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?
And if Duolingo is the answer for you, how do you take advantage of everything that it has to offer (which is a lot)? That’s where this Duolingo review comes in.
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 (for more speaking practice with Duolingo, allow me to recommend LipSurf). There’s a teeny tiny bit of listening, when you’re learning the words, but that’s about it.1. Overview of Duolingo
2. Lingots vs. Gems
3. Lesson structure
4. Question types
5. Duolingo Leagues
6. Duolingo Achievements
7. Vocabulary lists
8. Duolingo Stories
9. Duolingo Podcasts & dictionary
10. Duolingo Plus
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/intermediate vocab and grammar (in some languages)
- Forming a habit
- Answering common questions
- Providing a forum for other questions you may have regarding the language
- Making language learning fun
- Creating competition
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 very solid base in the language, with which you can search elsewhere in the world for more advanced concepts and actually practice your fluency.
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So, basically, Duolingo is a great home base for your language learning in a variety of 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.
On top of that, with Leagues and XP, you can use Duolingo to find motivation via competition against other language learners regardless of target language, goals, and skill level. I’ll go more in-depth about this later.
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Lingots or Gems
As you continue on and earn more and more “lingots” or “gems” (depending on a few different factors – sorry, you don’t get to choose), you can spend them on a variety of things in their shop. You earn lingots by:
- earning crowns in any skill
- finishing any skill
- continuing a streak for a specific number of days
- finishing a League in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place
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.
With lingots (pronounced ling-guhts), you can buy:
- bonus skills like “flirting” and “idioms and proverbs” (desktop only)(30 lingots)
- a streak freeze (so if you forget to come back one day, you won’t lose your current streak) (10 lingots; 200 gems)
- timed practice (desktop only) (10 lingots)
- double or nothing (double your wager if you maintain a 7-day streak) (5 lingots; 50 gems)
- quizzes to earn crowns without taking lessons (get less than 3 wrong to pass the lessons) (5 lingots; 200 gems)
- outfits for Duo (mobile only) (up to 50 lingots; up to 1000 gems)
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Gems are a bit different. Above you can see that, if your Duolingo account is using the gem currency (and you don’t get to make that choice, sorry!) these options are more expensive. Thanks, inflation! Fortunately, you also earn more gems for each success.
PRO TIP: if your mobile Duolingo account uses gems, switch to desktop to use lingots and not deal with this whole section!
Besides that inflation, there is also one major difference: hearts. Lingot-based accounts don’t have to worry about this, but, basically, you automatically get 5 hearts; whenever you get a question wrong, you lose a heart.
You can keep learning until you get 5 wrong, and lose all 5 hearts. Once you lose all your hearts, you have three options:
- quit playing and wait to get 1 heart every 5 hours
- buy 5 hearts for 350 gems
- earn 1 heart by practicing old skills
- get Duolingo plus (to be explained later)
There’s a lot of confusion over who gets lingots and who gets gems; mobile vs. desktop, Apple vs Android, older accounts vs newer accounts, etc. There really doesn’t seem to be an obvious answer, but the one thing that is clear is that gems are worse because of the limited learning.
And if your mobile Duolingo has Lingots? Enjoy it while you got it, because Duolingo is known for its A/B testing; your account can be switched to Gems at any time!
Duolingo works with “trees”. These are bite-sized lessons collected together, organized by skill. 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.
Unfortunately, even though these lessons are based on grammatical concepts, they’re not named specifically based on that. For example, the “City” skill doesn’t teach you the name of cities, but words like “store”, “small”, “school”, etc. Kind of confusing. I wish they took the LingoDeer approach of having lesson titles match up with the actual lessons.
These skills are organized by level, and for the more extensive languages (namely Spanish and French), Duolingo will ease you into a more and more advanced understanding of the language.
For the more extensive languages, there are 5 crowns per skill (on mobile you may have 6 crowns per skill, the last crown being a review worth 20 XP). Each of these crowns is broken up into 5 levels, and each of those levels has 10 questions each.
Get a question wrong as you go through? No worries, you’ll be presented with the same question over and over again until you get it right. Once you finish your lesson, you’ll get 10 XP minimum, 15 XP maximum (if you get every question right the first time around).
If you’re doing well or practice at the right time, you have the option to do “harder” lessons (more writing out answers than multiple choice) for double the XP, so up to 25 XP. The lessons will also get more difficult as you earn more crowns in a particular lesson; the first 2 crowns are generally multiple-choice, and the last ones require more free writing.
That being said, Duolingo is best for language learners with little to no experience in a given language. If you’re more intermediate, you may also find Duolingo valuable, especially to brush up on more intermediate concepts, and especially for more commonly-learned languages.
This is because of the “Checkpoint” feature of Duolingo. If you’re not a total beginner of the language, you can take and pass Checkpoint Challenges to show Duolingo what you know, and get to the lessons that’ll actually be beneficial to you.
