You are the product: A critical look at Duolingo

Another day, another person trying to solve (and monetize) the online language learning conundrum. This time it’s Luis von Ahn, MacArthur Grant winner and ReCAPTCHA founder, who has been all over the Internet talking about his latest project Duolingo.

Luis, who has made a fortune wielding a giant hammer called “CROWDSOURCING!”, has unsurprisingly come to see language learning as a giant nail ripe for striking. He figures that he can develop some online language courses, encourage people to practice their skills by translating content from the web, and offer the courses for free by selling the translations that users generate in the process. (I have now helped him with this endeavor by translating two news articles on the violence in the Central African Republic).

By making everything free instead of, say, $500, Duolingo is aimed squarely at undoing the tyranny of Rosetta Stone, which I can only applaud. Democratizing language learning is a worthy goal. But it’s worth remembering the old adage that if a web service is free, you are the product being sold.

When Duolingo’s Portuguese course came out of beta a few weeks ago, I signed up. Besides looking at the Portuguese course, I also worked through the German course so I could experience the platform as a true beginner.

Duolingo has done a few things right, and one of them is that it’s taken language gamification to new heights. It’s about time someone leveraged the addictive power of games to help you do something productive, and Duolingo delivers, giving you a slick eye-candy interface, lots of points and trophies and badges to earn, “level-up” moments, and motivational emails when you don’t log in for a few days. There’s even a world map of sorts that lets you chart your own path through the courses. The mobile app looks just as good and allows you to use your downtime during the day for a quick study session.

There is real depth to the courses, too — the Portuguese course that I tried out takes you well into high-intermediate territory (though I never found out how far, exactly, due to the irritating requirement that you take a quiz to demonstrate mastery before skipping lessons). I liked that every single exercise linked to its own discussion thread where there were often knowledgeable native speakers on hand to answer questions. And the integrated memory schedule flashcard app that gets automatically populated with the words you’ve learned is a nice touch.

Every language system has its guiding metaphor (Pimsleur: the Conversation; Rosetta: the Multiple-Choice Test; Memrise: the Flashcard). The metaphor in Duolingo is Translation. And this means that almost everything in Duolingo happens in the context of a sentence, which seems at first like a good idea. You are either translating sentences from English to Portuguese, or from Portuguese to English, and learning new vocabulary and grammar incidentally along the way via Rosetta Stone-style multiple choice activities. All the sentences have good audio pronunciation, and some activities challenge you to transcribe a sentence from the audio alone, which is a very good exercise.

But the way the system harvests its sentences from web content leads to a dry learning experience. Some of the sentences appear to have been created by stringing random words together, so you will find yourself translating awkward things like “The teachers have water” or “We watched tons of coffee” or “That’s not the way people are treated” instead of, I don’t know, “How are you? Which way to the beach? Is there a library around here where I could check out a Pimsleur course?” The sentences are so far removed from anything that you might actually want to use in conversation that I doubt how much value there is in rote translation. Many sentences are flat out wrong. I eventually tired of sending so many error reports.

Duolingo requires that you unlock earlier lessons to get to later ones, but it gives you some choice in the order in which you work through them

Another problem is the basic challenge of having a computer validate a human translation: there are so many possible correct translations for a given sentence that a very complex algorithm is needed to determine whether what you have entered is acceptable or not. They have obviously spent considerable time developing this algorithm, and it is indeed impressive, but impressive is just not good enough here. I often entered perfectly valid translations that the system judged as wrong, and in some cases I had to just guess at the particular phrasing that would count as a correct answer. This is no way to learn a language as fluid and nuanced in its sentence structure as Portuguese (or German for that matter).

In forcing you to give only ‘correct’ responses, Duolingo deceives you into thinking that only certain translations are possible — “algumas moedas” but not “umas moedas”, for example, or “seu vestido” but not “o vestido dela”. This might not be so bad, but after three incorrect answers you are forced to restart the lesson at the beginning, leading to frustration and, ultimately, me giving up on Duolingo.

I did learn a few German pronouns and conjugations. It was addictive, for a few days. But very quickly it became boring — there’s little joy in translating awkward sentences plucked at random from the Internet, completely devoid of any interesting context. Die Lehrer haben Wasser. The Portuguese course was the same — different sentences, but no life, no brasilidade.

Yet, the biggest problem with Duolingo is that there is no provision for gaining an oral fluency with the language. This is important because most people learn a language because they want to be able to have conversations in that language. And for that you need to practice listening, speaking and pronunciation above all.

In terms of pronunciation, Duolingo leaves you to glean what you can from the recordings (there is a 1/2 speed option that helps with this). But this is backwards! Oral fluency has to come first, or else you haven’t really acquired the language (in the Stephen Krashen sense of the word), you’ve simply learned to manipulate visual symbols. Certainly, I do think grammar ought to be taught, and it is possible to be conversant in a language by symbolic manipulation alone, but how much more delightful it is when you have truly internalized that grammar by its sound, and that can only happen — in the beginning stages at least — by copious listening and speaking. Reading, I think, is the least useful mode for learning because there is no sound input, and sound is the basis for acquisition (though the LingQ folks will surely disagree). Speech comes prior to writing in language, but it comes last in Duolingo. [If you need an “ah-ha!” moment on what genuine acquisition and ‘comprehensible input’ feel like, check out Krashen’s two mini-lessons on German — granted, it is much easier to make the input comprehensible with a closely related language like German, but the point stands]

This preference for reading over listening and verbal production is a fundamental problem with most online language courses, so I don’t mean to pick on Duolingo specifically. Pimsleur is the only solo course I’ve found that comes close to replicating the experience of acquiring language through listening and speaking in conversation. And Pimsleur could be much better than it is. Yet no one has set about making a better Pimsleur because, my goodness, what a lot of work to script and record all those hours of conversations, make them progressive and engaging, incorporate the memory schedules…! Much easier to just build a flashcard app, or a multiple choice quiz, or a crowdsourcing engine. And so instead we get Duolingo.

I’m sure some people will like Duolingo a lot, and I’m all for whatever keeps you motivated and coming back — small, consistent, daily practice is the only way to really learn. The best thing about Duolingo may be its ability to get people interested enough in the language that they seek out other resources — first and foremost, a good teacher.

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94 Responses to You are the product: A critical look at Duolingo

  1. Jared Romey says:

    I went through the full Spanish version, completing all the levels (I’m fluent in Spanish) to evaluate the software, and also went through several levels of the German version.

    My experience with Duolingo did not leave me impressed. I don’t really see how someone would use this to learn a language. It’s possible that it may be used for practice, but not for anyone who would want to start from scratch.

    I also agree that there are enough errors that it becomes cumbersome.

    You mentioned that Rosetta Stone is tyrannic for charging $500 for the software. To me, it is worse when a program asks you to do the work for free (Duolingo’s internet translations) yet offers almost nothing in exchange.

    There are much better free language learning resources online than Duolingo. They would need to make some major changes to make it worth the time.


    • Lauren says:

      You went through all the levels! You must have amazing patience — I dropped out at level 11 of Portuguese after tiring of taking the tests for each individual lesson.

    • Conor says:

      ‘There are much better free language learning resources online than Duolingo.’

