does duolingo work

Does Duolingo Work? Yes, if You Use It Right

You’ve probably heard a lot of mixed opinions about Duolingo—it’s an app most either love or hate. I’ve personally used it for years to study various languages, and I studied German almost exclusively with the app.

In my experience, Duolingo is perfect for jumpstarting more serious language learning and developing a solid base in grammar and vocabulary, as long as you’re consistent and make the most out of its features.

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What Is Duolingo? does duolingo work

Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps out there—and it’s for a reason.

You can use Duolingo 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, like unlimited “hearts” (which are like lives on a video game) on the app.

Duolingo’s main focus is gamified learning that aims to develop multiple skills like reading, writing, speaking and listening.

The app is extremely well-known for its unique branding. The mascot is an owl named Duo who is notorious for being passive-aggressive in its push notifications to get you to complete your goals and keep your streak alive. (It even changes to a mad face sometimes when you abandon it for too long.)

Duolingo has a huge presence on social media, and its social media manager Zaria Parvez stated she wanted Duo to be known for engaging with his audience with “witty one-liners and clapbacks.” A lot of memes are the result of this.

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Duolingo is now also embracing AI—they’ve even replaced 10% of their translators with AI.

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.

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New levels open up as your skills progress, turning from gray to fully colorized, ensuring you’re prepared to approach the new material.

duolingo german tree progress screenshot

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.

You used to be able to comment on words to ask questions and participate in forums, but as of 2022, Duolingo no longer has discussions or forums.

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 shows you material that Duolingo suspects you may need a refresher on so you can be tested on it.

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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.

Legendary Challenges

You can complete a legendary challenge after finishing a level to upgrade your skills even further, as they’re supposed to be “extra hard” quizzes and exercises.

Free members pay 100 gems to use the legendary feature, but Super Duolingo subscribers get them for free.

I did a legendary challenge on a unit in my Duolingo Portuguese course and got all of them right. After I passed, I got this notification:

duolingo you earned a legendary on this level notification

Unlike normal lessons, you don’t get hints on legendary challenges. They’re divided into two sections, with the second being harder than the first. After passing the legendary challenge, your unit will turn gold.

Super Duolingo

This is Duolingo’s answer to Premium content. Subscribing to Super Duolingo removes ads and also gives you unlimited hearts, so you can continue learning despite how many mistakes you make.

You get free entry to Duolingo’s “Legendary” challenges and access to the “Practice” feature, which is personalized to your previous mistakes.

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Personalized Practice Feature

“Practice” is one of Duolingo’s most developed features.

It includes “Unit Rewind,” which is an auto-timed review of a certain unit. Unlike the regular “Practice” feature that comes with the free plan, you can’t choose which unit you want to complete with the “Unit Review.” This is because it’s Duolingo’s answer to spaced repetition. So the app will tell you it’s time to review an older unit when it deems fit.

The Super Duolingo “Practice” feature also includes “Speak” and “Listen,” which are sessions designed to improve these specific skills.

The last three practice tools are “Words,” “Stories” and “Mistakes.” “Stories” is the only one available to free users.

“Words” is a vocabulary list of all the words you’ve learned on Duolingo with their translations and pronunciations. There’s also an option to practice your words at the top.

Finally, “Mistakes” is a personalized lesson that lets you practice only the words and phrases you’ve gotten wrong.

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Duolingo Stories

“Stories” is the only practice feature available to free users, and it can be found under the “Practice” tab on the sidebar. It’s only supported with certain languages though.

I’ve completed several stories in Portuguese—they’re fun and a great way to increase your XP points on the app, which come in handy for free users.

The stories are meant to help you practice the new words you’ve learned in context. There are no English translations—which I really love—and they’re tailored to your level.

After reading a few lines, Duolingo pauses and asks you to answer a comprehension question before continuing.

duolingo stories feature

Unique Push Notifications

The push notifications are something people either love or hate about Duolingo. Because passive aggressiveness is part of their branding, the owl becomes very sassy when you don’t meet your daily goals.

Some people find this hilarious and cute, which draws them to the app even more. Countless memes are circulating online because of this, too—jokes about Duolingo coming for users’ families, screenshots of the angry bird, etc.

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Other people find the guilt-tripping discouraging though.

But when you do return from Duolingo after a long break, the owl greets you with a message and gives you the option of doing a mini-review before jumping back into lessons, which I like.

duolingo welcome back notification on home screen with mini-review option

Ability to Make Friends

Duolingo lets you friend other users. You can encourage them and compete against them. The app even sends you notifications and options to congratulate your friends when they reach new achievements or maintain a long streak.

duolingo's add friend feature and progress overview

You also make your own avatar on Duolingo. When adding a friend, you can see their profile—which includes their avatar, which languages they’re learning, their XP points in each course, how long they’ve been using Duolingo and more.

duolingo profile and avatar page overview

What Are the Strengths of Duolingo?

Ability to Learn Multiple Languages at Once

You can take as many of the Duolingo language courses as you want (with a free account, too). You can easily switch between languages at the top of the website and app, and your progress is saved for each.

japanese, french, portuguese and russian course progress and xp points on 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.

duolingo-review

Wide Array of Languages

Duolingo doesn’t skimp on the language options. It offers over 45 language courses, 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. 

Goal Setting

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.

Gamification

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. You also earn awards and personal records as you use Duolingo, which are displayed in your “Achievements” tab.

duolingo personal records, awards and achievements page

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.

What Are the Disadvantages of Duolingo?

Few Options for Advanced Speakers

While Duolingo has a huge selection of lessons, its resources aren’t 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 another course and language exchange app like HelloTalk.

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.

In fact, the language I have the highest XP in—German—I don’t know at all anymore. And as I mentioned earlier, I used almost exclusively Duolingo to learn it.

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.

duolingo-review

The Gamification Can Be Overwhelming

Duolingo has really leaned into the gamification aspect since when I used it most consistently about five years ago. For example, when I logged in today, I was bombarded with all the new flashy, video game-like elements—rewards, hearts, gems, XP points, etc.

I personally find it overwhelming, and many users share this opinion. But ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.

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 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 Beginners?

In comparing Duolingo’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s pretty safe to say that yes, Duolingo is sufficient for beginner learners.

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.

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.

Some of the Sentences Are Weird

Duolingo is notorious for having learners master weird and unnatural sentences they probably won’t use, like “The Loch Ness monster is drinking whiskey.” Some of the sentences are also redundant.

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.

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

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.

FluentU

FluentU is a good alternative or supplement to Duolingo thanks to the authentic media it uses. The primary goal is to get you comfortable with everyday language, by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversation.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:

learn-a-language-with-videos

FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!

learn-a-language-with-music

Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.

Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.

You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.

learn-a-language-with-adaptive-quizzes

The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.

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.)

Mondly

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.

Lingvist

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?

Duolingo is a fun app that’s excellent if you’re getting started in a language. It can be the gateway to long-term, more serious studying by helping you develop regular habits.

It’s most useful for beginners and early intermediate learners, teaching you the foundations of a language’s vocabulary and grammar.

But it’s not going to take you to an advanced or fluent level and is best supplemented with another resource.

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