If you’re going through your tree and come upon the Checkpoint Challenges naturally, they’ll be really difficult. Don’t worry, you don’t even have to pass! Just do your best and you’ll automatically be pushed to the next lesson.
Otherwise, more and more of the tree will be unlocked for you as you make more progress. You can choose to earn all 5 crowns in each skill (also known as “gilding”), or you can just keep on going through more advanced skills. Keep in mind, though, that Duolingo skills do build up on each other!
As time goes on, your gilded skills will crack, but only up to 3 skills at a time. This can be used as a good reminder to review past skills, or you can just ignore it. Totally up to you.
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One of the things to keep in mind with Duolingo is that even though there are a ton of languages to learn, not all of them are as complete as some of the more common foreign languages.
For example, Duolingo’s newest course, Finnish, can be finished (pun totally intended) much quicker than Spanish. You also won’t be getting as advanced of an education in Finnish.
Types of questions
Duolingo has just a few different types of questions in each of its quizzes, and these slight differences are used in conjunction with (very) slightly advancing content to push your skills forward little by little over a long period of time.
Which, by the way, is excellent for developing new habits and building new skills!
Like I’ve said, Duolingo is great for brand spankin’ new beginners. Here’s the first question I got when starting French for the first time:
If you click the little flag icon in the bottom right-hand corner after you answer, you have the option to tell Duolingo if you think there’s something wrong with that particular question.
That’s more for more complex questions though, and there’s no guarantee that your suggestion will be accepted. In fact, I’ve made a TON of suggestions and so far I’ve only gotten one email saying my suggestion was accepted.
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Then Duolingo slowly ups the difficulty and helps you learn to build sentences, mixed with fun little sounds and cute little cartoons that make you feel good!
Throughout all these lessons, you will use all of the language skills as a way to help cement these new skills into your memory, but it’s important to understand that I wouldn’t recommend using Duolingo for all your language skills.
Duolingo is tackling all the learning methods possible to help build your ability to create and decode sentences and statements, but this really isn’t enough for speaking/listening practice. Sorry!
Plus, if you go into your settings, you can always turn off the speaking and listening portions. I personally keep the speaking function turned off just because I don’t like to depend on voice recognition, but learning to comprehend listening absolutely helps!
Where Duolingo doesn’t support us in those skills, it does a pretty decent job with grammar (this part isn’t available in every language, so don’t be disappointed if you use Duolingo to learn lesser-known languages and don’t get this level of support).
While these little grammar tips aren’t available in every language, Duolingo has a couple more tricks up their sleeves!
For one, check out this little green bar that can sometimes pop up when you get an answer pretty much right, but there’s still a little something missing.
There’s a couple things to note here.
One: Duolingo won’t ding you for accents, but they’ll (most of the time) let you know when you’re missing one, which is awesome. So you won’t be punished for not learning them (unlike other apps/resources), but you will get a nudge.
Two: see the chat icon next to the flag? Tapping that will bring you to the Duolingo forums, which can be an incredibly helpful place to go if you either can’t figure out the answer to a question, or you’re struggling with consistency in a grammar point.
This is also where you’ll find if others are having issues with some translations. Or, if you’re like me and keep forgetting the most simple concepts over and over again, you might see a tip like this.
Though, to be fair, a lot of the time when I get these tips, it’s addressing a part of the question that I didn’t get wrong. Duolingo will then ask you if the tip was helpful but, again, I’m not totally sure they actually receive/review those tips.
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It is worth mentioning that you can commonly get questions wrong because of a typo that isn’t relevant to the actual thing you’re being tested on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten questions wrong because the sentence started with “Julie” and my phone auto-corrected to “Julia”. Super frustrating.
PROTIP: add the language you’re learning to the keyboard on your phone! This’ll reduce the number of silly autocorrect mistakes.
On the flip side, if things are going hunky-dory and you pass through 2 skill levels with no mistakes, proving you’ve conquered that topic, you might get this pop-up.
This definitely gets me all excited, and I tend to put (probably way too much) stress into making sure I don’t have any mistakes in the first two lessons.
It won’t always happen, though. And if it doesn’t, you can always try to skip through to the next level by passing a slightly harder lesson with less than 3 mistakes (for 5 lingots/200 gems).
Let’s talk about the competition aspect of Duolingo, ’cause Duolingo’s competition can get real intense. I’ve mentioned XP already, but let’s talk about what you do with it and how you can use it to push your studies forward.
Like I said, everything you do earns you at least 10 XP. You can earn more by not making any mistakes, completing Stories (more on that below), and reviewing (worth double XP). So what?
Well, a couple of things. On mobile, for one, you can compare your XP for the week (but only for the last week) to anybody else. For example, any “friends” you have on Duolingo.
