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Aidas Petryla
Aidas Petryla

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Is Duolingo the right tool for learning?

I'd been using Duolingo for learning German for 1-2 months. Was it the right tool for learning new language? Not for me!

Duolingo doesn't take advantage of spaced repetition. I got sick and tired of successfully answering the same word for 15 lessons and then not seeing that word ever again. In total I did 2.5 units, so there was plenty of space for spaced repetition.

Overly gamified. When I do my first lessons of a day, there are so many "achievements" that they distract my focus and learning. Maybe the development could be focused better on the quality of learning instead of throwing tons of fake achievements?

I'm not a native English speaker. So I often ended up writing the longest sentence in English translation and have it marked as "false" just because of forgotten "the". Good job, Duo! You spot me...

The UI is also too primitive. For example, when I need to make a sentence out of multiple separate words provided in flashcards, I can't change the order of the words. I can only add the word to the end of the sentence, but not insert it. This again often results in having to rewrite the whole sentence, when the missing word is in the beginning of the sentence.

The overall feeling of the learning felt slow and boring. In the first weeks I was excited, because I was learning the new language. However, later when I was opening Duolingo, I felt more and more like it was a boring bureaucratic process that I have to go through. Why? Too many lessons of the same topic, too much repetition, too slow. I felt that throwing away 2/3 of the content would result in a 3 times better app.

So while this may be a tool for learning a new language, I consider it a really non efficient, non structured way of learning, having poor UX. I dumped Duolingo ~1 month ago changing my learning strategy. Now I feel more satisfied with my new learning process and feel that I'm improving faster.

What's Your experience learning languages? Have You used Duolingo?

Top comments (31)

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martinfjant profile image
Martin Falk Johansson

If you speak more than one language, which you obviously do since English is not your first language, I would suggest using something else than Duolingo. Ready made courses are often not that good, and with some skill and tips, one can often cobble together a comprehensive and better programme to learn a language by oneself using all the resources that are available on the internet.

If you like SRS, Anki is a wonderful tool, and you can customise it to your hearts content. Youtube is full of people teaching German - I would suggest listening to channels that do comprehensible input. Comprehensible input is a good way to keep up morale and to get used to thinking in the language without having to constantly consult a dictionary and grammar.

A lot of people like the sentence method, where you add sentenced to Anki (along with explanations or translations), and quiz yourself on your understanding of these sentences. This is nice because you learn words, expressions and grammar in context rather than isolation.

Duolingo is a good app for people who've never learned another language before, and want a gamified introduction that holds their hand all the way. Using it doesn't hurt, but, you will move on much quicker using other methods. That said, it can be one of many tools that you use!

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nikoldimit profile image
Nikolas

I love how duolingo has gamified language learning. I think its great for creating some curiosity and some basic learning of words and phrases. However for people who are serious about learning a language, duolingo can not be the only tool - in fact, if anything it needs to be a very supplementary one. Something that you use to refresh your knowledge in a train or for quick reminders.

I think that the best way to learn a language is:

  1. Join a "physical" class, with a professor and method and co students

  2. Hang out with people that speak this language

  3. live the language, watch movies from that country, watch movies with subtitles in that language etc.

just some thoughts..

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thaisavieira profile image
Thaísa Vieira

Duolingo helped me review a lot of things after I left English studies aside for a long time and of course, it helped me build a new study rhythm!

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Thanks for sharing!

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Hey Martin, thanks for the comment. I like these great suggestions and really agree with Your last paragraph.

I indeed have a couple of languages under my belt (up to some degree) and I'm improving my learning approach based on my experience. I agree this could influence my attitude and experience towards Duolingo. Great point and thanks for that!

I once made a flashcard box for learning Spanish vocabulary and I really liked that method at the time. The box had several sections increasing in size. In the smallest one were words that are being used/learned actively. When I answer the word correctly, I put it in the next (bigger) section. If I answer incorrectly - it moves back to the first section. The nice thing about this system was that I had longer breaks when I wasn't learning (months) and when I came back, I was at the exact stage, where I left.

Now, however, I prefer to learn words more in the sentences and in the context. So I have a notebook of German-English words which I'm currently learning. But instead of learning German-English word pairs, I go through the list and come up with sentences and stories, where I'm including those words. My aim is to work with the new words and engage them, but not to learn them 100%. When I feel that I'm comfortable enough with the word, I cross it out without being afraid that I lose it. Why so?

Because in addition to that I'm reading texts and listening to podcasts daily. So I expect to constantly recognize those new words together with the already known ones, with a frequency that's natural. And in case I do forget some, I just look them up in the dictionary and go "oh yeah, I knew this one. So it's used also like that? Nice." And I learn the word even better, because I learn it in a new context, see it from a new angle.

