500 Days of Duolingo: What You Can (and Can’t) Learn From a Language App (Published 2019) (2023)


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Free language learning apps often promise the world — but don’t expect fluency from one. Here’s what to expect before you sign up.

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    (Video) Why most language learning apps DON'T work

By Eric Ravenscraft

If mobile language-learning apps are to be believed, it’s never been easier to pick up another language. Just spend 20 minutes a day with a few virtual flashcards and you’ll be fluent in no time! The reality is a lot more nuanced — and arguably more disappointing — than that.

Apps like Duolingo, Memrise, and Babbel all promise to teach you how to read, write, or speak a new language, all from your phone. While they’re similar in concept, they differ a lot in the specifics:

  • Duolingo offers a skill tree of lessons that use listening exercises, flashcards, and multiple choice questions to drill you on new words, phrases, and sentences. Most questions have a comment thread where users can discuss a particular question in detail. The service also has community features that let you connect with other people who are learning the same language you are.

  • Memrise offers similar lessons to Duolingo, introducing new words and phrases with flashcards, listening exercises, and more. However, the app has a few unique features: on new words, you can write a note (called a “mem”) with anything that helps you remember the new word or phrase. These will appear later when you come across the word again. It also offers a feature called Learn With Locals, which pairs words with videos of native speakers saying the phrase out loud and demonstrating the phrase. For example, a speaker might shiver when describing cold weather. This helps connect words with their meaning. Memrise also offers more explanatory cards than Duolingo offers when introducing new or complex topics.

  • Babbel is different from the other two. While it uses similar multiple choice or listening exercises as the others, it uses conversational examples to demonstrate how to use new words or phrases when speaking with another person. It also offers a speech recognition feature that lets you speak words back during an exercise instead of writing them out or answering a multiple choice question. This helps you learn how to pronounce words properly, or at least properly enough for your phone to recognize what you’re saying.

Despite their differences, they have the same goal: use daily exercises on your phone to teach you an entire language. It’s an enticing promise, especially if you’re not already immersed in a culture or education system that will give you the exposure you need to pick up a second language. The question is, are they effective?

After I accumulated a Duolingo streak in excess of 500 days — a feat that, thanks to the app’s notoriously insistent reminders, has now come to define my self-worth — I found myself in a better place to judge just how much an app alone can really teach you. The short answer is that you can definitely learn some things from an app, but if you want to become fluent in a language — or even conversational — they won’t be enough.

Language apps are great for writing systems and basic phrases

The phrase “learning a language” is deceptively reductive. A language isn’t a singular monolith, but rather a complex interconnected system of components that build a way to communicate. The lexicon consists of the individual words, which speakers have to memorize. The syntax and grammar tell speakers how to properly structure those words in a sentence. Then there’s the writing system, which is the visual representation of words or sounds that allow words to be constructed (for example, in English, the writing system is the alphabet).

(Video) Why I'm Quitting the Japanese Duolingo Course (An Honest Review)

For languages that have a different writing system, like Japanese, Russian, or Korean, language apps can be an excellent way to learn. Duolingo and Memrise both use a combination of flash card and simple matching exercises to train you to recognize symbols in a new writing system, while Babbel goes an extra step further with in-lesson explanations for how new symbols or sounds work.

(Video) Learn a Language for Real: What you can do that's better than Duolingo

After a few weeks or months of consistently going through lessons, it’s feasible to learn every sound and symbol in a new writing system. You won’t be able to understand every word you can read, but you’ll be a lot closer than if you started from scratch. However, that’s only part of learning a language. Understanding the alphabet used in English doesn’t inherently mean you can understand French or Spanish, for example.

These apps are also better at teaching basic conversational phrases that are useful when you’re traveling. When you visit a city in a foreign country, it’s helpful to learn a few phrases like “Where is the bathroom?” or “How much does it cost?” Using a phrase book to memorize these phrases in another language is a quick and dirty way to get the job done, but that’s not really “learning” the phrases, it’s just memorizing them.

For example, consider the Italian phrase “Dov’è il bagno?” This phrase means “Where is the bathroom?” However, without speaking Italian, can you tell which part of that sentence is “bathroom?” Could you adapt the sentence to say “Where is the door?” or “Where is the hotel?” Language apps don’t just teach you whole sentences. Instead, they break down component parts of a sentence and teach you a few different variations so you understand what you’re saying and can adjust what you’re saying based on your situation. It’s a useful skill to have, especially when traveling.

