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Duolingo Italian Review: Builds Your Vocabulary Fast, But Won’t Make You Fluent

The owl has long been seen as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.

So it’s no surprise that Duolingo—one of the most popular language-learning programs out there—chose the owl as their mascot.

But can the program actually teach you Italian?

The short answer: yes.

Duolingo will increase your vocabulary, introduce you to Italian grammar and get you to about an A2 level of Italian. But it won’t make you fluent.

In this in-depth Duolingo Italian review, we dive into the features, pros, cons and frequently asked questions about the program’s Italian course.

Overview

Name: Duolingo Italian

Description: An incredibly popular app that gamifies language learning.

Languages offered: Over 30 languages including Italian (as well as Arabic, Chinese, English, Japanese, German, Italian, Korean, Spanish and more).

Offer price: Free, with a premium subscription for additional features starting at $7.00 per month

8.8/10
8.8/10

Summary

Duolingo Italian is an awesome tool that can take you places other platforms and apps can’t. Even with its cons (from impractical sentences to gaps in grammar explanations) it’s still one of the most useful tools out there for learning Italian.

  • User friendliness - 9/10
    9/10
  • Delivers on promises - 8/10
    8/10
  • Authenticity - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value for price - 10/10
    10/10

Pros

  • It’s free
  • Great interface
  • Gamification is motivational
  • It’s always improving
  • Italian is just the start

Cons

  • It’s far from being a stand-alone resource
  • The grammar gap
  • Impractical sentence examples
  • Things can get repetitive
  • A lack of content for advanced students

Contents

Is Duolingo Good for Learning Italian?

Yes, Duolingo is a great resource to use for learning Italian.

It will help you increase your vocabulary, learn Italian sentence structure, pick up basic to intermediate grammar patterns and get in daily practice. But it won’t make you fluent.

Duolingo is best used in combination with other resources.

What Is Duolingo?

duolingo app logo

Duolingo is probably the most popular language learning app, with 300 million active users.

Duolingo was born out of the desire to make the Internet approachable for non-English speakers.

The two founders—Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker—wanted to build something that could instantly and accurately translate websites and make it feel like actual bilingual speakers worked on them.

Not some automatic translation software that spews out nonsensical and, sometimes, tragic translations.

Duolingo uses interactive game elements and principles to help you remember words.

And according to research, spending 34 hours on Duolingo is equivalent to taking a semester in a university language course.

At present, Duolingo teaches 90 different language courses, with Italian being one of the most studied programs. There are almost 40 million interested learners.

Duolingo Italian has 43 units with around 5-10 lessons each, promising you hours of enjoyable study.

Lastly, Duolingo is free forever (on the app and the website), which is one of their major selling points.

There’s Duolingo Plus, which comes ad-free for $7.00 a month, but you don’t get a sense that the company is really pushing for it. You also get unlimited “hearts,” which are basically lives that you lose each time you make a mistake.

Duolingo’s Features and Functionalities

The Duolingo Tree: Making Italian Approachable

One of the first things that you need to know about Duolingo is that you only need five minutes a day to reap its benefits.

The lessons are bite-sized and can be devoured on the go. It takes so little commitment that it demolishes all those “I-just-don’t-have-time” excuses.

The Italian “Duolingo Tree” maps out the different topics you’ll be going through in the course.

You see an array of icons and the one that lights up in color is where you are in the course.

duolingo italian tree screenshot

The Italian tree starts you off with the most basic vocabulary, like donna (woman) and lei (she), with the topics getting more challenging as you progress.

With Duolingo, you never feel overwhelmed—complexity is very gradually built from one lesson to the next.

Quizzes and Exercises: Making Italian Enjoyable

One of the most important elements of the Duolingo experience is its high level of interactivity.

You’ll be doing something every five seconds. The lessons are gamified little exercises or tasks.

For example, you might be asked to pair Italian words with their English counterparts.

Or you might be shown an English sentence and asked to give its Italian translation by tapping on a specific sequence of Italian words.

duolingo italian translation sentence example

These repeating exercises are really the heart and soul of the platform.

Since Duolingo intends to develop all four linguistic competencies (reading, writing, speaking and listening), there are even times when you’re asked to speak into your phone’s mic and repeat after a prompt.

Then, the voice recognition software checks if your pronunciation is correct or not.

Experience Points, Lingots and Streaks: Making Italian Motivational

Duolingo is gamified language learning. Every question you answer correctly is converted into Experience Points (XP).

When you’ve finished a lesson or practiced a skill, your XP increases accordingly. (You can set a daily XP goal in the Settings section.)

There’s a leaderboard so you can gauge your performance vis-à-vis other students.

Gems known as “lingots” are the platform’s currency.

You earn lingots for completing tasks like maintaining a 10-day practice streak, reaching your practice goals or inviting friends to use Duolingo.

