Does Duolingo Work? See How Effective This Popular App Is in Our 2023 Review
If you’re interested in language learning, you’ve likely seen Duolingo’s little green owl.
Duolingo is an incredibly popular app. But does it live up to the hype?
In the Duolingo review below, I weigh the pros and cons of the beloved language learning program.
- What Is Duolingo?
- How Much Does Duolingo Cost?
- What Are the Key Features of Duolingo?
- What Are the Strengths of Duolingo?
- What Are the Disadvantages of Duolingo?
- Does Duolingo Work for Beginners?
- Does Duolingo Work for Intermediate and Advanced Learners?
- Does Duolingo Work as a Standalone Language Learning Program?
- What Are the Alternatives to Duolingo?
- Final Verdict: Is Duolingo Actually Effective for Learning Languages?
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What Is Duolingo?
Duolingo is one of the most popular language-learning apps out there right now.
And the app enjoys a strong reputation for a reason!
You can access Duolingo’s most beloved features for free, so it’s a popular choice for language learners looking to test the waters or have a free way to strengthen their skills.
There is also an option to pay for a subscription and upgrade to Super Duolingo to access extra features.
Duolingo’s main focus is gamified learning that aims to develop multiple skills, including reading, writing, speaking and listening.
How Much Does Duolingo Cost?
While you can access most of Duolingo’s features for free, there is an option to buy extra features with the Super Duolingo or Super Duolingo Family plan.
Some of these features include not having ads and access to unlimited lives.
Super plans start at:
- $6.99/month for just one person (with a 12-month commitment)
- $9.99/month for a family plan that can include two to six people
- $12.99/month for one person (on a monthly basis—click on “View All Plans” to see this option, as it’s hidden by default)
What Are the Key Features of Duolingo?
Organized, Progressive Lessons
Duolingo is formatted into organized, progressive lessons that provide a clear route toward improved language skills.
While some learning programs have you select what you feel like learning and when, I like that Duolingo takes some of the guesswork out of what you need to work on.
New levels open up as your skills progress, turning from gray to fully colorized, ensuring you’re prepared to approach the new material.
Best of all, Duolingo is constantly drawing on old material, so previously learned words and grammar are used while learning new material.
Additionally, lessons are broken down into small chunks, making it easier to work a few minutes of learning into even the busiest schedule.
All you need is a moment or two during your commute, sitting in the doctor’s office or even standing in line at the grocery store, and you can study your target language on the go!
Option to Strengthen Skills
While you can continue pressing forward to learn new vocabulary and skills, Duolingo also allows you to linger on what you’ve already learned to further strengthen your skills.
Namely, the practice option (available to Super users) shows you material that Duolingo suspects you may need a refresher on so you can be tested on it.
You also have the option to level up previously-studied skills so that you can work on the skills you need with material that will actually challenge you.
What Are the Strengths of Duolingo?
Immediate Sentence Building
From the very beginning, I found that learners are introduced to sentence structure with an accompanying translation.
This might not seem the most interesting or shiny thing, but in terms of language acquisition, it’s extremely important.
Being able to see the way sentences are formed and the way grammatical units relate to each other shows learners how to express meaning early on.
Wide Array of Languages
Duolingo doesn’t skimp on the language options. In fact, it offers over 30 language options, including Arabic, Chinese, English, Japanese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
It also offers some less widely-studied options, like Indonesian, Navajo and Welsh.
Because it offers such a large selection of languages, most language learners are likely to find that the language they’re studying is available on Duolingo.
Duolingo keeps track of how many days you return to the app to complete a lesson, creating a “streak.” Odds are, you won’t want to break your streak so you’ll keep coming back every day. You can even wager “Lingots” (in-game currency) that you’ll keep your streak for a number of days, to get a bigger reward if you hit the mark.
Duolingo’s method also allows you to set goals and be rewarded for your diligence. The app will hold you accountable if you’re slacking, as its persistent notifications are sure to boost your desire to learn.
Learning a language can be challenging, but Duolingo makes its lessons more like a game, which is sure to keep you entertained and happy to learn.
Duolingo has several features that could be classified as gamification, including its winning streak, leaderboards and virtual currency.
All of these are sure to stir up that competitiveness and drive you to be consistent in your Duolingo habit.
