Ah, Duolingo. The internet’s most famous place to study foreign languages. It’s cute, it’s bite-sized, and it makes you feel good. All that surface-level stuff aside, does Duolingo work? Is Duolingo good for all types of language learners? That’s where this Duolingo review comes in.
If you follow this blog, you’re a specific type of language learner: serious. You like to understand languages as well as you can, really learn them. You want to be fluent (whatever that word means to you). So, while we all know that Duolingo is the best online language learning resource in the universe, what exactly is it best for? Does Duolingo work for you? Let’s dive in with the Duolingo review.
How to use Duolingo
Now, is Duolingo effective? It can be, as long as you understand what it’s used for. What I mean by that is Duolingo does not offer conversational practice, any independent speaking, reading, or writing. There’s a teeny tiny bit of listening, when you’re learning the words, but that’s about it.
That being said, the question of “how effective is Duolingo” is…a mixed bag. For what it does, it can be very effective! Because of the tools it provides (ie. public forum, reminders, gamification), Duolingo is effective for:
- Learning beginner vocab
- Forming a habit
- Answering common questions
- Providing a forum for other questions you may have regarding the language
- Making language learning fun
- Briefly touching on intermediate concepts
So, as long as you go into Duolingo understanding what it’s for, the site has a lot to offer. You’re not going to get fluent using just Duolingo, but you can easily get a fairly solid base in the language, with which you can search elsewhere in the world for more advanced concepts and actually practicing your fluency.
So, basically, Duolingo is a great home base for your language learning in a variety of languages; not all of them, but the common languages. The languages you can find on Duolingo include:
And on top of alllll that, you can also learn Klingon and High Valyrian. Because, you know, why not? Suffice to say, you’re more than covered for language learning inspo.
How does Duolingo work?
So, how does Duolingo work? Duolingo works by providing you with a bunch of little, incremental lessons that are easy to consume, and constantly giving you positive reinforcement via adorable sound effects, awards, and notifications. It absolutely is addicting, and that’s their MO. They get you addicted to coming back and spending even just 5 minutes with them.
As you continue on and earn more and more “lingots”, you can spend them on a variety of things in their shop. You earn lingots by leveling up, finishing a skill, and continuing a streak for 10 days (20 days, 30, 40, etc.). When you only have to study on Duolingo for 5 minutes a day, it’s really not hard to see why you’d keep coming back.
Once you get lingots, you can use them to buy bonus skills, timed practice, freeze your streak for a day, bet that you can study for 7 days straight, or even just dress up your little Duolingo owl. It’s fun and low-stress. It’s an easy way to feel good about yourself, and that is why Duolingo is successful.
Duolingo works with “trees”. These are little 5-minute lessons on your language all collected together. Because Duolingo is as gamified as it is, and these lessons are so easy to swallow, it’s not hard to push yourself to learn more and more; not only that, but Duolingo has so many adorable little achievements and reminders that it’s easy to stay in the habit, which is awesome.
In the beginning, each Duolingo level is its own category of ultimate beginner vocabulary, which makes Duolingo a great choice if you’re just starting out. These Duolingo levels begin at the beginning, and as you make your way down your tree of your target language, you get more advanced.
Surprisingly, as you continue through the tree, Duolingo does address some more intermediate concepts. You don’t see this a lot – it’s easy enough to find the beginner lessons in pretty well any language, but a lot of language learners fall off when the content gets more difficult, so there’s not much interest in higher level stuff. That being said, I love to see a popular, free resource to have more to learn than “the dog likes to eat” or something.
And, if you’re not quite at beginner beginner anymore, Duolingo offers checkpoints: if you can prove you know your stuff, you don’t have to go through the whole tree! Very handy.
Also consider this when you see your Duolingo fluency percentage. Your Duolingo fluency percentage doesn’t reflect a fluency in the language itself, just when it comes to Duolingo content. This can be a great motivator as well, just so long as you understand you’re not 50% fluent in the language when you get halfway through your Duolingo tree. That’s not how this works.
Now, like I said, Duolingo does reference some of the more detailed concepts of the language. But. It’s referenced. That’s as far as you’ll go. Duolingo grammar is more of a small introduction to some of the more simple concepts – you won’t find any complex subjects mentioned, because Duolingo is really not the resource for things that take a significant period of time to understand.
Basically, if it takes more than 5 minutes to understand, it’s not on Duolingo. If you’re looking for more in-depth grammar help, you might want to try out Babbel, instead.
Always keep in mind what Duolingo and other language learning sources are meant for. There is a great, very active forum for members where you can find a lot of help, but there are difficult concepts in any and every foreign language that requires some effort to understand. Duolingo advertises learning languages in just 5 minutes a day, and these more intense concepts definitely require more than 5 minutes to understand. So, go elsewhere to understand concepts that aren’t a part of Duolingo grammar.
How many levels are there in Duolingo?
How many levels are in Duolingo? 25 levels per language. Your level of language doesn’t necessarily reflect how knowledgeable you are in that particular language, though. Levels are based on XP, and XP is based on how many points you earn by practicing.
So yes, theoretically, learners who reach level 25 might have gotten through their entire trees and have a decent amount of knowledge. However. You can get XP by going through your tree, but you can also get XP by doing the same content over and over again, which means you could very well be at level 25 and still be learning “the dog likes to eat”.
So, you know, level 25 doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I mean, it looks cool when you comment on something in the forum and you’ve got a number 25 badge next to your name, but I wouldn’t take it to heart. If you find that motivating, great. It means you’ve spent time on your tree, but it doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything.
