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? We’ll discuss in this Duolingo review.
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
The first question for this Duolingo review: 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.1. Overview of Duolingo
3. Duolingo’s learning path
4. Other features
5. Duolingo Leagues
6. Duolingo Achievements
7. Super Duolingo
8. Duolingo alternatives
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 (i.e. reminders, gamification, competition), Duolingo is effective for:
- Learning beginner vocab and beginner-intermediate grammar (in some languages)
- Forming a daily habit
- Making language learning fun
- Creating competition
And, most importantly, making language learning free and accessible to all.
You’re not going to get conversational 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.
Duolingo can be a great start for your language learning in a variety of languages. The languages you can find on Duolingo include:
- Scottish Gaelic
Duolingo also offers fantasy languages, like Klingon and High Valyrian; suffice to say, you’re more than covered for language learning inspo.
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.
“Lingots”(pronounced ling-guhts) are Duolingo’s currency. 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. This is why Duolingo depends heavily on Lingots to keep Duolingo users hooked.
With these lingots, you can buy:
- streak freezes (if you forget to come back one day, you won’t lose your current streak) (
- double or nothing (double your wager if you maintain a 7-day streak)
- extra minutes in timed practices
- hearts (AKA more practice)
In the past, lingots could be used to buy several other things as well, like outfits for Duo the owl. However, today your options are limited, and this is one of the many updates to Duolingo that users are not happy about.
For free Duolingo users, “hearts” also play a major part in the Duolingo experience; 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 more hearts with lingots
- earn 1 heart by practicing old skills
- get Duolingo plus (to be explained later)
Duolingo review: the learning path
Duolingo teaches languages by way of a learning path. These learning paths are made up of bite-sized lessons collected together and 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.
Here you can see a lesson about “changes” under the unit about places being…neither of those.
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, “Legendary”, being a review worth 40 XP). Each of these crowns is broken up into 5 levels, and each of those levels has 10 questions each.
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.
That said, more commonly learned languages like Spanish have a significantly longer learning path than something like Finnish.
Regardless of the language, Duolingo is best for language learners with little to no experience in a given language. If you’re an intermediate learner of the more commonly-learned languages, you may also find Duolingo valuable.
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.
Again, this does depend on the language you’re learning, as well as your abilities. These Checkpoint Challenges are not easy – simple mistakes make a big difference.
Otherwise, Duolingo’s learning path guides you one lesson at a time. Many users complain that they’d like more choices as to what they’re learning at any given time; if you don’t want to take that particular lesson, you’re stuck.
There are other things to do in Duolingo that are not connected to the learning path to give you something else to do, like separate speaking/listening exercises.
Duolingo review: other options
In the past, Duolingo offered users more options: which skills to learn, when to learn them, and how many repetitions they want. With the new learning path, those options are totally gone; users must take the next lesson, or else they can’t move on.
For Super Duolingo users (i.e. paid members) on mobile devices, there are a couple of other options. Timed practice, for example, has users review vocab at breakneck speeds to earn more XP and get to the top of the League leaderboards.
Users might also find timed practice with more advanced content, like translating to transcription (listen to an audio clip and write down what they’re saying).
Suffice to say, Duolingo truly changes things up (albeit inconsistently – they’re known for their A/B testing, so it may take a while for updated exercises to hit your account).
Here’s a tip for you if you want to use Duolingo: try to focus on these kinds of comprehension questions, if you can:
These are excellent because they lead users to use their language skills together with their critical thinking skills to check for understanding.
Simple, brainless, matching exercises will only take you so far, so I’m glad to see these more complex exercises.
As you continue through Duolingo’s learning path, you’ll also work through Duolingo Stories; again, this is one of their better features for genuinely building comprehension skills in an engaging way.
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.
PRO TIP: add the language you’re learning to the keyboard on your phone! This’ll reduce the number of silly autocorrect mistakes.
Let’s talk about the competition aspect of Duolingo: Duolingo’s leagues exist as yet another level of gamification to keep you coming back to the app.
Everything that you do in Duolingo earns you at least 10 XP. You can earn more by not making any mistakes, reviewing your mistakes, or doing separate speaking/listening exercises (Super Duolingo users only).
This XP is used to pit users in competition with each other for the next week, based on when they started the week.
The purpose of Duolingo’s leagues is to motivate you to practice enough to get to the Diamond League.
Every week, you get pitted against 25 other Duolingo learners (regardless of language, skill level, etc.) who started their Duolingo week at the same time as you. You move forward, backward, 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 other language learners, you have a week to:
- graduate to the next league by finishing in the top 10 (plus earning lingots if you finish in the top 3)
- stay in your current league by finishing in spots 11-20
- get demoted to the prior league by finishing in the bottom 5
If you get to the Diamond League, there’s one more challenge for you: stay in that league for 3 weeks to earn all 3 pieces of the Diamond. It won’t be easy, though, especially at the very end. Some users use illegal bots to earn thousands of XP points just to earn the coveted award.
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 a 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 till 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) just for this Duolingo review.
- 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. Remember, the specific language you’re studying has no weight in Leagues.
- 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).
Super Duolingo 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, especially for a large, publicly traded company.
But as time goes on, more and more users have a bad taste in their mouths 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 that’s true or not is not for me to say. 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 Super Duoilingo. If you want to try it out, every account gets free access to Super Duolingo for 14 days. You’ll get to try out:
- no ads
- unlimited hearts (i.e. unlimited learning)
- mistake practice (any exercises you get wrong)
- unlimited Legendary (do an exercise and your final lesson turns purple)
In my opinion, sticking to the free Duolingo won’t break your language learning experience; however, if you find yourself using it a lot and would benefit from some extra learning tools, there’s no harm in using your free trial.
You can opt for Super Duolingo either in the app or on desktop.
If after this Duolingo review you’ve decided it doesn’t quite suit your language goals, what are some Duolingo alternatives?
If you like the heavy gamification (easy to use, great colors, and fun sounds/animations), you may prefer Mondly or Drops which are both great for beginners who want to build their foreign language vocabulary.
Finally, if you’re learning a language from scratch and want a structured path but can’t deal with Duolingo’s heavy gamification, you can try Rosetta Stone or Babbel (this post compares all 3 resources!).
Duolingo review: who it’s for
If you’ve made it this far into this Duolingo review, it’s the moment of truth: will Duolingo help you learn a language?
Duolingo is appropriate if you:
- want a simple way to practice a language
- thrive off reminders and happy sounds
- are just starting out learning a language for the first time
- know absolutely nothing in the language
However, steer clear if you:
- are focused on getting conversationally fluent
- are looking for a high-quality language education
- get annoyed by constant reminders
- want to learn sentences you’ll use in real life
- want explicit grammar instructions (not “figure it out as you go”)