Most importantly, though, these apps are powerful reminders that learning a new language isn’t a part-time job. Duolingo has infamously persistent notifications that pester you to come back and give that adorable green bird attention every single day. The downside is that it can be tempting to gamify the experience, rather than actually learn. On particularly busy days, I’ve found myself redoing the earliest lessons just to keep my all-important streak going. Which leads to another important lesson: skirting the rules on a self-improvement project hurts no one but yourself.

What language apps can’t teach you

For as useful as learning a new writing system or understanding basic phrases can be, it’s only a small part of fluency in a language. What counts as “fluent” is a tough concept to describe, but the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (or CEFR) is a widely-accepted standard for approximating fluency.

The six CEFR levels are necessarily broad and can overlap a bit, but here’s a (very) brief overview of what each means:

  • At level A1, learners should know basic phrases, be able to introduce themselves and ask simple personal questions, and understand basic interactions if their conversation partner speaks slowly. Level A2 includes understanding common expressions, communicating about routine tasks, and describing simple aspects of the speaker’s background. Together, these two levels make up the Basic stage.

  • Level B1 starts to introduce more complex ideas like explaining their opinions, dreams, and ambitions, or handling complex tasks while traveling. Level B2 expects speakers to be able to speak with native speakers of a language without straining, and have complex technical discussions related to their field of expertise. These two levels make up the Independent stage.

  • Finally, a level C1 speaker should be able to communicate flexibly in social, professional, and academic settings, understand a wide variety of topics, and recognize implicit meaning. C2, the highest level, expects the learner to “understand with ease virtually everything heard or read,” and summarize information from different sources. Levels C1 and C2 make up the Proficient stage.

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If it’s not already obvious, language apps simply can’t get someone to level C2 — or anywhere close — on their own. There simply aren’t lessons to teach you, for example, how to have a complex conversation about banking regulations or astrophysics or whatever your field of expertise. It also means that if you stick solely to the lesson plans in each app, you won’t communicate with another person. By definition, these two limitations would rule out reaching even level B2.

Some apps also have a hard time teaching complex grammar. In Japanese, for one small example, “particles” are core parts of a sentence that indicate how words relate to each other in a sentence. They’re usually written with the same symbols used to spell words — sort of like how “a” is both a letter, but also a word on its own — which can get confusing since Japanese doesn’t use spaces between words and symbols.

Duolingo often just drops a new particle on you without much explanation of what it does or even that it’s a particle at all. Memrise handles this a bit better, with lessons dedicated to how certain particles and grammar work, but it helps to have external lessons, an instructor, or best of all a native speaker to help explain some of the finer points of nuance in a language’s grammar.

Language apps also struggle with some of the unspoken aspects of communicating in a language. To focus on Japanese again, there are distinct levels of formality and politeness which dictate what form a word should take based on your relationship with the person you’re speaking to. So, for example, you may use one form of a sentence when speaking to a friend, but a more formal version when speaking to a boss.

Furthermore, body language and posture can have a dramatic impact on how your speech is perceived, and language apps tend not to cover this at all. While understanding body language is not strictly a requirement of any CEFR level, it’s hard to navigate a conversation fluently without a general understanding of what certain gestures mean, or what actions are impolite.

Most importantly, though, language apps are not other humans. It sounds like an obvious observation, but the entire point of learning a language is to communicate with other people. You can learn as many words or sentences as you want, but until you’re able to have a conversation with another person, you’ll never be fluent. Or, according to the CEFR model, you won’t even be halfway there.

For that reason alone, learning a language with an app should be a starting point, not the end. If you make it through an entire Duolingo skill tree or a Memrise lesson plan, it might be time to upgrade to an in-person class, or you might want to find a native speaker to practice with.


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(Video) 7 FREE Language Learning Apps in 2022 💬| Duolingo, italki & More


Can you actually learn a language from Duolingo? ›

Duolingo is not a stand-alone language course, but it's an excellent addition to a language learner's toolbox. It's easy to use, it's fun and it works. Don't forget to do the homework, though. If your aim is to achieve real fluency, remember to read, speak, and truly live the language that you're learning!

Can you become fluent with just Duolingo? ›

Duolingo can't make you fluent by itself

The other way in which the research is misleading is that learning a language requires more than just an app, in the same way learning just about anything requires more than just a textbook.

Why has Duolingo changed 2022? ›

Duolingo's CEO, Luis von Ahn, has seen those concerns, and he has no plans to undo any of the changes. “This is why we decided to do this: to simplify Duolingo and also to make it so that new users understood how to best use Duolingo,” von Ahn said in a video interview.