      Could you name some please? Trying to learn French (not starting from scratch, got an A* at GCSE so know the basics).

      • Lauren says:

        Hi Conor, the resources that I know well are specific to Portuguese. Though not entirely free, I liked, so I assume FrenchPod101 is also good. Pimsleur, which I used and benefited greatly from, is available most libraries.

        • Andreea says:


          I’ve been learning French with Mondly languages, an app for iOS. It is actually available in over 20 languages and lot of mother tongues. I love that it keeps me motivated, by making one extra free lesson available each day. This lesson disappears after 24h, so I know I have to do it :) Therefore, I keep rehearsing each day. Not to mention it is really fun!

      • wertguor says:

        Have you checked libraries in your area?

        Many libraries have a variety of different CDs, books and videos available. Including Pimsleur.

        Also many libraries are adding Mango languages. If no library has that near you I would send them an email and suggest they consider a Mango account. Once the library signs up for it all it’s members get to use it free.

        EdX has actual free language courses from major universities around the world. Anyone can sign up.

        Lot’s of free resources out there, and better than duolingo.

    • Margaret Nahmias says:

      I see it as a way to ¡ reinfornce vocabulary. IfAnd the sentence while not used in conversation helps you see the vocabulary in context. The translation part is one part of it. However, I agree I would not use it without knowledge of the language No language resource is ever complete. Some teach and some help you pratice and some only focus on part of the language learning process.

    • Ignacio says:

      Duolingo is deficient, a big lie and you get more harm than benefit doing the exercises. It is basically immoral because it has to be lying when all the comments inside the site are a continuous chorus of praises to Duolingo and to the Guatemalan founder, Luis von Ahnen, and there are no negative comments. If you dare to make a negative one, you receive an avalanche of “down votes” and if you persist then you are shut up, I mean, your comments are censured beforehand, don’t appear on the screen of anybody else except yours. If I didn’t know that everything is controlled by a computer program and therefore a lie its atmosphere of complete conformity, I would think that it was a cult constituted by a crowd of brainwashed suckers.

      • wertguor says:

        I completely agree. And now that Google Play allows apps to censor the reviews the app will continue to get praised and anything factual will magically disappear.

        I bet all the brainwashed duo zombies have no idea how ridiculous they sound when they think they are speaking the actual language.

      • Vinnygret says:

        I, on the other hand, do not agree at all, though my comment is being made in 2016. There are many negative comments in Duolingo and many people report errors. I know a little Spanish and a little more French. I find Duolingo a great place to practice. I don’t take it mortally seriously and I laugh at some of the silly things that are part of the lessons. Duolingo seems to be obsessed with duck, elephants, rice and a few other recurring themes. Immoral? Seriously? Cult? I think you are taking this site way too seriously. As long as you realize this is not the be-all and end-all of language learning, it is a fun motivation to practice daily. And practice will increase vocabulary and some grammar. I like Duolingo and use it regularly. I also laugh a lot at its strange sentences.

    • Dara Tarolli says:

      RIGHT ON! I am through 1/4 of the Duo French. Frankly, it is AWFUL! I chose it because of the game aspect (I am very competitive.), but it definitely is NOT A GAME because you lose because of Duo’ s errors far more than because of yours. There will be 100 comments about a Duo error, each saying that they reported it, but it is not corrected. They slopped together a skeletin and do nothing to improve it to make it usable. Don’t waste time on Dúo!

    • Zach says:

      Yes, I couldn’t agree more. They don’t care about what you’re learning or how your learning. Most of the reasearch that’s gone into this product has not been on the learning/teaching method. It’s all on the marketing and design end.

      You’re much better finding a conversation partner and picking up a cheap textbook. Find a native speaker on twitter or a conversation exchange website and Skype with them. Language exchanges are becoming more and more common. If you don’t have one you can start one in your town.

      Or if you do have money to spend, get a proper tutor.


    • Matt Wilkie says:

      I would say the difficulty comes in “structure” but this is a tool not the solution. In the same way a toolbox will have spanners, screwdrivers, plyers etc. you need more than one tool to become fluent.

      Why do I find it useful? Answer is I don’t speak Spanish and its made it very easy to absorb a lot of words quickly. Which when living in an area with very few English speakers is very useful. As I may not know how to get to the beach but just understanding “La playa” it gets you in the right direction. But also because I am not fluent people then are more perceptive to help correct your phrases.

      I also have audio books and “books” to learn Spanish but you have to start somewhere.

  2. I also took a look at the Spanish version, and although it could serve as one tool in the toolbox for a beginner or intermediate student, I am highly doubtful that a system like DuoLinguo could teach anyone a language. The lack of context and useful phrases that you mention is very true, as well as the lack of any oral component. I think that it could be a useful tool, but people need to stop thinking that any one single product or resource or course will teach them a language.

    • iliad2000 says:

      One shouldn’t forget that with its all deficiencies DL offers a free choice for getting familiar to a language. You can get familiar to many languages sparing only 10-15 minutes a day at home, in the office even in WC. That is amazing to me. However, if you are to seriously learn a language, motivated to spend a couple of hours a week DL may not be suitable for you.

      • Luis I says:

        Agreed! I’m using it to get familiar with the language, however I’m planning to take some formal courses later on. It is free! so you cannot expect it to be perfect…. it will give you a foundation you can add to the vocabulary and structure later

      • Vinnygret says:

        I completely agree. (At the risk of being thought to be part of the ‘Great Duolingo Conspiracy).

  3. Ricardo says:

    Since we’re a being biased here by giving only anecdotal evidence, let me give mine. I learned French in 5 months using Duolingo + speaking with French people.

    Of course you can’t speak to people by just using Duolingo. No amount of software is going to give you that. It’s just a tool that is putting many people in the right direction.

    Fine that it didn’t work for you, different people, different tastes. But this post seems like bickering just because it didn’t work for you. And the ‘product’ argument is getting old. This blog is free and I’m a product here. So what? That by itself doesn’t mean a site is good or bad to its users.

    • Eva says:

      Could you provide the CERF level you have reached ? Or perhaps provide some sort of evidence of how you learned French on Duolingo? Are you currently living in a francophone area? Are you using online language exchange resources? Can you write fluently in French?

      • wertguor says:

        He can’t because he was learning it by speaking with actual french speakers. That alone can teach you a language if you are serious about learning.

    • Barry Boettger says:

      Bang on. It’s part of a tool set. If anyone thinks they are going to learn a language solely by going on-line they need to re-think. Not the best of tools, but I think people also need to grasp the concept that the translation work above and beyond the exercises is intended to translate Spanish internet content to English…. not a bad idea…. it’s as much a crowd sourcing site as an education site. I’ve been using this for a couple of years now…. Everytime I think I’m wasting my time something happens to make me realize how much I have learned. Not a waste of time – but there are better sources out there.

  4. Bill says:

    I’ve been using Duolingo to learn Portuguese for about 4 months, and have gone from knowing not a single word to having a working knowledge of probably 1000+ words. To me the biggest plus point is that it provides a framework to progress when you have absolutely no knowledge of a language. I had tried learning Portuguese before but found it incredibly daunting.

    I’m pretty sure it can’t teach you a language, but it can get you started, and is an enjoyable and free way of building vocabulary. It meant that when I started with my tutor I already had some kind of base to build upon.

