As one of the most popular language-learning apps, Duolingo has garnered a substantial following. But how effective is it, really? Join me as we delve into the inner workings of Duolingo, examining its features, accessibility, and learning experience across platforms. Gain a clearer understanding of what this language-learning tool has to offer and whether it’s the right fit for your linguistic journey.
Duolingo is a popular and widely-used language learning platform designed to make learning a new language accessible and engaging for users of all ages and backgrounds. Launched in 2011, the platform offers a variety of language courses, including commonly spoken languages like Spanish, French, and German, as well as lesser-known languages such as Zulu, Scottish Gaelic and Esperanto and even constructed languages such as Klingon (Star Trek) and High Valrian (Game of Thrones). For English speakers, there are 39 languages (including constructed languages) plus Xhosa which is currently in development.
Duolingo employs a gamified approach to language learning, incorporating features like experience points, streaks, and leaderboards to motivate users to practice daily. The platform combines various learning tools, including lessons, and practice exercises. Duolingo is available on both desktop and mobile devices and offers a free version with optional premium features through two subscription plans called Super Duolingo and Duolingo Max.
Now the last time I tried Duolingo was back in 2017 when I started learning French and I used it and completed the French tree. However, a lot has changed, been removed, new things added and most recently in August 2022, Duolingo completely overhauled its design to a more linear change. So far, I’ve found the app much more pleasant to use, the UI is pleasant on the eyes, and the French course’s audio has improved since last time.
Duolingo also seems to have the habit of removing features without warning; whilst I’m not sorry to see some of the features go (i.e. conversation bots). But when features that many people find useful like downloading lessons offline, community answers are removed and old trophies then I can understand that some users get a bit frustrated about the lack of transparency and communication about changes from the company.
As I mentioned above, there is a huge range of languages to huge from. Each course differs in length, the two biggest being Spanish and French for English speakers. Some of the more minor languages only have a fraction of the number of lessons. Here are the courses available for English speakers:
“Asian” languages: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Hindi.
Bantu languages: Swahili, Xhosa (in development) and Zulu.
Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh.
Constructed languages: Esperanto, High Valyrian and Klingon.
“Dead” languages: Latin.
Germanic languages: Danish, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Swedish and Yiddish.
Romance languages: French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese and Spanish.
Slavic languages: Czech, Polish, Ukrainian and Russian.
Uralic languages: Hungarian and Finnish.
Other languages: Hawaiian, Navajo, Arabic, Turkish, Greek and Hebrew.
Gamification and Learning Incentives
Duolingo’s gamification is what in part has made it so popular. By incorporating engaging features like XP points, badges, and rewards (gems), the platform creates an enjoyable learning experience that maintains user interest and encourages consistent practice. The app cleverly utilises streaks and leaderboards to foster a sense of friendly competition, while virtual currency and badges incentivise users to reach their language goals. Duolingo’s interactive lessons are concise and well-structured, ensuring users remain engaged without feeling too overwhelmed. This gamified approach has made language learning more accessible and appealing to the broader language-learning audience.
My favourite aspect of Duolingo is its competitive nature. As someone who thrives on competition, the platform’s ability to pit users against each other while learning effectively maintains my motivation. However, as a free user, it can be challenging to keep up with premium users who have access to unlimited hearts.
Duolingo also emphasizes the importance of regular practice by:
- Streaks: Tracking the number of consecutive days users practice, thus encouraging consistency and commitment to learning.
- Leaderboards and Leagues: Grouping users into leagues based on their weekly XP to foster friendly competition and motivation for regular practice (this aspect appeals to me the most as a competitive person).
- Daily Notifications: Sending reminders (provided the user enables notifications) to complete daily goals, promoting consistent engagement with the platform.
Reading, Writing and Listening
This is the bread and butter of Duolingo, you will spend the majority of your time either reading, listening and then translating. Since Duolingo’s learning approach is primarily translation-based. This might involve you filling in a blank, completing a dialogue, or showing that you understand a text by giving the correct response. Some of these are harder than others. Over a period of time, it does get repetitive, but again, Duolingo isn’t something you should be spending your whole day on, more like short moments of free time.
Duolingo does allow the user to practice their speaking but in my opinion, it has some limitations when it comes to improving speaking skills: Firstly, you get very limited speaking practice with Duolingo’s speaking exercises that mostly involve repeating phrases or sentences. This doesn’t provide enough opportunities to practice spontaneous conversation or develop the ability to respond to unpredictable situations.
Secondly, there isn’t any real-time feedback: Duolingo relies on automated speech recognition for its speaking exercises, which doesn’t provide the same level of feedback as interacting with a native speaker or a language teacher. This means you may not receive immediate correction on pronunciation or intonation errors. I tried doing the speaking exercises with an awful accent, mispronouncing words, and even not saying some words and it still passed me.
Duolingo utilises a combination of teaching methods to help users develop their vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening, and writing skills but still your traditional course-based type of app. The platform offers a series of skill-based lessons, often starting with basic vocabulary and gradually progressing to more complex grammar structures. The lessons are interactive, with users completing exercises that involve translation, matching words with their meanings, speaking and listening to audio recordings. This diverse approach helps maintain user engagement and caters to different learning styles.
Overall, I’ve found a lot of the exercises unchanged, some removed and some new ones. Check out the images below to see the different types of exercises Duolingo likes to throw at you.
The above images, show some typical lessons you can expect to see, from left to right, a complete the sentence exercise, with only two options, a story exercise, where you listen to a conversation and occasionally answer questions, a fill-in-the-blank type exercise and lastly a speaking exercise.
From left to right, a listening exercise where you have to select the correct word between two words that typically sound alike. Following that, a straightforward ‘translate this sentence’ task, then, another listening exercise where you simply have to type the sentence you hear. And finally, a select the correct image exercise, which is pretty straightforward.
Effectiveness and Results
Duolingo is an effective language learning platform that has garnered widespread acclaim for its gamified approach and accessibility. Its engaging interface and comprehensive range of languages make it an appealing option for users with beginner/intermediate knowledge of their target language. While Duolingo may not necessarily replace traditional language courses that have more depth or native language immersion. The gamified approach with leagues and competition with other users motivates many people to continue learning (I’m one of them). I’ve also found it incredibly useful for brushing up on my conjugations.
The effectiveness of Duolingo depends on your commitment and consistency in using the app, as well as using supplementary resources for a more holistic language learning experience. Overall, Duolingo serves as a valuable tool in the language learning arsenal, fostering motivation and progress for many users. Many people, myself included had negative views of Duolingo, but after coming back to it after this review I can see the purpose it serves. When I want to study or be immersed in French, then using Duolingo would obviously be an inefficient use of my time, however, Duolingo isn’t out to replace conventional learning approaches or courses, Duolingo’s aim seems to be competing for your attention during deadtime e.g. when you’re sitting on the couch scrolling away on your phone or on the bus commuting to work. So, if we look at Duolingo for what it ultimately is, then I think it’s a great way to kill some time and brush up on vocab, and conjugations, that would be otherwise lost to endless scrolling on social media.
Over the past, Duolingo has attracted some criticism for its really bizarre sentence choice, apparently, this is by design in order to facilitate learning and help you to remember. They wrote an interesting blog post about it .