Plus, the artwork and rapid-fire questions make Duolingo seem more like a game than a traditional language learning program.
Because of Duolingo’s gamified approach to learning, many students find it more fun and approachable than other language learning tools.
Multiple Skills Targeted
Well-rounded language learning requires multiple skill sets including vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.
Because it can be challenging to fit all of these skills into one program, many language learning tools focus on just a couple of skills.
However, Duolingo aims to develop well-rounded skills in all areas by giving you a foundation in grammar and vocabulary, then targeting reading, writing, speaking and listening skills with fun activities.
Duolingo offers a bunch of add-ons for certain languages that further develop these skills such as Duolingo Stories for reading and listening comprehension, as well as Duolingo Podcasts for listening practice. It’s worth noting that these two features aren’t available for each language, but Duolingo is always adding new content.
With Duolingo Super, you’ll also get access to audio-only listening sessions that target your listening skills.
Because Duolingo focuses on multiple skills, its approach to language learning could be considered more well-rounded than many other language learning programs.
What Are the Disadvantages of Duolingo?
Few Options for Advanced Speakers
While Duolingo has a huge selection of lessons, its resources may not be vast and varied enough to propel intermediate and advanced students toward full fluency.
Once a learner has completed a Duolingo program, they may go back and redo lessons and/or strengthen their skills. While it’s possible to reinforce what they’ve already covered, forward progress is much more limited.
Further, because of the way the Duolingo program is structured, there’s no room for spontaneous use of the language.
Little Conversation Preparation
Duolingo offers speaking and listening practice, which are good stepping stones toward conversation skills, but the app isn’t quite able to replicate a real conversation.
Holding a conversation in your target language may be more stressful and time-consuming than the exercises on Duolingo can prepare you for.
If you’re planning to hold conversations in your target language, you might want to supplement your Duolingo learning with conversation practice.
Inconsistency Between Languages
Not all languages are created equally when it comes to Duolingo.
Some language courses such as Spanish and French are extremely developed and offer plenty of options for lessons, exercises and add-ons.
On the other hand, some of the other language courses don’t have much to work with.
Take a language like Finnish, for example. The Finnish material is clearly lacking compared to other languages as there are fewer lessons, tips and no corresponding Duolingo Stories or podcasts.
Some of these less-developed courses also have inconsistent audio quality. For Spanish, audio is crystal clear and spoken by natives. For Finnish, there isn’t as much audio and it’s only computer-generated.
Quality of instruction on Duolingo really just boils down to a language’s clout.
Good for Practice, Not Always for Learning
Even with some of the well-developed courses, Duolingo may not be enough to completely teach a language to fluency.
As mentioned earlier, Duolingo is great for getting a base in a language—but don’t expect to get to advanced fluency on Duolingo alone.
Grammar instruction is largely insufficient with Duolingo, often skimping out on technical reasoning for certain rules, irregularities and nuances.
Further, Duolingo is notoriously bad with non-Latin scripts, so learning Chinese characters or the Cyrillic alphabet may be tough or near impossible with Duolingo.
Does Duolingo Work for Beginners?
In comparing Duolingo’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s pretty safe to say that this program will be sufficient for beginner learners. Let’s look at why:
Useful Beginner Words and Phrases
Duolingo does a great job of jumping headfirst into the most useful words and phrases… for some languages.
If the language we’re learning has a Latin-based script, we learn the essentials rather quickly. Initial lessons consist of basic food, people and even verb words.
You’re immediately asked to start building sentences, which is a perfect way to start since it naturally builds and reinforces our vocabulary.
On the other hand, if you’re a beginner in a non-Latin-based language, you may need to start somewhere else so you can learn your language’s writing system first.
Very Little Pronunciation Support
Aside from learning basic vocabulary, another vital step for beginning language learners is to figure out how to say these words correctly.
For some languages, Duolingo provides a simple pronunciation guide provided for some languages in the “Tips” section of the first couple of lessons.
While this is helpful, this guide isn’t extensive and sometimes not even included. Further, tones get limited attention in languages like Chinese or Vietnamese, which is a big part of speaking accurately.
Does Duolingo Work for Intermediate and Advanced Learners?
Duolingo is able to develop certain language skills to a higher level, but not all of them.