    • Eduardo França says:

      I second that!

      All methods and systems have their own flaws, and people also have different learning styles.

      And Duolingo is free, since the LiveMocha/Roseta Stone merge, there’s aren’t many other sites offering that range of services without subscriptions, fees and etc.

      And once you’re really serious about learning a language, you’ll be able to use many of several available options to get you there. There’s no “final solution” to language learning.

      Nothing beyond “Get out there, and fight through it.”


  5. I agree about the translations though.. Some alternates are given at the end, but some are marek incorrec I really started as way to translate the web due to a lack translators, but the added to learning component to get you started. I think it is good for vocabulary,

  6. Mick O'leary says:

    I wish Pimsleur went to a higher level. I finished levels 1, 2 and 3 in Brazilian Portuguese and was looking forward to going on to Levels 4, 5 and 6, but unfortunately they don’t exist. I agree about Duolingo, it is tiresome trawling through and having to restart lessons from the beginning etc.

  7. Tyler says:

    I’ve been using Duolingo for a couple months now, first for German only for fun, and then once I had a practical reason to have some basic Spanish, I switched to that for the last week-and-a-half. I’ve been doing easily 2-3 hours a day, which is maybe the exception, but I can already understand some of the conversation my Spanish speaking coworkers are having, at least when they are using the present tense… I don’t think anyone can expect to become fluent without any immersion or tutoring in any language, but damned if I’m not impressed by my own progress.

    It seems that, with Spanish at least, learning how verb conjugations work, changing one’s thinking about their function in a sentence, and internalizing that, will go a long way to help before I start start trying to understand native speakers. I doubt even the Duolingo creators would expect it to be the only tool in our toolbox, but so far I have nothing bad to say about it, even about having to restart lessons, which only strengthens my understanding anyhow.

    I have been and will continue to recommend this to my friends who need to get better at French. It is just too fun and easy as a primer.

  8. Paula says:

    When I do DuoLingo, I use Chrome and also have google translate open on another tab. I cut and paste when I’m not sure of the answer and test it in google translate, and then bring it back to DuoLingo. I know everyone will pull their hair out and scream at me, but it’s a really good way to NOT get 3 hearts and have to start at the beginning of a new lesson where the same thing’s going to happen again. If you do it this way (“cheating”) you actually LEARN at a fast rate, which is the point.

    • Dara Tarolli says:

      The problem is that Dúo (in French at least) rejects so many correct translations that you still lose. Duo is shit, plain and simple.

  9. Ogier says:

    I disagree with you that speech comes before reading and writing. Reading, writing, learning grammar and building vocabulary creates a good basis on which you can learn to speak. It’s probably not going to teach you a fluent language, but it creates a good basis, which might motivate people into taking classes.

    • Rae says:

      I think the author is drawing from the fact that one learns their native language through speech first.

      • Lilac says:

        Actually, I think most learn their native language through hearing it and then because they are babies who don’t yet have the tools to read and write. There have been plenty of mutes who have learned languages without speaking them so it is perfectly possible in the human intelligence arena. At least, for most of us.

    • Zach says:

      That’s only because it’s easier for teachers and students to communicate through the written word because they can easily track it and students have more time to think over it.

      However, there are some super powerful methods that teach only speaking or speaking in conjuction with reading that build a much better foundation for the learner to begin to read and understand. Such methods are “Where are your keys,” “TPRS,” as well as “TPR” and “GPA.”

      Not many people know this. So I’m just putting these things out there.

      Now from a linguistic stand point, language is a set of sounds with meaning at the very basic level. Writing and reading are not the language itself, but a mere representation. If you start with reading and writing, you’re going to have a harder time with language acquisition in the long run. But it can be done.

  10. Filip says:

    You can also treat the different proficiencies in language – as reading, writing, speaking would be – as separate goals. Sometimes the goal doesn’t have to be learning the language at perfect level, but only to learn e.g. Spanish at level that you can read some articles in the language. What kind of activity you do, that kind you learn. If you speak you learn speaking. If you read you teach yourself reading.
    But there is no hierarchy to that and especially speaking does not have to be the ultimate base. You can learn to speak and at the same time not having a clue how to spell a word, which is much more important in some kinds of conversation.
    Speaking, reading, writing. They are just different kind of social/cultural activity and for sure DuoLingo won’t teach you everything, but having the possibility to see the progress you make, to learn the vocabulary visually, that’s not bad at all…

  11. Taimon says:

    Hello I am American and have been living in Brazil for five months now. I am at a level as to where I can handle business out of the house and understand almost everything that is said to me. I can converse but it is still a bit difficult but I have noticed it has been getting much easier. I have been using duolingo for a couple weeks almost and I can say that it isn’t a good program for beginners at all. For higher levels I think it is great for learning and reviewing vocab but I would not recommend it for an beginner. I did not start it at the beginning but one previous comment said they didn’t teach how to conjugate which I believe is a major flaw when teaching from a beginner level. If you are an upper intermediate level person I think it’s a great review and vocab tool and nothing more…and it is addicting since it does look much like an addictive cell phone game. I like the apps for iPhone and iPad. I find they aren’t as frustrating as the website.

  12. David Lindquist says:

    Duo Lingo’s biggest problem is that it lacks pedagogical focus. In far too many cases, new concepts, ideas, and the like are simply “thrown into” the mix without any context or explanation, leaving the user to guess at what is meant. For example, the German module that is supposed to focus on modal verbs moves (without any explanation) to the use of various tenses that (according to the learning tree) are supposed to be introduced at later points in the program. As such, Duo Lingo is seriously (perhaps fatally) flawed. How can the user be expected to learn one critical topic (e.g., modal verbs) when he/she is being frustrated by the need to battle through other topics (e.g., verb tenses) that have never been discussed? Imagine how students would react (revolt?) is such an approach were to be taken by an instructor in a traditional classroom setting?
    Duo Lingo (at least, the German version) needs a complete overhaul.

    • Paul says:

      You don’t have to guess anything. If you don’t understand something, just click into the forum for that exercise and ask a NATIVE SPEAKER to explain it. Usually, you’ll get several complimentary expansions of varying complexity.

      • cathyc says:

        But the forums are often a waste of time. You may wade through any number of comments like ‘Uggh, spiders, I’m not going to learn that word’ to people who are ‘like yeah, I only know three words of the language you are learning but I was wondering if maybe the answer to your question is…’

        It’s a pity they can’t be limited to people who know talking about the thing you ask.

      • wertguor says:

        Uh no. I’ve seen the duolingo discussions. They are filled with childish comments and random guesses by non-native speakers. Very few languages have active native speakers.

  13. Gene Venable says:

    This comment is absurd. There isn’t an attitude of total conformity on Duolingo; criticism is frequent and hopefully leads to improving the system. Comments often refer to other sites approvingly. I’m currently on level 19 of Spanish and have found it to be an excellent review/enhancement of the three years of high school Spanish I took — 45 years ago.

