own.

 

✅ Duolingo is a great way to start learning how to ask questions in your new language.

 

❌ The down side to this is that you have to learn vocabulary in the order that Duolingo says you do. If you scroll through the app modules, you may find one module that you are really interested in learning or have a need to learn, however you won’t be able to learn that until you have passed all the skills preceding it.

For example, say I’m really interested in learning hotel vocabulary and sentences so I can prepare for my upcoming trip to Paris. I can’t learn that until I’ve learned how to talk about my breakfast, work, and school.

Even though I’m not really interested in breakfast or school vocabulary because I already know breakfast words and I’m not even in school.

❌ The other problem with vocabulary is that Duolingo doesn’t teach the cultural aspects of language.

In my mind language = culture so if you can’t learn culture as well, you aren’t really learning the language.

For example, French has both masculine and feminine nouns. Every single noun has a gender. So as a native English-speaker, when I learn vocabulary for living creatures, I think there should be both a masculine and a feminine form.

Je vois un homme (a man). – Il vois une femme (a woman).

C’est un chat (a male cat). – Il y a une chatte (a female cat).

Je vois un chien (a male dog). – C’est une chienne (a female dog).

However, this is NOT the case in French. While there are technically the feminine forms of cat and dog, it is very crude to use the feminine form even if your cat (or dog) is a girl. The cultural implication is not actually something you want to be talking about.

But Duolingo doesn’t teach you that.

 

Verbs

Part of learning a language is learning the verbs.

Verb, it’s what you do? Right?

If there is no action, you can’t make a sentence.

 

✅ Again, Duolingo does a great job at showing you how to use verbs in the context of a sentence. They do a great job placing the verbs in the correct location so the word order makes sense.

 

❌ However, if you want to learn a language that has a more complex use of verb conjugations than your own (or if you are just beginning to learn your second language), Duolingo is not sufficient to show you how to correctly conjugate and use a verb in a variety of sentences. You will need a separate resource to help you identify how to correctly conjugate and use verbs.

– A verb conjugation is how the verb changes depending on the subject of the sentence. In English for example, we generally only have 2 conjugations of verbs (I see, she sees).

– Chinese and Korean, as well as many other languages, do not conjugate their verbs, so this is not an issue for these languages.

Grammar

I honestly wish I had something positive to say about Duolingo’s assistance with learning grammar, but their is nothing good to say.

❌ If you are learning a very grammar specific and heavy language, Duolingo is NOT sufficient and you will need another resource. You will know if your language is “grammar heavy” if there is a very precise word order (like English, French, Spanish, etc). There are generally many pronouns, possessives, and articles (words like the/a/to) and may be many forms of each.

❌ Duolingo does use sentences to teach, and I am a proponent of using sentences to learn grammar, but grammar still needs to be explained especially if the learner is new to learning languages or the learner will become frustrated. And frustration is the enemy to motivation.

Listening Practice

✅ Duolingo does have audio in their app and it beats trying to read a textbook to learn a language. Each of their sentences, or words depending on which activity it is, will be repeated aloud so you can hear the words as you read them. 

This is an amazing way to learn and will help you learn to not only read, but learn to understand and say the words you are learning as well.

❌ Pronunciation isn’t perfect and some of the way the Duolingo robot says vocabulary words just sounds weird. The Duolingo robots can’t recreate the complexities and subtleties of pronunciation.

That being said, no software or robot technology is able to catch the subtleties of language pronunciation. You need to hear real people speaking to hear proper pronunciation.

❌ Duolingo’s sentences are generally short and limited. So while you are listening to your new language, it’s not at the capacity you really want to be hearing. 

We are huge proponents of starting with your end goal in mind, so if your end goal is to speak fluidly and smoothly, you need to be listening to fluid stories, conversation, or monologues in the language you wish to learn.

This can sometimes be overwhelming, especially at first, but it is vital to developing an ear for the language you wish to learn. Duolingo is insufficient to help you develop an ear for the language and prepare to speak fluidly.

Writing Practice

✅  Duolingo does a great job with including fun, simple writing activities to help you learn to write in your new language.

Activities are short and we especially love that they aren’t super strict about spelling and accents. As long as you get close enough, you can pass the writing portions, but you will get an underlined correction showing you how to properly spell the word.

This method is excellent for beginning language learners and is helpful in teaching writing as a skill without hyper-focusing on it. This allows learner motivation to stay high. 

❌ Just as the listening section, Duolingo isn’t great at providing opportunities for language learners to practice writing in longer form. However, this skill is only necessary for learners who wish you pass a proficiency exam or are at a higher level than beginner.

Speaking Practice

❌  Although Duolingo has the option to repeat audio for specific vocabulary or sentences, this does not qualify as speaking practice.

In order to practice speaking, you need to be able to practice using your own brain power to create sentences.

You need to think for yourself.

And you need to be able to imitate conversation – or at least a response you would give in a conversation.

❌  Duolingo is insufficient in helping you think for yourself and formulate your own sentences.

No matter how many days, months, or years you study it won't magically make you able to speak.

Don't let that be you.

Duolingo Review: Summary

**Duolingo is a helpful tool for language learners, but learners will need to provide themselves with other resources if they wish to become fully fluent.

Don’t believe me? Watch this video by a multilingual man named Rafael Leon who had a 1000-day streak on Duolingo. Which, by the way, is 2 3/4 years. He never missed a day studying for almost 3 years!

 

It’s definitely not a stand alone course for learning fluency in another language, but it is free and it helps you learn the sentence structure of your new language.

Do you use Duolingo? What do you like and what do you wish was different? 

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