Regarding expression, I'm writing a diary or chatting with my German friends (in case somebody wants a penpal just let me know!) When I feel I need more training and feedback, I go with chatGTP (when it's not down :)) asking to correct me and show me the mistakes. Up to A2, I was okay like that, but currently, I'm reaching for B1 and I feel that I have to engage in more life speaking conversations. So I'm still working out where I can practice the speaking live more frequently. I've heard about some language cafes or apps like Tandem.

Regarding grammar, I found some A1-B1 textbooks. Those were great to provide me with idea on which grammar is necessary at which level. Also, they're structured very well with great tips. So I highly recommend textbooks. I also don't think that it's necessary to complete every single exercise there like at school, but they're at the very least a great complementary material.

Another idea would be to set my phone in German, but it's already set up in Spanish so that I don't forget my Spanish completely. :)

Being close to Austria, I'm also thinking of going there for a weekend or two to get some more exposure. :)

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nabinbhatt profile image
Nabin Bhatt

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Yes, I am currently using it and I think it's great to get some familiarity with the other language but not for learning the language and get proficient in it. Even me getting bored using it so thinking of changing my learning strategy and I feel the same way as you about some things about Duolingo.

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Thanks for sharing! I remembered a nice course on the learning methods and some scientific research. Among them there are also some interviews on learning languages, which I liked. Maybe You'd be interested. :)

Also, in case You're interested in sharing our learning methods and experiences, we could connect on linkedin or elsehow. :)

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nabinbhatt profile image
Nabin Bhatt

Yes, this is a very nice course, Aidas. I remember taking it a while ago :D

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danbailey profile image
Dan Bailey

I spent a year pounding away at Duolingo to learn French before I went on my long-planned European vacation. It was only slightly useful -- I was able to read things just fine, but listening was hard and speaking it was even harder. My lesson learned was that Duolingo is a great tool, but it shouldn't be your only tool. Immersion and real-world speaking of a language is absolutely essential.

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kaamkiya profile image
Kaamkiya

I have to agree. I used to use Duolingo for Spanish, but I haven't in a while. It did get boring and repetitive. I think the best way to learn a language is to talk with people who speak it fluently. This is actually how I learned French. Duolingo is fairly repetitive, and talking to real people can also help you learn the idioms and other quirks of the language.

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Indeed, I'm looking forward finding more German-speaking people to practice with! :))

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel (jmfayard.dev)

I've learnt 6 languages and I don't think there can be such thing as the ultimate one tool that will teach you a language.

Apart from just talking with human beings.
That one you will never get bored.

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dainiuxt profile image
Dainius

I always knew I'm not the only one overly p*ssed by Duolingo hypergamification and insane pressure to keep streak. This lead to numb ticking lesson material in a rush without any good result. Somehow this approach is OK for my children, so I think I'm too old for the Duolingo :)

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Thanks for sharing Your experience!

I also had a thought that Duolingo might target primarily children audience, so maybe such overgamification approach works to keep them engaged? But then again, in such case the result (KPI) wouldn't be learning, but hours spent.

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thaisavieira profile image
Thaísa Vieira

I'm learning English and one of the tools I use in my learning is Duolingo. As a B2-level student, I agree (a lot) that Duo's absurd amount of repetition is tiring. Something that starts with enthusiasm becomes a burden in less than 1 month. To this day I wonder why I'm on day 85 of my offensive. The UI also bothers me a lot, just recently they added dark mode.

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Thanks for sharing!

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hyeonho2010 profile image
hyeonho

I used to use Duolingo in the past, but I stopped using the service because of the very unfriendly UI and learning method. If you learn English or a language other than English, i recommend using an alternative instead of Duolingo.

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Thanks for sharing!

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dynnammo profile image
Dynnammo • Edited

Quite a Duo-addict speaking here ^^ (230 days of streak when writing those lines)
I'm currently fluent in English and German, and French is my native tongue. I'm currently learning Italian and plan to learn Spanish in mid-2024.

