science of us
By Katie Heaney, a Cut contributor who covers health and wellness
By Katie Heaney, a Cut contributor who covers health and wellness
Photo: Provided by Duolingo.
A few years ago, about six months before a trip (my first) to Paris, I downloaded Duolingo in an attempt to “learn French.” I put that in quotation marks because I did not, of course, expect to become fluent or even mildly conversant in a foreign language over such a short time frame, and especially not using an app. But I did expect to learn something —anything —useful. I hoped to learn how to say “Where is the bathroom?” or “How much does this cost?” or “I want that one,” the sort of purely transactional but useful phrases a tourist needs to get around town at least somewhat politely. When I went on a class trip to China in college, I learned these three phrases, plus “hello” and “thank you,” and I remember them all today, 14 years later. Do you know why? Because they are real things people say, unlike most of the phrases I recall being taught via Duolingo.
Here is what I remember from my months of Duolingo French studies: “une pomme.” An apple. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times Duolingo had me talking about apples. And not in normal, plausible contexts — not “I’ll have an apple, please,” or “Do you want my apple?” The circumstances in which Duolingo envisioned my needing to speak about apples were either too fanciful (“The bird is eating an apple: L’oiseau mange la pomme”) or vaguely threatening (“My pocket contains an apple: Ma poche contient une pomme.” I translated apple from English to French and back again. I spoke it aloud. I typed it out when it was spoken to me. “I GET IT,” I screamed at Duolingo. “UNE POMME.”
Sure, I know how to say hello, and please, and thank you, but these are all things I’d already absorbed by living in a country that loves putting French words on pillows and T-shirts. I didn’t learn much of anything about sentence structure, because the Duolingo app doesn’t explain that to you. If coming to a language as a novice, you’ll learn largely by trial and error, which means you’ll learn by memorizing, with little context as to why sentences look the way they do. It’s hard for me to believe anyone could really learn a new language in any meaningful way with this program. But I’m not a language professor, or an expert; I am merely a crabby writer with slight Francophile tendencies. What do actual language professionals think of Duolingo?
Kerstin Cable, a language coach and host of the Fluent Show podcast, first wrote about Duolingo in 2015, criticizing it for its impractical vocabulary, its insistence upon one acceptable translation per sentence prompt, and its lack of explanation for incorrect answers, and she tells me much of this criticism still holds. “In this app,” she wrote back then, “you learn by parroting phrases, without even beginning to cover the background stories that grammar and pragmatics tell.”
But what annoys Cable most about Duolingo is the app’s own propaganda. “For a while, Duolingo told you, ‘You’re X% fluent.’ Which is one of the most insane things I’ve ever seen,” she told me, because how is fluency being defined? Duolingo doesn’t serve users that message anymore, but there are still big claims being made — one recent pop-up I got between lessons said that playing Duolingo for 34 hours was equivalent to a college semester’s worth of language instruction. But what grade will you get at the end?
Steven Sacco is a retired language professor and linguist with 40 years of experience, who now owns a consulting firm which works to develop language learning programs with multinational corporations. He has also used Duolingo to study 26 different languages, completing all available lessons for seven of them. Intrigued by Duolingo’s “34 hours” claim, he put it to the test, studying Swedish on the app for a total of 300 hours. (Most introductory university Swedish courses amount to 150 or so hours of coursework, he reasoned; 300 would be more than safe.) He then convinced the professor of UCLA’s Elementary Swedish course to let him take the final exam. He got an F.
This is not to say that Duolingo is useless; when we speak by phone early one morning, Sacco has already completed his daily Duolingo lessons. “I love the opportunity to take language lessons for free, and I can study languages anytime,” says Sacco. “I love the competition factor, where you can compete against other students.” (Duolingo allows you to add “Friends,” with whom you’ll share scores, and be ranked accordingly.)
But it is precisely some of these gamelike elements that frustrate Cable. Duolingo is “so focused on giving you rewards, like check-boxes, that it hasn’t given you a lot of chances to fail,” she told me. “And as a language learner, you have to fail. Eventually you’re going to be in front of people, sounding like an idiot. It’s part of the process.” People don’t speak like algorithms do, and it’s only in using weird, too-formal expressions in front of other people that you’ll learn the latest, best slang. (Another benefit of failing in language learning: The shame, which will never let you forget the word you meant to use.)
Duolingo’s design largely relies upon a system called “spaced repetition,” a technique in which learned information is repeated at regular (usually short) intervals. And it’s true that spaced repetition combats what’s called the “forgetting curve,” thus allowing for easier and longer-lasting memorization. Memorization can help you learn new vocabulary. But we also get worse at memorization as we age, say Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz, psychologists and co-authors of Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language. Memorization and accent come more easily to children, but adults have more tools at their disposal, say Roberts and Kreuz, like higher proficiency in our native language, and what they call “metalinguistic awareness,” or knowing how a language works. When adults expect themselves to learn effectively based on rote memorization alone, they write, they soon become demoralized, and give up.
