Duolingo is one of the most well-known language learning apps on the market today. With its extensive free content and eye-catching platform, it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy using this program.
The driving force behind Duolingo is gamification, which makes it very fun to use. The lessons are short and engaging, making it possible to practice your target language in as little as five minutes a day.
Although this program is super popular, it has also gotten a bit of negative attention for not being as comprehensive as other programs. The lack of in-depth grammar lessons leaves some learners feeling a bit lost when it comes to more advanced subjects.
So, is it a good program or not? Let’s take an in-depth look and find out! Before we get into the nitty gritty details, here is a quick review of the highlights:
$7.99/ Per Month
$6.99/ Per Month
The main body of the program is free, but you do have the option to purchase a Duolingo Plus membership that includes a few extras.
English (available in 22 languages)
They also offer Klingon and High Valyrian, if you’re looking for something a little more whimsical.
Initial Thoughts Of Duolingo
For the sake of transparency, I should say that I have been using Duolingo off and on for a number of years, so these initial thoughts are what I remember from when I first started using this program combined with what I think of the newest version.
This was one of the first programs I ever tried when I began my foray into language learning apps. It was by far the most popular at the time and it was free, so I had no reason not to try it. As a total beginner, I found the platform inviting and easy to navigate.
Each course is laid out in a logical way and it is easy to see where you left off and what you should do next. All the features of the app are laid out clearly on the home screen, so you never have to fumble around trying to find what you need.
One of the best things about these language courses is that they start from the very beginning. This may be a bit frustrating for new users who have a basic knowledge of their target language, but it is quite inviting for those starting from scratch.
Some language programs say they are for beginners, but still assume that the learner has a rudimentary knowledge of the language. This can cause frustration and disappointment. With this program, you will never experience that in the early lessons. Their Intro Level 1 lessons are truly for beginners.
Another good element of this program is how short the lessons are. You can squeeze in a lesson in as little as five minutes, making it perfect for language learners who are constantly on the go.
They also offer a wide range of language courses and you can try as many as you want. While many paid programs limit you to one language, this program is mostly free and allows you to practice multiple languages at once. What's not to love?
Overall, I think the most appealing thing about this program is just how easygoing it feels. It gives the impression that language learning is fun and that anyone can do it, which is an idea that I strongly support!
Getting Started With Duolingo
Starting an account is quite simple. This program is available online as well as on iOS and Android. I have not used the iOS version, but I have used the website and the Android app. Personally, I prefer to study on my phone, but both platforms are equally well laid out and functional.
All you have to do to create an account is to answer a few simple questions, including what language you would like to learn and why you’re interested in learning a new language. You’ll then be asked how much time you would like to dedicate to learning. You can choose between 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes per day.
You can then signup using your Facebook or Google account, or you can create a profile unique to Duolingo. For the purposes of this review, I decided to create a new account and try out a language I have never tried before: Hebrew.
From this point, you will be asked if you’re a beginner or if you already know some of your chosen language. I am brand new to Hebrew, so I took the beginner option. I did take the placement test for Spanish just to see how it would go, but I didn't find it to be particularly accurate. The test was too simple and didn't unlock enough content.
If you choose not to use a pre-existing online account you’ll be taken directly to your first lesson. This gives you a chance to try out the format before creating an account. Once you’ve gone through the lesson, you simply have to give them your age, name, email address, and a password. You’re now ready to start learning!
Duolingo Lesson Structure
The lessons are not actually lessons as much as they are little bundles of practice exercises. They offer a variety of exercises that become more difficult as you progress to more difficult levels.
For the Hebrew course, the first few lessons are all about learning the Hebrew alphabet and how it is written. For the Germanic and Romance languages, the early lessons are more about learning simple words like mom, dad, boy, and girl.
I appreciate that Duolingo started their Hebrew course with an overview of the alphabet and writing style. The lessons themselves were confusing at first, but the Tips section contained a great overview of the alphabet as well as some further information about how to learn Hebrew.
I highly recommend reviewing the Tips provided with each block of lessons because you can find a lot of helpful information there. I’ll have more about that in a later section.
Duolingo Practice Exercises
In the beginning, most of the exercises are simple multiple-choice questions where you match the word you’re given to a picture or translation.
They also offer sentence building exercises fairly early on, which I think is important. During these exercises, you’ll be given a sentence to translate along with all the words you need. You simply have to place the words in the right order.
Not only will this help you to become more familiar with each individual word, but it will also help you to build a better understanding of the language's structure.
As you progress into more challenging levels you will find translation, dictation, and speaking exercises. In the more advanced translation exercises, you’ll be asked to type out the translations instead of being given the words.