Attempts to Be Well-rounded
Duolingo generally does a good job of balancing the four essential skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing.
It doesn’t remedy the fact that we might not be pronouncing the words correctly, but the ability to make and speak our own sentences is a great step toward really learning to use the language.
Lacks Real-life Speaking Practice
Duolingo is notorious for having learners master weird and unnatural sentences they probably won’t use, like “The Loch Ness monster is drinking whiskey.”
Not only is Duolingo sometimes teaching you redundant sentences, but you don’t actually get to speak the language with anyone.
Without another person such as a native speaker to practice with, it’s almost impossible to use the language fluidly in a real-life situation, simply because there’s no way to practice that skill with the Duolingo platform.
Artificial vs. Real Language Usage
There are so many different ways to say the same thing—but because Duolingo only really teaches you one way to say it, your conversations can end up stilted and unnatural.
Plus, Duolingo’s vocabulary isn’t diverse or challenging enough to amass a large and varied core vocabulary. You don’t get to pick and choose which vocabulary words you’re learning, which makes your learning artificial.
In this way, the Duolingo method isn’t as effective as a method to learn a language or at least the real, authentic version of a language.
A more natural way to learn vocabulary is through immersion, particularly through language programs that make use of native content.
Take FluentU as an example. By using authentic media clips as the base of its lessons, you learn the language that’s actually used by native speakers.
The primary goal of FluentU is to get you comfortable with everyday language, by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversation.
With dual-language interactive subtitles, speaking questions in personalized quizzes and multimedia flashcards, this language program offers a variety of learning tools to improve your comprehension and conversational skills.
Does Duolingo Work as a Standalone Language Learning Program?
To examine whether or not Duolingo “works,” it’s important to keep in mind that any platform or resource largely depends on what the learner makes of it.
Assuming that you use Duolingo as it’s supposed to be used—logging on every day, using all of its features, reviewing occasionally—it’s likely that you’ll still struggle to learn a language from only Duolingo.
The opportunities for actually speaking the language are quite limited, and the lack of authentic content, vocabulary and grammar explanations would render this program difficult to use as a sole language learning method.
Overall, you would definitely need to supplement your Duolingo learning with other resources to round out all of your language skills. Some languages will just need more supplementation than others.
What Are the Alternatives to Duolingo?
At this point, you might be wondering what other options are available to you. Here are some Duolingo alternatives that’ll help you get to where you want with your language learning:
Memrise is often mentioned alongside Duolingo as a strong vocabulary-building app. In recent years, the app has gone through a major transformation and now focuses on teaching common vocabulary and phrases through videos of native speakers saying the terms out loud for you.
Like Duolingo, this app relies on repetition and building on what you’ve already learned. Learn more about Memrise in our review.
As mentioned earlier in this post, FluentU is a good alternative or supplement to Duolingo thanks to its native, authentic media. FluentU can fill in the gaps left by Duolingo by showing you the language in use naturally through bite-sized clips like movie trailers and commercials.
The program also has dual-language subtitles as well as the ability to save new words to your flashcards instantly right from the video you’re watching.
Mondly can help you tackle the language skills that Duolingo doesn’t quite touch on. The app has a speech recognition program that lets you hone your speaking skills.
It also has some interesting options for learning, including a cool AR mode, in case you’re feeling burned out with the same-old, same-old repetition of Duolingo and similar apps.
Learn more about Mondly in our review.
Instead of teaching you sentences that you’ll never use in real life (which Duolingo is notorious for), Lingvist takes a scientific approach to language teaching.
The app focuses on teaching you language that’s useful in everyday situations. It does this through natural scenarios and context, with the goal of getting you familiar with 80% of the words you’ll need to know to get conversational—all while picking up grammar concepts on the way, through natural exposure to the language.
Learn more about Lingvist in our review.
Final Verdict: Is Duolingo Actually Effective for Learning Languages?
So, what’s the bottom line with Duolingo? Sure, it works as a supplementary resource and a standalone program—but only up to a certain point.
Though it’s certainly not going to take you to an advanced or fluent level, Duolingo can help you reach at least the pre-intermediate level (as some languages do have intermediate content).
Hopefully, this Duolingo review gave you everything you need to decide if it’s right for you!
Best of luck!