Lingots can be used in the virtual shop where you can buy “power-ups” like “Streak Freeze” or “Double or Nothing.”

“Streaks” refers to the number of days you’ve consecutively met your XP goals. While XP reflects how long you’re studying in a day, “Streaks” tells you how often you’re studying.

This is really the most important metric for you because it reflects just how consistent you are at studying Italian.

Crowns: Making Italian Customizable

One of the challenges for platforms like Duolingo is to reconcile the different goals and objectives of many different Italian language learners.

Some casual learners simply want a fun time working through the Duolingo tree. Then there are those serious learners who want more in-depth content.

Duolingo has resolved this with “crowns,” which essentially add a new dimension to learning.

Students can breeze through the different lessons if they like, but they can also retake the same level. Each time they do so, the exercises get a little bit more difficult.

You work through the same set of targeted vocabulary, but the tasks required get increasingly difficult.

So, maybe the sentences involved get more complex.

Or instead of tapping presented words to form the translated sentence, this time you need to type the Italian words yourself.

Every time you repeat and finish a level, you gain a “crown.” The max for each level is five crowns.

Discussions and Forums: Making Italian Social

There’s probably no more robust Italian language learning community than the folks at Duolingo.

You can throw a query out there and have no shortage of replies from fellow learners.

There’s always a healthy discussion going on in the forum and simply reading the threads can be a very educational experience.

You’ll get tips on how to study Italian or be pointed to some useful resources that can get you a needed leg up.

You can also click “Report” after answering a question during your lesson if you think something is incorrect about the way Duolingo graded your choice.

Pros of Duolingo Italian

It’s Free

One of the best things about Duolingo—and what makes it so popular—is that it’s free.

Yes, there’s a paid version that comes with no ads and unlimited hearts, but Duolingo isn’t very pushy about it.

Plus, the ads that come with the service are minimally invasive.

But as a free service, Duolingo is definitely one of the best.

It Has a Great Interface

The first time you use Duolingo, you immediately get a sense of its smooth graphic interface.

The layout is very intuitive.

The fonts are easy on the eyes. The colors pop but aren’t jarring to the senses. The audio is relatively crisp. The sights, sounds and movement of the elements clue you into what’s happening.

Oh, and then there’s “Duo”—the Duolingo mascot—who occasionally pops up on your screen to shout some words of encouragement.

He’s the easily recognizable green owl who’ll be your companion as you knock out one Italian lesson after another.

Duolingo’s Gamification Is Motivational

Duolingo makes learning Italian feel like jumping through little hoops… and liking it.

There are levels, leagues, leaderboards and lingots. There are streaks to be protected, skills to be developed and a virtual shop to be visited.

Bars are filling up, displayed numbers are telling you something.

The reward system can get you easily hooked.

duolingo italian leaderboard page screenshot

You also always know your progress in the course.

You know if your skills need practice. You know how you measure up against other Italian learners. And the way it presents this information is fun and motivational!

Duolingo Is Always Improving

Granted, Duolingo Italian has a lot of room for improvement. (More on this later.)

But as a brainchild of founders with computer backgrounds, you can be sure that the platform uses the latest in machine learning and AI research to improve and keep users motivated.

And because Duolingo has some of the most vocal and passionate users, it can quickly get robust feedback on what needs to be changed.

So expect a continuous flow of improvements on the product.

You Have Access to All Languages for Free

Many language programs come as individually packaged courses.

So if you’re going to learn Italian, you’d have access only to that course and have to pay or install a different app to study another language.

Well, Duolingo gives you the whole shebang for free.

So, if you’re spent on Italian, you can study Russian for a bit or maybe try your hand at Japanese.

Then, suddenly, you’re sucked in and before you know it, you’re learning multiple languages at the same time.

Many Duolingo users are serial learners and the program makes it easy to give it a shot.

Cons of Duolingo Italian

Duolingo has changed the game and is a hard benchmark to beat.

But that said, it’s not the perfect product either. There’s always room for improvement.

Here are a few things that the program could do better.

You Shouldn’t Use Duolingo By Itself

To be fair, there’s probably no single language learning platform or product that can be everything for everyone.

Duolingo works as part of a healthy mix of other learning materials that would have to include things like Italian textbooks, audiobooks, videos, songs, movies, language exchange websites and so on.

Duolingo has a part to play.

If you want a slew of vocabulary-building exercises that keep close tabs on your performance, then Duolingo is your best bet.

But for other things—like actual conversational practice—the platform might not be the most ideal tool.

I recommend pairing it with tools that let you put your skills to practical use, like language exchange apps or immersion programs like FluentU.

Duolingo Doesn’t Teach Grammar Thoroughly

Yes, there are keys to Italian grammar at the start of every lesson, but these feel too “buried.”

(Many users don’t even know that they exist.)