The dictation exercises are some of my favorites because they will improve your listening and spelling skills. The speaking exercises rely on somewhat glitchy speech recognition software, so they’re not great, but it never hurts to practice speaking, so these exercises are helpful as well.
There are also multiple-choice ‘fill in the blank’ exercises in the early lessons. These will be replaced in the later lessons with regular ‘fill in the blanks’ where you have to write the word yourself.
Once you get used to the format, you can zoom through the lessons rather quickly. If you answer a question correctly you will be rewarded with a happy chime. If you answer incorrectly, that question will be moved to the end of the lesson and you’ll have to keep trying until you answer correctly.
Dispersed throughout the exercises you will find cheerful and encouraging messages from Duo the green owl. He is a cute little mascot that you’ll never tire of seeing.
Completing lessons earns you crowns and lingots. The crowns represent the number of levels that you’ve completed and the lingots are the currency used in the Duolingo store. These elements just add to the game-like feel of the program.
Navigating The Platform
The body of the app is split into five main sections: Learn, Stories, Profile, Leaderboards, and Store.
Learn is the main screen where you will find your core lessons. These are divided into different subjects such as Greetings, Shopping, and Family. The subjects are divided into sections, with each section containing 25 to 30 subjects.
You can look over all of the subjects on the Learn screen, but you can only open the lessons that you have unlocked.
Each subject has five levels, each of which contains four to six lessons. You have to complete Level 1 of each subject before you can move on to the next one.
You can complete Level 1 in each subject and then go back and repeat the process for Level 2 and so on if you so desire. Or you can complete all five levels of each subject before moving on to the next subject. I have tried both methods and I found it more helpful to complete each subject, one at a time.
Like any good lesson plan, the later lessons build on the earlier ones. Finishing each subject in its entirety made future lessons easier to understand and retain.
To start a lesson, you have to select a subject icon. When you select an icon, you will find two tabs: Tips and Start. Each subject has a ‘Tips’ page which contains short grammar and vocabulary lessons. Although they may not be the most in-depth lessons, they are still quite helpful.
You can go through the entire program without ever reading any of these mini-lessons, but as I said earlier, I highly recommend that you do read them. A tiny bit of explanation can go a long way when it comes to better understanding the rules of grammar. There is only one Tips page per subject, so there aren’t enough to truly inconvenience you.
The Stories section is exactly what it sounds like! It contains short interactive stories in your target language. The stories are well-paced and entertaining if a bit too short in my opinion. Throughout each story, you’ll be asked questions to test your comprehension and be given the chance to complete sentences.
Like the lessons, the stories increase in difficulty as you progress and you have to go through them in order to unlock the more advanced stories.
To be honest, this is one of my favorite features of the app and I was sad to see that not all the languages have the feature. Hopefully, they will be adding it to all of their courses in the future.
Your profile is where you will find all of your statistics and Achievements. You can change your profile picture, add friends, and see who in the Duolingo community is following your progress.
The Achievements are another gamification element that I don’t pay much attention to, but some may find them motivating. There are achievements for things like learning a certain number of words, completing lessons on the weekend, and reaching a 365-day streak.
There are different levels to the achievements, so even if you’ve been using the app for a while there is always another achievement to aim for.
The Leaderboard shows your progress compared to other users based on your Experience Points. You earn XP for completing lessons and giving multiple correct answers in a row. The XP accumulates over the week and you get to be on the Leaderboard.
There are ten levels of leaderboards, starting from Bronze and going up to Diamond. To advance from one level to the next, you have to be in the top ten of your current leaderboard. If you fall below the top 40 you will be demoted to the previous level.
As you can see, this doesn’t have much to do with learning, but it can be very motivating for the more competitive users.
The Store is where you can spend all those lingots that you earn from your lessons. I think this is a fun idea, but in reality, it is a bit disappointing.
The store contains very few items, such as a couple of extra lessons for certain courses and extra outfits for Duo. You can also bet on yourself to maintain a 7-day streak or purchase a Streak Freeze to protect your streak if you miss a day.
It will not take long for you to earn more lingots than you’ll ever use, making them a somewhat meaningless feature for those who have used the app for any amount of time.
If you use the online platform, you’ll find that there is a sixth tab on the main screen and that is ‘More”. Under 'More' you will find Events, Podcast, Dictionary, and Words.
Events is an event calendar for the Duolingo community. Because Duolingo has so many users, some users have taken to hosting public events where language learners can meet up and practice their speaking skills.
Currently, they’re only having online events, but it’s still a great way to connect with other language learners and get some quality practice.
Podcast will lead you to a page about Duolingo’s language podcasts. They only have podcasts in French and Spanish for English speakers and English for Spanish speakers at this time. You can access these podcasts through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.