  14. Annette fuquay says:

    I agree that Duolingo is one tool and one can benefit by using it in combination with other resources.
    My complaint, ( speaking from the vantage point of level 12 in Spanish at the moment) is that so much review is required. Everyday skills already passed are “undone” and you have to repeat them. Obviously repetition is good, but there is so much of it that if time is limited, it can be impossible to do anything new or progress. The problem increases as one advances, obviously, because there is more and more to review each day before one can move on.
    I’m curious whether the selection of skills to review is entirely random(?). If you complete them perfectly will they go away and leave you alone for awhile? If you pass them with just a single heart are they going to show up again more frequently?

    • Gene Venable says:

      You should speed up considerably when you have more practice. I find myself continually accelerating as I go through the course, so each level is faster though not necessarily easier than the last. I’m on level 21 of Spanish now and eagerly looking forward to the end. I’ve just started with Memrize as well. I’m pretty sure my Spanish has improved a lot.

  15. Seb Pearce says:

    You absolutely nailed it. I couldn’t have said it better. Sharing this with everyone I know! Thanks for putting such thoughtful posts on a language site – it’s a rare find these days.

  16. chris says:

    I like duolingo as an important tool in my arsenal. I’m using it to improve my mediocre spanish and bring up my poor french. I started German on it about 3 weeks ago with no history of German study and I think it’s fine for absolute beginners. It might simply depend on the taste of the learner. In addition to duolingo, I watch foreign movies and listen to Pimsleur, etc. I do realize that duolingo isn’t perfect but I have other products that I’ve had to buy that are also imperfect. I have a book on the German language that I cannot stand. I hesitate to even look at it for reference. It does have a lot of useful information but the tone of it is so tiresome, so…

  17. Rae says:

    Hi, I am Rae and a linguist student. I am proficient in English, Farsi and Mandarin. Last December I decided to teach myself Portuguese have been using DuoLingo for three months. I am at an intermediate level of Portuguese B1. My speech is slow, and my ear need work, but my reading and writing are quite well. DuoLingo isn’t perfect. I think that is a flaw in others thinking. No program is going to be perfect because it is attempting to take human interaction out of the equation. DuoLingo, Pimsleur, Rosetta, and others are made for one who can’t attend a class or pay for private lessons.

    Therefore, I’d say Duo accomplishes it’s goal. As a supplement to in class assignments, it does it’s job. Sometimes the repetitions are tedious, but it is actually the same process as in a classroom. If you get a considerable amount of questions wrong, you must retake the test. DuoLingo also teaches the text book version of Brasileiro (if you could call it that), the same as any school would.the life do the language can’t be understood until the rules and qualified version of the language is understood first.

    The system in place might make no sense to someone who is already fluent in a language, but the kooky sentence of A maçã come a folha, is a memorable sentence because it is nonsense. The brain pays close attention to something that is out of the ordinary.

    This isn’t a defense of Duo, but rather an explanation of all supplementary systems. Because that’s what they are, supplements. They aren’t meant to be stand alone. DuoLingo paired with a telenovela, a translated favorite, and a willing native speaker will boost fluency to a few months. But even with Duo by itself, a learner has to be diligent. I can learn a new writing system in a week, but Ana or Jack might need weeks to understand it. The same with Duo. Not everyone is going to understand or be able to speak and have a good ear. But you do learn some of a new language, so mission accomplished.

  18. Usagi says:

    Hello, thanks for posting your article!

    If anyone reading this is trying out a course, here is an additional resource (A user-created FAQ wiki) to help answer navigational questions :

    Here is my experience with Duolingo after having finished the Spanish for English speakers’ course: When I started Duolingo, I could have passed the first 2 checkpoints with prior knowledge. I started back in Sept 2013 and there were many errors and I too filed a lot of error reports. I completed my tree 90 days later; but I didn’t store the last 1/3 of the material into my long term memory because I rushed through it. So I’ve been doing it over again. I can tell the difference this time. There are far fewer errors thanks to crowd-sourced error reports. By this time in my studies (6months later and at level 23) I am watching movies in Spanish (Full Metal Alchemist, so a series rather than a movie) and having conversations in Spanish. I’m not fluent, but, that’s not a surprise. The course offers less than 3,000 words. But still, somehow the odd sentences like “Your bear drinks beer” have come together into conversations with my friend about the weather, social conflicts, anime, our lunch, and finding my way around a hotel.

    For the sake of transparency, if you look me up on Duolingo you will see that I am currently a community volunteer forum moderator. My journey to get there began when one of my followers on Tumblr introduced me to Duolingo. I tried the app for a while then switched to the website because I liked the social aspect. I read a lot of discussions between study sessions and started helping people find their way around (I created many of the guides on the wiki before becoming a moderator). I eventually received an email inviting me to become a forum moderator and i accepted. So, I’m not paid to tell people I like Duolingo, and I am not in a position to speak for Duolingo as I am not staff. I just really like it because it has worked for me. ^_^

    Some additional info, Duolingo has not yet turned a profit from Immersion translations. It has made some money, but not enough to cover costs. That end is still being worked on. Instead, it is being floated by outside grants. No one is required exchange their translations to help Duolingo generate a profit. Immersion is entirely optional. And most articles in Immersion have been posted by users for non-commercial purposes, so they didn’t have to pay for translations and Duolingo will not profit from them. Users who choose to translate in Immersion can choose whether they want to work on the commercial articles or on the non-commercial articles.

    I hope this information has been helpful. ^_^

  19. Isabella Castro says:

    Although Duolingo is not even intended to be used for language fluency, I’m pretty sure we all know damn well the majority of this app’s users are dumb kids thinking it will allow them to finish a “tree” and move to another country. Apple and Google have promoted this app and truth-be-told, whenever those guys recommend an app everybody loses their crap over it and say, “Hey! An app that’s ad-free, popular, costs nothing, and will make me FLUENT IN A LANGUAGE?! Wow! Must get!” Honestly, that’s what I thought too. Who wouldn’t love the chance to understand practically a whole entire part of the world? This app starts off with shady translations but really this app is meant for people with common sense. You have to be able to easily pick up and recognize patterns such as “come, como, comemos” (in Spanish). This whole entire app was built on a foundation of translating, so some “genius” will think Google Translate is the best thing to use. But what are you actually learning from that? I haven’t gotten much further than half of a Spanish tree, but some subjects look a bit promising that will help in real conversations. You just have to be patient before you can start real subjects, unlike, “Our cats do not drink water.” Good day.

  20. Petr Mlcoch says:

    I just finished Spanish tree and it was a real fun. I wasn’t real beginner as I had tried to learn Spanish from textbook, Pimsleur audio lesson and Roseta Stone several times before.
    At the end going tthrough the more advanced lessons I felt that I should open the textbook and learn the grammar properly.
    I find Duolingo as a great tool for beginners. However as other approaches, it is advisable to combine it with other sources. It will save you time to understand the grammar behind.

  21. Elly says:

    There’s a lot I like about Duolingo’s approach. The “gamification” aspect helps keep me going, and the fact that I can get through a lesson in as little as five minutes makes it easy to pick up any time I have a spare moment — I end up studying in snippets throughout the day — I can end up covering a lot without feeling like I have to set aside time in my schedule (which is always a stumbling block for me in getting through Pimsleur courses). On the other hand, I’m about ready to delete the app from my phone simply because the lessons are so riddled with errors, a lot of which seem to reflect a faulty understanding of English syntax/vocabulary/idiom on the part of the content’s author. The errors I can catch are simply annoyances (increasingly frequent annoyances, to be sure, as I get into more advanced content) but beyond that, it’s impossible to know how many mistranslations I’m learning due to less obvious errors.