Is it possible to complete Duolingo? ›

Duolingo is terrific, but it has its limits. If you stop studying after you complete a Duolingo course, you”ll miss out on valuable grammar, vocabulary and listening practice, and your skills won't progress past the level Duolingo left you at.

How long does it take to become fluent with 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. Tap this link to find out more.

What fluent level does Duolingo make you? ›

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.

Can Duolingo get you to B1? ›

By reaching the end of Unit 5, Duolingo learners have completed all the lessons in the beginner sections of our courses, called A1 and A2, and are starting intermediate B1 material.

Which is better Babbel or Duolingo? ›

Is Babbel better than Duolingo? After thoroughly testing out and reviewing each language learning program, we feel that Babbel is better than Duolingo for multiple reasons. Based on the strength of their curriculum, teaching style and delivery, we rate Babbel as the superior app over Duolingo.

How much Duolingo should I do a 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.

Is Duolingo losing money? ›

Duolingo valuation

Duolingo's valuation pre-IPO was $2.4 billion, which accelerated to over $6 billion in 2021. The tech selloff hit the company as well in 2022, dropping below $3 billion in value.

Can you finish Duolingo in a year? ›

To finish a Duolingo language in one year, you'd have to spend 60 minutes per day on the app.

Is Duolingo owned by China? ›

Duolingo (/ˌdjuːoʊˈlɪŋɡoʊ/ DEW-oh-LING-goh) is an American educational technology company which produces apps for language-learning and provides language certification.

Is Duolingo valid for 2 years? ›

Duolingo scores are valid for two years. Once you receive your scores you can send them to the educational institutions straight from the results page and there is no limit to sending the score reports.

Does Duolingo go forever? ›

You can also get 1-month and 6-month subscriptions that will cost a bit more per month. There is currently no lifetime plan for Duolingo Plus.

What is the fastest growing language on Duolingo? ›

Japanese surpassed Italian globally to become the 5th most popular language to study, and it's the fastest-growing language in the U.S. and U.K.

What is the longest Duolingo streak? ›

The longest streak on Duolingo is over 9 years long (3,285+ days) and was earned by user christi3. However, multiple users have accomplished this feat of a world record Duolingo Streak and have made it onto a Streak Hall of Fame. Above you can see the list of users who have completed a streak of over 2555 days.

How long does it take to complete the whole course on Duolingo? ›

There is no standard time to finish a course tree on Duolingo. Some languages have far more content than others. If you are very new to a language and let us say there are around 70 units of language skills for a given language. I would say you can cover that in at least 70 days and the maximum is up to you.

Is 70 a good Duolingo score? ›

What is a good Duolingo score? A good score in Duolingo is anywhere around 120 or even more. It is usually taken as a good score in the Duolingo English Test (DET) globally at leading universities and educational institutions. Anything around 115-120 is also acceptable at most universities.

Is 75 a good Duolingo score? ›

Various educational institutions are now accepting the Duolingo English Test scores. Therefore, candidates should know where they stand and what they have scored if compared to other popular English Language Proficiency Tests like IELTS and TOEFL.

What grade level is Duolingo? ›

Duolingo learners' scores on reading and listening tests are comparable to university students who completed five semesters of language study, and they meet ACTFL's standard for intermediate proficiency (rating of 4-6).

Is Duolingo as good as university? ›

New data shows that those who use Duolingo — a popular language app — can learn the equivalent of four semesters of university study.

Is Duolingo good for your brain? ›

Understanding the study

Duolingo learners and BrainHQ learners both demonstrated improved executive functioning and working memory, despite only one of the apps being an explicit “brain trainer”!

Do most universities accept Duolingo? ›

Be it the University of Florida, Arizona or Colorado, most universities have accepted the Duolingo English test as an approved language test. About 1700+ universities now accept the Duolingo test.

What is the world's #1 language-learning app? ›

At Duolingo, our mission is to make education free, fun, and accessible to all -- and we're proud of it!

What app is 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, Lingvist, Busuu, and Mango Languages.

What happens when you get a 100 day streak in Duolingo? ›

Reaching certain milestones (such as 100 day streak) can earn the user 3 days of free Duolingo Plus.

What is the success rate of Duolingo? ›

The effectiveness measure showed that on average participants gained 8.1 points per one hour of study with Duolingo. The 95% Confidence Interval for the effectiveness is from 5.6 points to 10.7 points gained per one hour of study.

Who is the best Duolingo player? ›

Congrats to John Arnold, who has the highest-ever Duolingo streak of over 2000 days! He's a horse farmer and chemist who's been studying for 5.5 years straight. His secret? 'Get up and do it first thing.