Each podcast contains interesting cultural stories presented in beginner or intermediate language levels, allowing you to practice your listening skills while learning about a new culture. Hopefully, this is a section that will be expanding soon.
Dictionary is what you would expect. It is a handy online dictionary where you can type in whatever word you're looking for and find translations, examples, and conjugations.
Words contains a word list of everything that you’ve learned so far as well as the strength of your knowledge. If you just practiced a word it will show that your knowledge is strong, but if it’s time to review, it will show that word as weak. Some users may find this feature interesting, but I never use it.
I’m not sure why these features are not available on the app. Since they’re only available online, I almost never use them.
Another fun feature that Duolingo offers is its wide community of language learners. If you use the online platform you can access the general forums through the 'Discuss' tab on the home screen. Here you will find posts and discussions from users around the world.
If you only use the app, you can access a limited community feature through the practice exercises. Every question that you answer, whether right or wrong, will have a ‘comment’ option where you can access community comments and explanations about that specific question.
This may sound a little odd, but it’s actually pretty helpful. Some of the users are very detailed in their comments and I have found some extremely useful tips and information here. You can also report questions that you think contain errors.
Duolingo Plus offers a few extra features that some users may like, but it's hardly anything worth paying for. With a subscription, you can download lessons to practice offline and take progress tests. Plus is also ad-free, although the ads on this app are so minimal they're hardly worth noticing. You'll also receive a free monthly streak repair, so your streak will continue, even if you miss a day of practice.
Honestly, the only valid reason to purchase a subscription is simply to support the program. They're trying to provide language learning options to those who can't afford to pay which is a pretty good cause if you ask me.
Drawbacks To Duolingo
We all know that no program is perfect, so there are always drawbacks. Thankfully, there aren’t too many to list for this program.
The main problem for most people is that Duolingo lacks in-depth grammar lessons. Although they have made improvements over the last few years, there is still a lot to be desired.
That being said, many users find the lack of grammar lessons nice, so it may be a matter of preference. The lack of instruction does make it nearly impossible to become fluent using this program exclusively, so it is probably best to plan on supplementing your learning once you reach an intermediate level.
Less Popular Language Means Less Content
The other issue with this program is the large disparity between some of the courses. The more popular courses, such as Spanish and French, have all kinds of features and more advanced content where the less popular languages are not nearly as expansive.
The Asian language courses are particularly lacking. So much so that I would not recommend Duolingo to anyone who is trying to learn an Asian language.
Last, but not least, the glitchy voice recognition software and the lack of speaking practice. If you’ve done any research into online language learning, then you’re probably familiar with the troubles of voice recognition software. The technology just isn’t advanced enough to make it a viable way to judge your pronunciation skills.
Since the only speaking practice you get from this program is via voice recognition, it doesn’t really count as speaking practice at all. For proper speaking practice, you have to speak to an actual person, like a native speaker or tutor.
If Duolingo isn’t quite what you’re looking for or if you would like to develop a more comprehensive study plan, why not check out these excellent alternatives:
Pimsleur is an in-depth language program that offers 30-minute audio lessons that will get you speaking your target language in no time. These lessons focus on conversational skills, so you’ll be learning words and phrases that you can use from the very first lesson.
If you learn better with a live teacher, then you should try italki. italki offers a massive database of online language tutors, both professional and community tutors. These tutors are from all over the world, so you’ll get the chance to practice your target language and learn about a new culture at the same time.
Baselang is the perfect choice for those who are trying to learn Spanish. Although it is a little expensive, Baselang is by far the most comprehensive online Spanish course that you can imagine. They offer unlimited live lessons, extensive reading lessons, and practice exercises.
If you’re trying to learn one of the Asian languages, then you should check out Lingodeer. Lingodeer offers a format very similar to Duolingo, but it was specifically developed to teach Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, meaning that the courses for these languages are much better than those you would find on Duolingo.
Duolingo: Final Thoughts
Overall, I have to say that I like Duolingo for what it is. I can’t recommend it as a standalone language program, but I would absolutely recommend it to most language learners as a handy supplemental resource.
The short lessons and entertaining platform make it easy and fun to use. It’s never a chore to spend a few minutes practicing on this app. I love that most of the content is free and that you can access as many of their courses as you want. Why limit yourself to a second language when you would have a third and fourth?
I think that Duolingo has gotten a bad reputation as being less than adequate even though all language programs are limited in one way or another. As long as you realize that you should use it for early language experience and supplemental practice and not rely it on for fluency, then you will get a lot out of this app. No matter what program you choose, just remember that all that hard work is going to pay off.