While aggreeing on some of your points, I however stick to Duolingo for multiple reasons. Here below are some unordered thoughts about it :

  • For me, the most dreadful thing about learning a language was regularity. I often started a learning method and was quite enthousiastic for some weeks, then didn't feel motivated anymore, therefore quitting. The point of Duolingo you despise the most, the streak system, can be a plus since it's simply encouraging you to work everyday day, even if it's just a lesson and a speaking exercise.
  • I started Duolingo on the free plan, which I assume is the case for most people, and must agree it is a pain in the a** if you want to progress at your own rythm. We moved with some friends on the paid plan, which per seat costs about 20 bucks a year, which I find acceptable for the provided service. I therefore understand the folks that aren't on the paid plan, having to deal with this stupid heart counter and ads that hinder the learning process.
  • I find the learning process well built. While repetitive, it gives you basic vocabulary quite fast, and learns you the grammar without having to read boring stuffs (like the ones I had when I learnt languages at school). The downside of it is that I sometimes find myself knowing instinctly how to say things without knowing precisely what the rules are.
  • I'll probably move on in the next weeks using a SRS system like Anki nearby, since I want to strenghten my vocabulary
  • The thing with language learning that seem the most obvious to know is that it.is.slow and that's completely normal. There's too much crap online and offline telling you that you can learn anything anytime at an un-human speed. Whatever language you're trying to learn, I personally think it's important to 1) what level you want to reach 2) when do you want to reach such level. As for me, I just want to be "just enough" fluent (daily conversations, not technical ones, beeing able to communicate with folks and read newspapers) in Italian, and I gave myself one year to do so, which is quite fast actually. Having set those variables, choose the method you seem the more appropriate. Since I do about 10-15 min Duolingo per day, reaching B1-B2 (which means finish the entire course) is feasible in one year.

Final thoughts: the current languages I speak and use well and the ones I finally put in my daily life : I must use English at work because... well computer science you know what I mean. For German, I put my phone in German and read some news from german newspapers from time to time. Therefore it validates the comments I read about moving in a "submarine" approach of learning language. It can be quite harsh in the beginnings, but necessay imho if you want to reach at least a fluent level.

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Wow, thank You for the comprehensive comment. It's very nice to hear why You're sticking to Duolingo.

Not sure for what reason, but I have unlimited hearts and no adds. I don't remember paying anything, I'm using android. Having adds and heart limit I think would have ended up in me giving up Duolingo in a few days. :D

Also I completely agree with using the language daily. I'm currently listening to podcasts, but I still have to find easier ones and am having harder time to understand the context and the meaning. My aim is to understand enough so that I could listen to some daily stuff like news on topics according to my interest (IT, business, psychology etc.) I feel that then it'd be much easier and more rewarding to keep the language practice.

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valvonvorn profile image
val von vorn

I was wondering about their choice of vocabulary

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Indeed. In the past I was using one flashcard app to learn Czech language. There it looked like the words were in a total random order. For example, words like asparagus or spleen (didn't even know these in English) were in some 10th chapter, whereas fourteen or some well known international words were in some 30th chapter.

Although, I see that Duolingo has some logic behind choosing the words, I agree that it's far from perfect. My first words learning German was like Bear and cat. Maybe I did use the cat somewhere (I'm not sure, but I assume so since I have a cat), but I definitely haven't used bear and not sure when I'm gonna need it. :D

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zyahya profile image
Ziad Yahya

Duolingo is near to be a gamification rather than learn you something,
Try these instead for German:

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Wow, thank You!

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bogomil profile image
Bogomil Shopov - Бого

I have a very good article about that: independent.co.uk/life-style/duoli...

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla • Edited

Interesting thoughts. I'm happy about the people, who find it useful, entertaining and in align with their goals.

“I needed to complete something every day to keep me focused on the language. French is something I really want to master, and with the streak challenge, I knew it was going to keep me disciplined.”

This is great to hear that the goal of learning the language is in align with the goal of keeping the streak for that person. However, I felt that as time went on, the goal of keeping the streak for me wasn't aligned with the goal of learning the language. These goals became diverged. I think, as time goes on, it's very important to keep in mind one's main goals and double-check if our actions get us closer to them. :)

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christianpaez profile image
Christian Paez

To me Duolingo feels more like a game, I suggest you to try Memrise or Lingodeer

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Oh, thanks for the recommendation! Already installed them and looking forward to trying them out!

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rogueloop profile image
Sreedeep

Saw this ted talk Duolingo is redefining learning with friendly notifications and streaks learn more from the creator itself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6FORpg0KVo&ab_channel=TED

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apetryla profile image
Aidas Petryla

Yeah, I love the technique of gamification. For example, one of my favorite talks on it is this one.

I also noticed that Luis Von Ahn said in his talk that some stuff is learned through repetition. I agree with that. However I feel that it's just too much repetition in Duolingo. So much, I don't feel like learning sometimes, but like finishing some lesson either just for the score or so that I could unlock the next lesson hoping that there's something new.

At these moments I start thinking that it could be a way how to make people stick with Duolingo longer. If the language course is short, then people would complete all the lessons and then what? Nothing to do (unless You want to learn another language). However, if You make the course longer, then people will have to spend more time on it, hence more money from the subscriptions.

Again, that's just some of my thoughts. :)

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xanwtf profile image
Xan

Drag the word from the cards to the space you want