    What’s more, given that I’m having this experience over a year after you posted this review, that suggests that an awful lot of people have been through the same content in the intervening time, and some have presumably submitted their own error reports… If there are still so many problems that the system is nearly unusable, it kind of casts doubt on the effectiveness of their whole crowdsourcing approach.

    So in the end, I’m inclined to conclude that you get what you pay for Duolingo…but if someone were to combine academic-caliber lesson content with Duolingo’s approach to lesson structure, incentives, mobile access, etc., I’d lose no time paying good money to add that product to my toolbox.

  22. Joe says:

    The only method of language learning better than Duolingo is extensive, prolonged communication with a native speaker. Those who say that Duolingo or Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone are deficient, are looking for some kind of shortcut that simply doesn’t exist. To go from a beginner to an intermediate conversational level in a language takes about three hours a day for about six months. The student’s lack of dedication doesn’t mean the teacher is deficient.

    Duolingo has the best oral component I have ever seen in a language application. Don’t just rush ahead. Spend some time on each phrase. Poise your mouse pointer over the speaker button. Play the phrase. Repeat it. Play it again, paying close attention to cadence and pronunciation. Repeat the phrase. Play it again and speak the phrase simultaneously. Continue to do this until you can speak the phrase in perfect unison with the application. Now move to the next one. If you approach your language learning in this fashion, you will learn.

    Or you can call Duolingo deficient and try something else, which you will also call deficient, and five or ten years from now, you will decide that you simply have no aptitude for foreign languages.

    • j boyd says:

      Thanks very much–insightful and helpful comments

    • Heather says:

      Got to agree with this assessment. I haven’t taken Italian since 1986 but need fluency fast because of a job offer in Italy I’ve accepted and am moving to in two weeks. I stumbled across Duolingo by accident by reading about it on Reddit, and started to use it.

      It’s fantastic. Two hours ago, reading Italian conversation online, I was stumbling along unable to fully remember things, and making lots of mistakes. One hour of Duolingo later I’ve surpassed my “Serious” daily goal, can read those conversations a lot more accurately, and on top of that am having fun.

      Whoever invented Duolingo really designed it well. It’s as addictive as Angry Birds and I can easily see myself staying up late into several thousands more nights trying to beat my previous level. I feel like a programmed little monkey; how do these Duolingo fiends know us poor humans so well?

    • Pir says:

      Nonsense, there are plenty of other methods that work just fine, and extensive, prolonged conversation with native speakers is not necessary at all to get to the same level as Duolingo (which is IMO not even A1 in French).

      If you do what you recommended you will end up with a godawful accent and a completely unnatural flow to your speech. The synthetic voices used are inferior even to the Googlebot (inside of comment threads people often recommend others listen to that one instead). Frankly, TTS sucks for learning a new language. Listen to actual native speakers! This is very, very important — it’s hard to get rid of a bad accent and bad intonation once you’ve hammered it into your head.

      You’re right that it’s not fair to blame the teacher if you don’t put in sufficient effort, but Duolingo sets itself up as our guide, and inexperienced people will trust it — but if you do that, you’ll end up getting through the tree, being promised a high level of fluency, and yet you will not have a particularly good active vocabulary; Duo’s SRS is not good. There is also by far not enough production of the target language if you fall into the “easy” part of their A/B testing (and you get no choice about that). Duolingo claims I know 1450 words (58% fluent! ha!) — but independent testing shows me that in fact I only know 520 well enough to produce them on command (and I can’t even praise Duo for that since I am concurrently taking a course on Memrise which really knows how to do SRS). Sure, I can decipher the other words in context (hello, cognates, my old friends), but that’s not really “knowing”.

      And I don’t look for shortcuts. I am evaluating Duolingo’s abilities for integrating new tech into my own system of acquiring languages. I already speak 11 languages (at varying degrees of fluency), and I think I am definitely qualified to determine how well Duolingo’s pedagogical model works for me.

      It doesn’t. You don’t ever get enough sentences to really absorb sentence structure and grammar. It didn’t use to give you any grammar explicitly, but they realized that made people so frustrated they left in droves, so now some sections in the French tree have a short bit of grammar in faint grey text ahead of the units (nothing is ever explained right along with a sentence), but more than half don’t have anything. More grammar is actually handled inside of comment threads by native speakers, most of whom seem to me to be burning out quickly (not surprising since the same questions are asked over and over in different comment threads; there is no central repository of all that amazing advice). I am basically only staying because of that advice which can become very nuanced, better than my reference grammar.

      Something that other people often criticize that didn’t bother me at the start is the proliferation of odd sentences. I thought that I was not there to learn useful phrases; could just pick up a Berlitz phrasebook for that. I was there to learn sentence structure. And oddball sentences actually help with that; they stick better. You can pretty easily plug any more sensible thing into “The elephant eats a delicious purple snake”. But as I progressed I realized that this causes me not to know when the French sentence is actually colloquial, when French people really say something like that. There have been too many instances of French speakers saying “uh, no, actually that sounds really weird in French too”.

      I think Duo is fun for dabblers (add 15 language badges to your name — speak none of them, but who cares, it’s fun), and for people who need lots of gamification to keep motivated (especially if they hated their high school classroom instruction), and it can be useful for refreshing a language when restarting, but I would not recommend it to people like myself (analytical, organized, actually likes grammar); it’s too lightweight and has too many errors.

      Because while it costs me no money, it does cost me time. And my time is not worthless.

  23. Aizzell Cariño says:

    I believe duolingo is a great tool for learning languages (especially if you know nothing). It keeps you interested with its “game-like” way of teaching. I also appreciate how random (non-sensical) words also practices you. I mean, it’s jsut practicing, you don’t really use it in real life. At least it practices you to substitute words repeatedly until you get the hang of it. No app is perfect. And duolingo being a free app, did a lot for promoting language education. I can see duolingo’s efforts to correct the wrong. So yeah, I have no complaints about it. Although some of your right answers as taken as wrong, I’m sure they will fix that when they can. After all, there is not a lot of apps who can teach you language like duo lingo does. Plus it’s cute :3

  24. Peter Shelley says:

    I am fluent-ish in Italian, and I decided to use DuoLingo to practice it and, hopefully learn something new. The lessons can be very frustrating as the translations they accept border on the bizarre, forcing you into incorrect language choices just in order to be able to complete the lesson and move on.
    What I did enjoy, though, was doing the translations which was a stimulating exercise and led to some interesting conversations with other members of the DuoLingo community. My enjoyment was curtailed, however, when DuoLingo ceased to take an interest in my translation efforts and allowed them to go un-checked and, effectively, consigned them to the garbage heap. Once I noticed this I stopped doing them. Wikipedia in their Duolingo entry mention that the site has a very high ‘drop-out’ rate. I am not surprised.
    Beware, also, allowing people to follow you and following other people. I had my post boxes filled up with messages in Vietnamese, so much so that it was a chore to actually find messages/comments etc which were genuine. Some of the Vietnamese were following hundreds of people and I assume their mailboxes were full up with rubbish, too. I wonder that the Duolingo servers aren’t ‘groaning’ under the stress of it all.
    I have of course brought all these complaints to the notice of Duolingo. Result: no feedback, no action. I can only assume that Duolingo either don’t care, or they are not prepared to allocate sufficient human resources (people) to problem solving.