Duolingo vocabulary list
Being aware of how Duolingo works, you might find it helpful to see a Duolingo vocabulary list right off the bat. Duolingo vocabulary covers, again, the basic beginner concepts; it’s generally understood that a beginner language learning understands about 2,000 words in their foreign language. This is true of Duolingo vocabulary as well: you’ll learn about 2,000 of the most commonly-used words. Great for tourists!
Unfortunately, the Duolingo vocabulary list is not available for all their languages. If you are studying one of the languages that they do offer the list for, all you do is click the “words” tab on the top navigation bar. Easy peasy.
And hey, if you’re really that interested in knowing what words you’ll need to learn, go into one of the more common languages with these lists (ie. Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Swedish, and Russian), translate the words into English, and bada bing! You have your Duolingo vocabulary list.
Duolingo app review
So one of the best parts about Duolingo is how well the desktop site and the app flow together. There’s a lot of great language learning resources out there that don’t really convert too well, and it’s obviously easier to use one than the other. Fortunately, Duolingo kills it both on desktop and mobile.
That being said, a Duolingo app review is exactly the same as a desktop Duolingo review. Some of the features might be a little bit more obvious on desktop, like the forums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t access them via mobile. This is great, because a lot of learners get in their 5 minutes of Duolingo practice when they’re commuting, waiting in line, etc., so the app has to be great.
Duolingo’s thing is free education forever. There are no gimmicks, no surprise “if you want to keep learning, pay us!”, nothing, which is great. You don’t really get many genuine, large, popular companies anymore.
As of late, Duolingo has added a subscription service, however it’s all in good taste. They describe it as supporting a free educational service, and subscribers don’t get any new content, but they do get to kill the ads and work on their trees online.
In recent years, Duolingo has been making more efforts to bring language learners closer to immersion. Duolingo immersion…it’s getting pretty close, honestly. They have a few new options outside of their trees: they have stories, a dictionary, and even language exchanges!
These are great ways to get language learners in the habit of actively seeking out immersion, even if these things only reference the content that’s already on Duolingo. I know I’ve had the issue in the past of finishing my Duolingo tree and not knowing what to do next; if I had this in the past, I might’ve been able to figure out the next step.
Duolingo review: stories
With stories, Duolingo has come up with fairly simple, yet interactive, examples to practicing reading and listening at the same time, which is great. As the audio tells the story, Duolingo brings up the text, so you can read as the speaker slowly reads the story for you. It goes one sentence at a time, and waits for you to tell it to continue.
Each sentence translates every word if you roll over it, which is great for immersion, as you don’t have the English translation right in front of you to cheat, but you also have the option to find translations easily and conveniently if you need to. There are also a few options for interactions, where you can
- Select which phrase the audio just said
- Select which phrase would logically come next
- Put words in the correct order to complete the phrase
This is definitely a step in the right direction for Duolingo immersion. They’re no more than a couple minutes long, but they’re worth significantly more XP than the regular Duolingo trees. That’s a great incentive to push Duolingo immersion, I think.
Duolingo review: podcasts
Duolingo is keeping up with the times and have their own podcast now – good for them! This is another great way to practice listening on the go. They provide both the audio file and the transcript on the Duolingo website, so you can read and listen to go (which I highly recommend). They’re easy-to-read/listen to stories, which, again, is a great way to show beginner language learners how to learn a language via immersion.
You don’t even need to be on Duolingo to get this podcast either – it’s on Apple! That being said, if you’re studying a language that Duolingo has this option in, I’d give it a listen if I were you.
Duolingo review: the dictionary
Duolingo also has its own dictionary. But, honestly…not a fan. It seems to have only the translations for the words available on the tree, which is less than helpful for anybody other than somebody actively using Duolingo. If you want to translate anything other than bare-bones beginner words, I suggest you stick to your dictionary of choice.
But still, I get what they’re going for. It’s specifically for people who might be struggling with the words they’re trying to learn, and if this dictionary is helpful for them, awesome! I just wouldn’t depend on it; if you try to translate anything other than basic words, it’ll give you a word that kind of looks like it…which isn’t good.
Duolingo review: Events
Last but not least are Duolingo events. These are language meetups hosted by Duolingo, which is awesome! I really hope these are productive in getting language learners out and about, speaking with other learners. As with any language exchange, whether or not you can find one near you depends entirely on how big your city is.
I imagine it would be real difficult to host language exchanges on a global scale, so any little bit that they’re accomplishing is better than anything at all! I am hopeful to see Duolingo events to expand over time, and create more opportunities for language learners to connect.
At the end of this whole Duolingo review, you may feel that it isn’t right for you, and that’s fine! Nothing is right for everyone. In my opinion, Duolingo is best for starting a brand new language and learning to recognize it, but I think attempting long streaks and getting to level 25 in all these languages is a little overrated.
So, if you want to learn your beginner vocab, what are your Duolingo alternatives that might be better for you? Well, you’ve got a few options. For example, you may want to try Memrise, which is also just as cute as Duolingo. The Memrise decks themselves might not have content that’s as advanced as you’re looking for, but if you hop on over to Decks, you might be able to find someone who has created exactly what you’re looking for.
Mondly is another great option that operates very similarly to Duolingo but goes a bit more in-depth with Augmented Reality immersion and Chatbots.
If you’re okay with something not as pretty, but incredibly effective, you might try Anki. Anki users have created countless shared decks that you can download, and I would honestly be surprised if you couldn’t find the one for you.
There are more Duolingo alternatives than I have personally used. Learning a language on your own is all about finding the strategy and the resources that work for you. So, take a look around. Try new things. Take advantage of free trials of paid products. Find what you need to smash your goals, and learn that language!