Cable echoes these concerns. “I don’t think [using Duolingo as your only tool] is going to get you anywhere, and it’ll give you that dissatisfaction that so many people feel. It’s really frustrating.” These limitations wouldn’t be so bothersome if Duolingo itself didn’t suggest it’s all anyone needs to learn a language, which it does in loading screen messaging like “15 minutes a day can teach you a language,” or that 34 hours equals a college semester course claim. Duolingo might be good at teaching you vocab —Sacco says Duolingo provides users with more than 3000 vocab words over a given language course —but that doesn’t make it comprehensive. Duolingo “certainly isn’t going to be something I recommend to my clients in French West Africa, that they take Duolingo English to improve enough to be able to work in English,” he says. “That’s not something I’m going to advise them to do without using an immersion setting in addition.”
Cable notes that the web version of Duolingo — which I admit I did not know was a thing — provides much more in the way of grammar instruction than its much better known app counterpart, and is better at explaining why certain answers are wrong (or right). But she and Sacco agree that nothing comes close to immersion.To learn a language, says Cable, “you need habit, human contact, and you need varying resources, otherwise language learning doesn’t really go anywhere.” Sacco puts it even more bluntly: “There’s nothing but immersion, period.” But, he adds, he and his wife are considering a move to Sweden, and what resources are there if he wants to learn Swedish before the move, short of hiring a private Swedish tutor, for who knows how much money? Duolingo will have to do for the meantime. Duolingo, my enemy, you’ve defeated me yet again. Or, as the French would say: une pomme.
- science of us
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Do you actually learn anything from Duolingo? ›
Research shows that Duolingo is an effective way to learn a language! But the truth is that no single course, app, method, or book can help you reach all your language goals.What happens if Duolingo is too easy? ›
If you have previous experience with a language and feel that lessons are too easy, you can scroll to the next locked unit and tap the circle that says “Jump here?”. If you pass the test, you'll unlock that unit! NOTE: This will complete all levels up to that point.Is there a problem with Duolingo at the moment? ›
Duolingo.com is UP and reachable by us. Please check and report on local outages below ... The above graph displays service status activity for Duolingo.com over the last 10 automatic checks.How long does it take to become fluent on Duolingo? ›
A note from the Fluent in 3 Months team before we get started: You can chat away with a native speaker for at least 15 minutes with the "Fluent in 3 Months" method. All it takes is 90 days.How many Duolingo lessons should you do a day? ›
Casual is one lesson per day, Regular is two, Serious is three, and Insane is five lessons in a day. I have my daily goal set to Serious, which requires completing three lessons daily, but I'll often do more lessons if I have the time, typically around five or six.Which is better Babbel or Duolingo? ›
The biggest difference between Babbel and Duolingo is the approach to language learning. Babbel is a better option if you want traditional language instructions through modules and lessons. By contrast, Duolingo works great if you need a playful, gamified experience.What is the hardest course on Duolingo? ›
Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn.What percentage of people finish a Duolingo course? ›
An informal study estimates that course completion rates fall as low as 0.01% for Spanish learners (second most popular language on Duolingo), and peak at 0.24% for Ukrainian learners.What is the easiest language to learn in Duolingo? ›
Overall, it's typically easier to study a language more similar to the one you know best. For English speakers, that means many languages from Europe — like Spanish and German — will be easier to learn on average than languages that aren't related to English at all — like Arabic and Chinese. But even this can be murky!How long should I use Duolingo per day? ›
You don't need to spend hours on Duolingo each day. However, you must put a reasonable amount of time into learning. If you log in to complete one lesson and sign out as soon as you've reached 10XP, you won't get very far. To optimize your learning, aim to spend between 15 and 30 minutes on the app each day.
Does Duolingo get harder as you go? ›
Duolingo has organized the lessons so that with each crown you earn, the lessons get more difficult. I usually aim to earn more crowns in the subjects that I struggle with, like verb conjugations.What is the deal with Duolingo? ›
The Duolingo language learning app is the world's most popular way to learn languages. The company's mission is to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available. Learning with Duolingo is fun, and research shows that it works!Did Duolingo just change? ›
Duolingo has a new and improved guidebook to give you a better idea of what to expect in lessons. It's also easier to access lesson tips. In the redesign, you'll find a guidebook at the start of each unit that gives a bite-sized, effective overview of what you'll learn.What is the best way to progress through Duolingo? ›
“Hover” around several skills – spreading your time across a handful of nearby skills – and alternate between gaining crowns and doing new lessons. Hovering across multiple skills helps you maximize learning by practicing what you've already studied while continuing to learn new material.What is the longest Duolingo course? ›
As of February 3rd 2023, the longest Duolingo streak is 3676 days, held by user christi3. This means that the longest Duolingo streak is over 10 years old!Is Duolingo a slow way to learn? ›
Learning with Duolingo is slow and inefficient. But as with many other not-very-good methods, you can learn something if you put enough time into it. With Duolingo, you will form low-quality memories that will fade quickly.How long does it take to 100% Duolingo? ›
To finish a language tree on Duolingo in 6 months, you will need to spend a minimum of 130 minutes per day on Duolingo, for a full 180 days. That's 2 hours and ten minutes.What level does Duolingo get you to? ›
At Duolingo, we're developing our courses to get you to a level called B2, at which you can get a job in the language you're studying. Reaching that kind of proficiency requires dedication, varied practice opportunities, and a lot of time.How many hours of Duolingo is equal to a college course? ›
According to an independent study conducted by the City University of New York and the University of South Carolina, an average of 34 hours of Duolingo are equivalent to a full university semester of language education.Is there anything better than Duolingo? ›
We have compiled a list of solutions that reviewers voted as the best overall alternatives and competitors to Duolingo, including Rosetta Stone, Busuu, Lingvist, and Mango Languages.