  25. Usagiboy7 says:


    I noticed that a lot of these comments are from 2013. Several of the courses have improved since then through Duolingo’s feedback system. The Spanish course being one I can attest to. Many more alternative translations are now accepted compared to 2013. Additionally, users can input correct answers in more than just the Latin American dialect (for Spanish). The course moderators are still adding to that bank of alternative answers even now. ^_^

    To correct some misconceptions, Duolingo has not claimed to make people fluent. Instead, users on average gain 1 University semester worth of knowledge in 34 hours of study. Though from individual accounts, some users have reported in the forums that upon finishing their courses, they were able to test out of 1 year of a University language course.

    I myself am not talented at language acquisition. I also don’t devote very much time to my studies in general. But I’ve made it further with Duolingo than any other method I’ve tried. (Though, I personally enjoyed the website more than the apps.)

    Duolingo might not fit everyone’s learning style, but it provides a guided learning experience at one’s own pace and attracts a community of language learners to share in our journeys and encourage us along the way. For some of us, Duolingo was the last hope before we gave up entirely. So, I hope that people will at least give it a try before making a decision on whether or not it’s worth giving a go.

    And if people don’t want to translate articles in exchange for taking a course on Duolingo, they are not required to. It is completely voluntary and you can still take the course regardless.

    I am not paid staff and these comments reflect my own personal, positive experience with Duolingo’s Spanish for English speakers course. ^_^

  26. C says:

    Personally, I think Duolingo is great as a supplement. Learning it with something else (a class, a video series, something else on the internet(namely one with a real speaker)) helps you learn the language a lot better than Duolingo can on its own.

  27. Susie Q says:

    I love Duo. I also love to read criticism that helps me evaluate my learning experience. As a fluent Spanish speaker, I do feel held back from reviewing my grammar and vocab. Duo is a bit clunky. But…the overall idea is so great (I think). Maybe what you term “conformity” is some world-wide consensus? I am also on some other sites (Memrise & Livemocha) and Duo is the most fun and accessible. I send error reports out into the ether and eventually most of the kinks will be worked out, surely? I have only translated a few sentences of a pamphlet about Spain. Happy to contribute my small expertise and help pay for my lessons. Also, as many have pointed out…this is just one tool in our arsenal of learning. I hear many people in SoCal say that they would love to learn Spanish. Really!?! We have total immersion here. Radio programs, supermarkets, television, newspapers, books and classes are available in Spanish. Yet, so many people don’t avail themselves of these opportunities. Duo is one such opportunity.

  28. Tabneto says:

    Hi, Lauren!
    Thanks for posting your comments about Duolingo!
    I will start the German course and it’s good to receive so much information and experiences. I didn’t read all the post, but I read many.
    Two points I want to talk about:
    1 – There’s one guy that posted a thought that I think is very important: you can learn a lot of language without speaking with someone. I studied German on my own and I talked the sentences to myself, to memorize the vocabulary. This gave me a good hability to talk to someone, even though I wanted to learn German for reading.
    The same applies to French. If you read a lot, you memorize the construction of the sentences, etc. Of course if you want to travel in six months, this is not the ideal course!
    2 – Is there a better free program than Duolingo? If there is not a better program, so maybe we must “work” on this program, in all its aspects. I mean, even a message is a “work”, if it shares a good or bad experience.
    And then your comment that if the course is free, you are the product being sold seems a little too much, in terms of logic. The other side of this sentece is that, for not being a product, you must pay for a product… I don’t know why we should place at this dead end of a line.
    I think this discussion is very good!
    Thank you for this space!
    Kind regards,

  29. Leszek says:

    I liked the review, but I think that it already might be outdated. I think that Duolingo improved greatly, and it gets better all the time. Right now, new courses are made and they are improving on older courses. I think that there is no better way to learn a language on the internet. Book don’t do it for me. I always close them after too chapters. Duolingo on the contrary is addictive and teaches you many basic grammar concepts that you need to start studying more actively. After only using Duolingo I wouldn’t bother coming back to other resources. I would just delve into the real language. Duolingo is enough to start learning the language actively instead of studying it passively. My opinion.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks for your comments on Duolingo! I wrote that review a while ago and it does seem to have improved since then. I will certainly give it another look.

      • hsen says:

        Hi Lauren, I was going to suggest you the same thing but apparently you beat me to it :) I look forward for your updated review (maybe this time you can review their French lessons?).

  30. Alexandru says:

    Hello Lauren,
    awesome article and still valid 2 years later. You make so many good points (and some not so good for Duolingo) and you manage to stay objective and point out the strenghts of these learning programs.
    So I would like to share with you our story.
    3 years ago we started creating a better Pimsleur. And a better Rosetta Stone.
    Ingredients: Clear native voices, words and phrases inspired from a traveler’s phrasebook and a game-like fun and addictive experience.
    Instead of grammar based topics – teach instantly useful topics like Greetings, Getting around, Eating out or Sweet romantic talk.
    Take the learner by the hand, from zero to conversational level and always focus on speaking the language.
    And most of all, do what Dr. Pimsleur could never do back in the seventies – use the amazing power available in our mobile devices to record, interpret and even mix the learners voice with the native speakers voice to create new learning experiences that would stick in the learners mind forever.
    3 years later Mondly is a reality in 22 languages – and this 30 second preview says more than I ever can:
    Thanks again and looking forward to your constructive criticism.

  31. Reading, I think, is the least useful mode for learning because there is no sound input, and sound is the basis for acquisition (though the LingQ folks will surely disagree).

    Accurate review and lots of good points. Regarding your comment about LingQ though, I have to disagree…! While we do feel reading is important, audio input is at the top of our list in terms of importance. That is why all of our lessons come with matching downloadable audio files. We want you to listen to the audio many times and we recommend listening as the largest component of your studies, especially for beginner and intermediate learners. The idea is that you listen to the audio and then read/parse the text to understand meaning/learn vocabulary, then listen some more to re-inforce. A listening is powerful and B you can most easily find dead time to spend on listening throughout the day to spend more time with the language.

    Anyway, great post! Just want to clear that up. Happy to chat with you about LingQ anytime.

    • Lauren says:

      Hey Mark! Thanks for stopping by — clearly I haven’t used LingQ in a few years and it sounds like a lot has changed since then. I’ll definitely give it another look!

  32. Mike Tombolo says:

    IMHO Duolingo is ok, and on par with Rosetta Stone.

    Where I disagree is with the importance, and the integration scale of Duolingo’s “gamification” aspect.

    Duolingo’s gamification is merely having 3-4 “lives”, and with each wrong answer you lose a life. Thats called a counter, not “gamification”.

    But its free. So its ok.

    As far as truly “gamifying” language learning, a lot more needs to be done.