Duolingo could do with a lot more short-but-spunky grammar explanations that are embedded in the individual questions themselves.

When you get an item wrong, you seldom know why. You’re shown the correct answer, but many users are still left guessing why their answer is unacceptable.

Duolingo can do a little more in these instances and use them as teaching moments.

I understand that the platform wasn’t designed for explicit grammar instruction, but a little more grammar explanation—like a well-placed, single-sentence pointer—can be a huge time-saver.

It Gives Impractical Example Sentences

Duolingo doesn’t advocate simply memorizing “survival phrases,” and claims that sentence examples should be relevant and useful in the real world.

But some Italian example sentences are so remote from reality that you’d be hard-pressed to think of a suitable moment to use them.

They’re more useful as vocabulary teaching tools than actual commonly-used groups of words. (e.g., Lei é una donna. — She is a woman.)

Sometimes, the sentences sound like they’ve been machine-generated.

Example sentences do get better later in the course, but many users might have dropped off before getting to them.

Duolingo Exercises Can Feel Too Repetitive

Repetition is at the heart of learning.

But there comes a point when repetition is too much.

In the case of Duolingo, you might find the exercises begin to rub you the wrong way.

Working with the same words, phrases and sentences over and over can be demotivating.

This is alleviated by algorithms that shelf words you’ve already mastered, but I’m not just talking about vocabulary sets.

I’m also referring to things like that all-too-familiar sound you hear when you get an item right or that distracting buzz you get when you answer incorrectly.

Duolingo could mix things up better and add more variety not only to the content but even to the very mechanics of their exercises.

There’s a Lack of Content for Advanced Students

Duolingo is a very good vocabulary builder, but don’t expect to be fluent when you finish the course.

You’ll learn a lot, but the program won’t take you beyond the intermediate level.

Content development for Duolingo Italian may not have been as brisk as other major languages like Spanish, French, German and Portuguese.

For instance, these languages have “stories”—a feature that challenges your reading and listening comprehension and can seriously address the lack of variety we talked about previously.

Unfortunately, Duolingo Italian doesn’t have this feature yet.

Alternatives to Duolingo

Babbel babbel logo

Like Duolingo, Babbel has a structured, well-designed learning path for Italian that starts from the basics and gets progressively more challenging as you improve.

However, there’s a much stronger focus on grammar and the lessons go more in-depth with exercises.

They include the typical translation exercises but also practice conversations. Babbel also offers live online classes (“Babbel Live”) and a podcast.

You might choose Babbel if you want to stick with a resource that will get you to a higher intermediate level. Babbel has courses for complete newbies (A1) all the way up to upper intermediate (B2).

However, Babbel is not free and a subscription only gives you access to one language.

Memrise memrise logo

Like Duolingo, Memrise is completely free and is best for vocabulary building.

You can find countless premade flashcard decks—official decks made by Memrise and those made by other students—that use a spaced repetition algorithm to put new words in your long-term memory.

The Memrise official Italian courses start at Level 1 and go through Level 7.

Other decks you can find include the most common 1,000 Italian words, Italian adjectives, verbs, etc.

However, unlike Duolingo, Memrise has basically no (or at most, very limited) grammar lessons, since the courses are flashcard-based.

If you have another resource for grammar and just want to focus on rapidly growing your vocabulary, Memrise might be a better choice to Duolingo.

But if you’re starting from scratch, Duolingo will introduce you to the sentence structures you need to know first.

FAQs About Duolingo Italian

What Level of Italian Does Duolingo Get You to?

Most sources online agree that Duolingo can get you to an A2 (or possibly B1) level of Italian alone.

Of course, this also depends on the resources you use in conjunction with Duolingo and how often you practice outside of your study sessions.

How Long Would It Take to Learn Italian with Duolingo?

There are currently 43 units in the Duolingo Italian course. Each has about 6-10 lessons.

Completing one unit a week would get you through the entire Italian course in 43 weeks, whereas two units a week would take 21-22 weeks.

 

All things considered, Duolingo Italian is an awesome tool that will build your vocabulary, teach you basic grammar and help you reach an upper beginner to low intermediate level.

Since it only takes five minutes a day, there’s simply no excuse for not working with Duolingo.

I highly encourage you to include it in your resource mix!

And One More Thing...

If you're as busy as most of us, you don't always have time for lengthy language lessons. The solution? FluentU!

Learn Italian with funny commericals, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:

learn-italian-with-videos

FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles. Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.

learn-italian-with-captioned-videos

Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.

learn-conversational-italian-with-subtitled-dialogue

Once you've watched a video, you can use FluentU's quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.

practice-italian-with-adaptive-quizzes

FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’re learning, and give you extra practice with difficult words. Plus, it'll tell you exactly when it's time for review. Now that's a 100% personalized experience!

The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a trial.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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