Is Rosetta Stone better than Duolingo? ›
Yes. After thoroughly testing out and reviewing each language learning app, we found Rosetta Stone to be a superior program to Duolingo. While we like Duolingo's gamification of learning, Rosetta Stone is simply more comprehensive and effective.What is the most effective language learning app? ›
- Duolingo. Best for learning multiple languages. See at Duolingo.
- Babbel. Best for an online school-type experience. See at Babbel.
- Drops. Best for visual learners. See at Drops.
- Mondly. Best for helping you remember specific phrases. ...
- Memrise. Best for learning to speak casually in a new language.
- Spanish – 33.4m learners.
- French – 20m learners.
- Japanese – 13.8m learners.
- German – 11.9m learners.
- Korean – 11.8m learners.
- Hindi – 8.35m learners.
- Italian – 8.16m learners.
- Chinese – 6.28m learners.
Plus, many users noticed that they would study and keep their streak up for days and days, and still not be able to speak the language or could only speak at an intermediate level. And this comes from a lack of human interaction and real speaking practice. So, no, you can't become fluent with Duolingo alone.What is the shortest Duolingo course? ›
The shortest course on Duolingo is Navajo with only 11 skills. The Navajo Duolingo tree is the shortest Duolingo tree with only 28 lessons total. The maximum amount of crowns you can earn is 55 and there are only 143 lexemes to learn.Is finishing Duolingo worth it? ›
Finishing a Duolingo course might teach you how to process the written language on some basic level, but going through thousands of short and unrelated sentences doesn't really have much in common with actual reading. This is why you should develop your own reading practice.What happens when you finish all of Duolingo? ›
Once you complete all the levels in a unit, you'll complete a challenge to earn your unit trophy. You'll also have the option to earn the Legendary trophy for each unit.
Audience composition can reveal a site's current market share across various audiences. duolingo.com's audience is 50.34% male and 49.66% female. The largest age group of visitors are 18 - 24 year olds (Desktop).Is Duolingo good for your brain? ›
The purpose of Duolingo courses is to teach you to use and understand a new language—so this improvement in executive functioning is an added bonus! Duolingo learners transferred benefits from one realm (language learning) to another (executive functioning).Why is Duolingo so random? ›
Cindy Blanco, a learning scientist at Duolingo, explained that the company's content is generated by language-specific teams, each of which has their own quirks. Lessons in Norwegian and Swedish, for instance, often include references to '90s grunge music.
Do teachers get Duolingo for free? ›
Duolingo for Schools is 100% free. Is Duolingo for Schools different from Duolingo?What is the 1 easiest language? ›
Easiest (about 600 hours of study)
Of these, Spanish and Italian are the easiest for native English speakers to learn, followed by Portuguese and finally French.
- Norwegian. This may come as a surprise, but we have ranked Norwegian as the easiest language to learn for English speakers. ...
- Swedish. ...
- Spanish. ...
- Dutch. ...
- Portuguese. ...
- Indonesian. ...
- Italian. ...
You get automatically inducted into the club once you get 365 days logged.What happens after 365 days Duolingo? ›
Once you hit the 365, your streak counter would go dark with a couple of spotlights in the background. But nowadays it's all glam and golden. You really can't miss it! You can also tap the streak counter for a little pop-up that gives you some more details about your membership.Who is Duolingo's target audience? ›
Targeted primarily at elementary-level students, Duolingo Math wants to make learning the often-loathed subject more enjoyable with thousands of five-minute "bite-sized" lessons.Do people finish Duolingo? ›
An informal study estimates that course completion rates fall as low as 0.01% for Spanish learners (second most popular language on Duolingo), and peak at 0.24% for Ukrainian learners.Can I go back to old version of Duolingo? ›
If you need a rollback of Duolingo, check out the app's version history on Uptodown. It includes all the file versions available to download off Uptodown for that app. Download rollbacks of Duolingo for Android. Any version of Duolingo distributed on Uptodown is completely virus-free and free to download at no cost.What do people think of the new Duolingo? ›
it's much better for beginners. The clarity of the new learning path makes it WAY more beginner-friendly. Whether you're using Duolingo for the first time or you're starting a brand new language course, the new learning path is, as far as I'm concerned, a lot more welcoming.Should I trust Duolingo? ›
The Bottom Line. Duolingo is the best free app for learning a language. Unique features and a clear structure make it a reliable place to learn new languages or sharpen your skills. PCMag editors select and review products independently.
Is Duolingo losing customers? ›
Duolingo had 37 million monthly active users in 2021, a slight decrease on the 42 million users it had in 2020.