  33. Veronica says:

    Great post, Lauren! I completely agree with your assessment of Duolingo. The most effective way to learn a language is with plenty of listening and speaking practice. It is virtually impossible to acquire a second language merely by translating text. Your comment: “… the biggest problem with Duolingo is that there is no provision for gaining an oral fluency with the language. This is important because most people learn a language because they want to be able to have conversations in that language. And for that you need to practice listening, speaking and pronunciation above all” is absolutely spot on. There are many people who are able to complete online translations, yet are completely unable to speak or understand the target language.
    Thank you for this informative assessment.

  34. Greg says:

    I agree with a number of the criticisms of Duolingo but do find it quite useful.
    I was probably an advanced beginner before I started about 2 months ago. I am about 3/4 of the way through the Spanish course now – keeping everything gold as I go – I update everything before I move on to a new lesson. This takes a bit of effort but I have definitely picked up my speed and vocabulary by using Duolingo. I had used the Michel Thomas and Pimsleur audio courses and a range of other written and online resources before I started Duolingo and I think Duolingo does have a place.
    However, I am concerned about the number of errors that I see in Duolingo. I think that the group sourcing does introduce errors into the material. There are plenty of English speakers on the web that have poor grammar and I am concerned that some of the people contributing to Duolingo have poor Spanish grammar (they probably think it is better than it really is). There are a number of instances where even I can see that the translations are just wrong or that perfectly fine english translations of Spanish get marked as incorrect.
    I am not sure that there is a way around this – I think is part of the nature of the resource.
    In some ways it is like practicing your Spanish with an uneducated person in a Spanish speaking country – they may not speak perfect Spanish but it can still be useful for you in your language learning.

    The real question for me is what do you do to correct the poor habits you risk picking up from Duolingo – I suspect immersion is the only real way to finish off your language learning regardless of how you build the initial skills.

    • Barry Boettger says:

      What I would like to see is crowd sourcing of more exercise content, but I don’t really see a way to get general comments back to duolingo. I’ve been through everything at least twice; new content would be nice.

  35. Confused says:

    How do you mean, translation is Duo Lingo’s metaphor? A metaphor for what?

  36. Xavier Galindo says:

    Duolingo is only truly problematic in the sense that some people expect to be able to progress very far in a language using Duolingo as their only tool. There are so many questions online about “how far can I advance in German/Spanish/French/whatever if I complete my Duolingo tree?” and the answer is, invariably: “Maaaaybe A2. Probably still A1 to be honest, but a very solid A1!”

    Which is still excellent. It’s a superb free resource for beginners and they will make substantial progress advancing through the tree. I don’t think it’s non-trivial that someone can go from 0 to late A1 or even A2 without leaving the home or spending a dollar.

    You mentioned the errors, and it’s true that they’re present. However, the real gold mine on Duolingo is in the comments section that’s accessible for each individual question where hundreds of users, many of whom very knowledgeable, have answered people’s grammar questions in the past in detailed, clear responses. If and when you’re wondering why it’s “den Apfel” instead of “der,” or “une pomme,” instead of “un,” that answer is just a click away.

    A person will definitely need to explore other resources to break into the B1 stage, to say nothing of more advanced degrees of fluency, but I don’t think there’s reason to criticize software that can be so useful to people with access to limited educational resources. Anyone with an Internet connection who goes through the tree and puts in the time to read the grammatical lectures and discussions can absolutely make good progress using Duolingo alone.

    Just have realistic expectations and you’re set. I do roll my eyes a little at the sheer quantity of people expecting to become polyglots on Duolingo alone.

  37. Wayne says:

    I hear lots of complaints. I can only speak for myself, but I learn better from a book or written material. I always have. Could skip classes in college with no problem. I am a visual learner and it is easier for me. I have done the first three levels of Pimsleur Spanish, but still have trouble retaining information after listening several times to each lesson. Once I spent some time with Duolingo and went back to Pimsleur it was like oh so that was past tense or past perfect. I never seemed to pick it up with Pimsleur, but just had to keep listening over and over and over again until I memorized, but never understood.
    Don’t get me wrong I chose Pimsleur because auditory learning is hard for me and it it critical for speaking a language. However, I need other tools and Duolingo is helpful for me.

  38. SlapJack says:

    Duolingo rocks. The learning style is the same as Rosetta Stone but FREE. You can’t ask for much more than that. It’s getting the job done. The mobility of the app is great ’cause you can learn the lessons anywhere and at your convenience. Best app I own hands down.

    grazie mille duolingo, questa applicazione sta aiutando a imparare italiano

  39. Guy says:

    Duolingo is a good tool. My experience during the first two levels is that very little stuck in my brain. I got bored and started skipping days. Then I decided to do what I do when trying to track the tasks I have day to day, I WRITE THEM DOWN. Once I began writing down the vocabulary words with their translation and my phonetic pronunciation of them, words began to stick. I also write down verbs with translation and tenses, and every sentence without translation. One sheet of paper is verbs only, another sheet is sentences only, and a third sheet of vocabulary only.

    Having all the material written down does several things for me. First, I can quickly review vocabulary words and verb tenses from paper. Second, it is easy to go through the sentences and speak them out loud to practice pronunciation followed by verbal translation. Third, the previous two steps reinforce what I heard Duolingo say during the lessons. The key is to get things from short term memory into long term memory. I am constantly hearing, seeing, and writing what was learned.

    The final step is to speak with a native speaker and listening to native conversations. I know a native speaker and have tried a few simple sentences and received feedback that most of my words were pronounced correctly. I detect a subtle difference between myself and the native speaker.

    I am thinking about searching for learning tools for first and second graders online. Maybe their version of Sesame Street.

  40. Mike Kaufman says:

    One suggestion to Duolingo is to make all text larger and more readable. Forget color combinations such as yellow text on a gray background. This combination can be difficult to read, especially on a small screen such as found on a smartphone. Also, make the font size much larger and use a font type that makes the presence of diacritic marks easier to see. I practice German Duolingo, and it is often impossible to discern in a new word whether an umlaut is present. The tiny fonts used and the poor color combinations make it unnecessarily difficult to read new words.

    Another suggestion would be to allow users to specify further practice, e.g., new vocabulary words, or more subjunctive sentences. Instead, after finishing the German tree I find myself now being forced by Duolingo to go back and waste time practicing idiotically simple phrases.

  41. magari says:

    First, you have to be careful in reviewing Duolingo as a platform since each individual language on it is written by a different team. Meaning, some of the languages may be very well put together, and others not so much. Second, I’ve found Duolingo to be a *very* useful tool for learning grammar and vocabulary, though admittedly the what you end up translating is sometimes inane. I’m studying Turkish, which has a very different grammar (for a native English speaker) and whose lexicon is neither Latinate nor Germanic, so I can’t imagine jumping straight into conversational immersion.

  42. Luke says:

    I don’t really get why there is so much negativity about Duolingo.

    I’ve been using it for about 8 days, as a refresher for my GCSE French. I’ve practiced french in france quite a few times, but never got very far – I can have basic, stilted conversation but that’s about it.

    I’ve found Duolingo to be brilliant – whatever you say about the algorithm for detecting alternative translations, I’ve found it to be excellent – you can’t expect any system like this to be on a par with a human translator so there’s no sense in getting frustrated – you have to learn the acceptable parameters and stick within them in order to use the tool. I’ve found the parameters to be far wider than I could have reasonably expected from an automated program of any sort.