(I took this screenshot specifically in Obsidian League, ’cause Sandy was being REALLY competitive and I thought that was hilarious!)
Even more competitive is the Duolingo Leagues. If you have a public Duolingo profile (which you do unless you specifically set your profile to private), you’ll automatically be added to the Bronze League. What does that mean?
Every week, you get pitted against 50 (or 25, depending on where you land in A/B testing) other Duolingo learners (regardless of language, skill level, etc.) who started their Duolingo week at the same time as you. You move forward, backwards, or stay in one of 10 leagues from week to week:
Each of these leagues is a week long, which means it’ll take you at least 10 weeks to get to Diamond League. Competing against 25-50* other language learners, you have a week to:
- graduate to the next league by finishing in the top 5-10* (plus earning lingots/gems if you finish in the top 3)
- stay in your current league by finishing in spot 6-27 or 11-45*
- get demoted to the prior league by finishing in the bottom 3-5*
*exact numbers depend on which side of A/B testing your account is in.
But wait, there’s more! While having 10+ weeks of competition focusing you on your goals is great, there is one more star of Duolingo left to mention. And that brings us to Duolingo Achievements.
As you continue on through Duolingo, you’ll get cute little achievements here and there. Things like following 3 friends, adding a profile picture, maintaining your streak for varying number of days, etc.
There is one important achievement that really raises the stakes, especially in the Diamond League. This achievement is the Legendary award.
The only way to achieve this is to finish the Diamond League in the #1 position. This means that the Diamond League can get FIERCE! Not to mention stressful.
Sometimes the Diamond League is pretty chill and the winner only had 2,000 XP or so, and sometimes the top 2 players are fighting til the death and the #1 finishes with something like 10,000 XP.
So yeah, it can get crazy.
How does one land this extra special achievement? I have a couple of tips (that don’t involve the bots that some people absolutely use to cheat).
- Don’t start the league until the last minute
Leagues are events that restart every week, but timing can be a big deal. Think of others who are lazy or busy, and can’t maintain their streak until the last minute. Try waiting until the very last minute to join the league – you can even use a streak freeze to really put it off and still maintain your streak!
- Check out the competition before you get too crazy
I’ve been in leagues where players have used bots to earn 8,000 XP in the first hour of the league. There’s no point in competing against that. If you find you’re in a league with players who are too competitive, maybe wait til next week.
- Work through old lessons or a language you already know
If your goal is to get as much XP as possible, don’t worry about learning new things. Go through beginner lessons in your language, or if you’re already at an advanced level of another language, go through that tree.
- Take advantage of your free Duolingo Plus trial
Duolingo Plus means no ads. Take advantage of the time saved! When you ditch the ads, you save a few seconds each lesson, and that can really add up (or at the very least remove the frustrations of ads when you’re already stressing your XP).
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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.
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In a select few languages (namely Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and even Dutch unofficially) Duolingo has Stories! These are short, bite-sized ways to push your comprehension of the language.
Once you complete the first Checkpoint, this section (if you’re learning an applicable language) will open up to you, and they’re an excellent addition to your language learning strategy!
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 story has one or two new words for you to learn, and reads through the stories at the same comprehension level you should be at when you learn these words. So if you go into these stories and they’re either too easy or too difficult, you can figure out how to get the stories to your current level.
And as you get more and more advanced, completing the stories gets you more and more XP, from 14 to 28 XP per story.
French and Spanish learners get even more from Duolingo: podcasts! These are just another option for you to increase your listening comprehension and get more involved in the language.
Duolingo provides 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.
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It’s not totally suitable for total beginners, but give the podcast a shot and see where you are. Build up your skills so you can follow without too much of a struggle and voila! You have another way to improve your language skills.
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.
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.
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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!
Duolingo Plus review
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.
Of course, especially with the new hearts and gems, a lot of users have a bad taste in their mouth with Duolingo, and believe that they’re trying to focus more on monetizing the site than focusing on providing a great, accessible language learning app.
Whether or not that’s true, who’s to say, right? With the free app, the only disturbance you’ll get to your language learning is ads. With the hearts system, you’ll also be disrupted if you get 5 questions wrong.
If you really care to get rid of the ads (as well as get a couple of perks), you can opt for Duolingo Plus. If you want to try it out, every account gets free access to Duolingo Plus for 14 days. You’ll get to try out:
- no ads
- jump levels for free (without paying lingots/gems)
- free monthly streak repair (without paying lingots/gems)
- unlimited mistakes (important if you have gems and not lingots)
- offline access
- progress quizzes
Which honestly isn’t a big deal; you’re not missing out on a whole lot (certainly no extra content) if you stick to the free version.
You can opt for Duolingo Plus either in the app or on desktop.
Whether or not you decide to spring for Duolingo Plus, free Duolingo is a stellar way to start learning a variety of languages! Click here to start!