    Over the past few days I’ve had such good practice, that now I can pick up an article and actually translate it for my wife as I read it – everything has come together and loads of little words like ‘lorsque’ and ‘dont’, ‘sinon’ etc that I never knew very well are much clearer. In short, I’ve found it to be extremely effective.

    Of course, if you want to learn all of the conjugation etc and specific rules of the language, you can always find better resources in the form of tutorials. But as a gamified pocket practice tool, it’s unbelievably good. The only criticism of Duolingo that seems possible for me relies on viewing it as a SOLE tool for learning, which of course nothing is. And if you play that game, you have to decide there’s something fundamentally wrong with everything, which is just playing the moaning game. I think it’s brilliant.

  43. Ana says:

    My experience with Duolingo is pretty bad. I am Portuguese (Portugal) and wanted to learn Spanish. These are two languages that are quite similar and I can understand most of what a Spanish person is saying or writing, but don’t know how to write and although I can say things in a way they understand I don’t know how to speak it properly. So I thought Duolingo would be perfect.
    The problem is they only offer Portuguese from Brasil. Most my answers were wrong because the sentence order was incorrect, or something like that. So instead of learning 1 language I was learning 2
    The problem is that I can’t learn any language using Duolingo because of that and they say they will not include Portuguese from Portugal.

  44. cathyc says:

    I wonder if anybody could comment on this please. I’ve been doing the duolingo tests that you ‘pay’ lingots to do. I was already suspicious as to why they give no feedback – but this time I cheated. I expected to get close on 5/5. Instead I got 2. This is in line with my progression according to their tests: Test 1: .9/5; Test 2: 1.5/5; Test 3 2/5.

    It is true that I might be so bad that despite all the learning I’ve done between tests two and three, I am so incompetent that cheating (checking gender, spelling, conjugation) didn’t help at all. By the way, I only cheating out of frustration, wanting to know what the right answers were and knowing I was going to get zero feedback.

    Or maybe the tests are a scam and that’s why they don’t show you the results or give you feedback on what you have done wrong.

    A friend who works in CALL (computer assisted language learning) thinks that the fact that they give no feedback is because they know that their marking methods are no good.

    I wondered what other people’s experiences might be?

    • Kaliman says:

      My experience is the following: I took the evaluation test when I reached level 22 in French. My score was 4.71/5.00. That’s about what I expected.

  45. wertguor says:

    The main reason Duolingo is so bad is because they are unwilling to hire anyone who has actual knowledge of teaching or translating. The quality of the various languages on there are all over the place.

    There are teams who take the time to research questions and grammar and other teams that just through together a bunch of sentences with no real understanding of their own language let alone the one they are translating to.

    When you get a bad course you are hindering your ability to learn that language. Reinforcing the wrong answers is counterproductive.

  46. Gene O'Connor says:

    I completed both the Duolingo Portuguese for English speakers and Duolingo for Spanish speakers. I went from being able to read and understand almost nothing in Portuguese to having pretty good aural and reading comprehension. I think it was time well spent. A lot of the English in the translations was flat out wrong. If you speak Spanish, I recommend the Duolingo Portuguese for Spanish speakers over the Portuguese for English speakers.

    I also worked on the Duolingo English for Spanish speakers and Spanish for English speakers for about a couple hours each to evaluate them. I didn’t find any mistakes in the English and Spanish courses but some of the translations needed explaining.

    Duolingo doesn’t use a computer algorithm to correct the translations. It’s like a flashcard system and a person has to decide which translations to accept. For example if I set up a flashcard that asks for a translation of “to be” into Spanish, I have to set it up to accept two answers: “ser” and “estar.”

  47. George says:


    I have been using Duolingo for a few months now. There are many different views on the most effective approach to language learning, I will not weigh in. However, I’d like any views on people attempting to learn multiple languages, basically using Duolingo to attempt be a hyper-polyglot. I myself am currently taking 15 languages on Duolingo. I see people on there doing multiple languages, sometimes 10 or more. Is this even realistic?
    I myself, I was already studying more than one language b4 duolingo, but focusing primarily one. Once I started Duolingo, I had a lot of learning under my belt in my target language, but then I expanded into more languages.

    So conversant in 10, 12, or even 15 languages by way of Duolingo? Possible? Any thoughts?

    • Sacha says:

      I think if you’re at the same low level in multiple languages, you’re not familiar enough with one to not mix it with another. I don’t think it’s possible to start that many languages at the same time, and keep up with them all, and keep them straight into fluency – but esp not with Duolingo alone. I sort of had an experience with this, where I started learning some Mandarin and some Russian at the same time (not on Duo, but generally), and so even in very simple sentences I would switch from one to the other to pick up missing words – and I kind of ended up with a mishmash nonsense that no one would understand anyway. (I focused on Russian after that, and did better, lol.)

      The thing is that it’s fairly easy to memorize the answers Duo wants you to give, so you can keep moving forward in the levels, without actually LEARNING anything – and so you can theoretically make it up there in the levels in a bunch of different languages, but if you’re only using Duo you’re not going to really be learning those languages as much as learning what Duolingo wants you to say to it.

  48. Sacha says:

    My experience with Duo so far has been that it is good for starting out, good for review, but it struggles in the middle to be more than a dynamic vocabulary list that feels like you’re dragging it behind you a bit. I’ve been using Duo to learn Vietnamese for the last two or three months, and I’m at the point with it where it’s feeling a bit limiting and I’ve had to branch out to other resources. But I have used it to review Spanish and it does a fairly adequate job of reminding me of words and grammatical structures I haven’t used lately. As most people have noted, it is not a complete package on its own. I don’t know how people with no prior language study experience feel about Duo when they get into the “comfortable grammatically, but ready for a quicker study of words to use in these grammatical contexts” or if they get that sense from it as well, but I think most people who study language for whatever purposes they have do at some point realize Duo isn’t the end-all-be-all, and it’s not going to get you where you want to be by itself.

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  52. Jan Zidek says:

    I think your basic confusion is in your wrong expectation: You expect to *acquire a language* through an automated online course. This is *not possible* with any course, given the current status of AI.

    Just take Duolingo as an *accompanying tool* for learning a foreign language. For sure it does to you, if you practice a lot and as often as possible, what the parents do to a kid: you are exposed daily to the language. By hearing and repeating the phrases, you start understanding the grammar rules unconsciously, and – to save time as an adult – you are supposed to find resources and study the rules on your own. Internet is full of good explanatory sites.

    For me, Duolingo fulfilled exactly this purpose very well.

    And yes, I agree that the sentences should be chosen more real-life like. However, I will never forget “Stop the elephant!”, “The bear does not fit into the door-frame” (from the Spanish course) and “Ninjas work at night” (from the Danish course) and thus I have more fun.

  53. Joe says:

    7 years later and this article still right. Duolingo only teaches you words you could pick up by reading a dictionary, with the addition of “gaming” elements that trick people into thinking this is fun, and the fact that it’s “free”. People will claim that it’s just a companion tool, but all that means is that it’s not doing its job properly. If you need to have a native speaker teach you the language while you’re supposedly using duolingo to learn it, then duolingo is not actually teaching you properly!
    Oh but it’s free while Rosetta Stone is $500 – this means I’m basically losing money by not using it!

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