Who is Duolingo owned by? ›

By the time Duolingo founder Luis von Ahn turned 24, he was already a millionaire several times over. Now 43, he may not be a household name — but you're probably one of the hundreds of millions of people who use his technology every day.

How old is Duolingo? ›

So in 2011, Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker founded Duolingo: the free way to learn 30+ languages like Spanish, Chinese, and English. Now, Duolingo is the world's #1 way to learn a language, with more than 500 million learners worldwide.

What happens when you reach 365 days on Duolingo? ›

wildfire. This one isn't *technically* part of being in the Streak Society. But you get it once you hit the big 365. Hit a year and you unlock the Wildfire achievement!

What happens if you complete everything in 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.

Why did China remove Duolingo? ›

Users in China found the Pittsburg-based app unavailable for downloads last August amid the country's sweeping education crackdown, including restrictions on for-profit afterschool tutoring.

Is Duolingo addictive? ›

Duolingo gets billed as addictive, just like Snapchat and other forms of social media do. But unlike Snapchat, Duolingo is treated as a healthy addiction. Social media addiction is more than overuse – it's when that overuse becomes a negative influence.

Is Duolingo making money? ›

Duolingo makes money via a premium subscription, display ads, fees from events, and language proficiency tests. The company operates under a freemium business model. Founded in 2011, Duolingo has risen to become the world's most popular language-learning platforms.

Does America accept Duolingo? ›

Yes, Duolingo English Test is accepted in USA universities as proof of English language proficiency for the purpose of admission of international students. Apart from the other popular English proficiency tests like IELTS, TOEFL, PTE and Cambridge Assessment tests, Duolingo exam for USA is also preferable.

Can I retake Duolingo for free? ›

Duolingo exam validity is unlimited, and also if you fail multiple times, you can retake it as many times as you deem necessary.

Is 95 Duolingo score accepted universities in USA? ›

Is 105 a good Duolingo Score? A score of 105 is considered a good Duolingo score to apply to popular universities abroad. Most universities and colleges accept a Duolingo Score of 90 and above for Bachelors' and Masters's admissions.

What happens when you get a 7 day streak in Duolingo? ›

Streaks on Duolingo

Simply put, if you have a seven-day streak, then you've done something for seven days in a row. Miss a single day, and your streak resets to zero. Streaks are not new, and people use them as a source of motivation for many different situations.

What happens if I quit test in Duolingo? ›

The remote proctor will instantly invalidate your test score if you break a rule during the exam session. According to the Duolingo English Test Rules and Requirements, it maintains the right not to certify your test results or invalidate any previously certified results without issuing a refund.

What is the top 3 finishes in Duolingo? ›

Currently it is as follows: Bronze: Top 20. Silver: Top 15. Gold: Top 10.

Can you become fluent using only Duolingo? ›

Duolingo can't make you fluent by itself

The other way in which the research is misleading is that learning a language requires more than just an app, in the same way learning just about anything requires more than just a textbook. It's clear that we can achieve a lot with 'just' Duolingo.

What has happened to Duolingo? ›

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-size effective overview of what you'll learn.

Can you go back to the 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.

Is Duolingo adding more languages 2022? ›

South African learners will be an especially interesting group to watch in the coming years, as Duolingo is launching new courses in 2022 to teach Zulu and Xhosa, two languages from South Africa.

Is Duolingo valid in 2022? ›

In addition to the TOEFL iBT and IELTS tests, we will now accept the Duolingo English Test for students applying for spring 2022 and fall 2022 admission.

Why do Duolingo lessons crack? ›

Conversation. Hi there! We've readjusted our algorithm to better match a learner's real ability in the skill. If you have a gilded skill with a lower word strength, it will crack.

Do legendary skills crack in Duolingo? ›

Do Legendary Levels Break or Crack? Yes, Legendary Levels break, however, it takes longer for them to break than the normal lessons. Not having to restore lessons seemed to be the reason Duolingo originally added Legendary Lessons.

What happens if you delete Duolingo? ›

What happens when you delete a Duolingo account? When you delete your Duolingo account, all of your course progress, milestones, and forum posts are deleted. Any data saved in your account will be permanently removed, and you will no longer have access to it.

Is there a better alternative to Duolingo? ›

We have compiled a list of solutions that reviewers voted as the best overall alternatives and competitors to Duolingo, including Rosetta Stone, Lingvist, Busuu, and Mango Languages.

What is the rarest language on Duolingo? ›

Today only 150,000 people speak Navajo, a culture forced to the brink of extinction through generations of inequity. Additionally, the Hawaiian language includes 1,000 native speakers and 8,000 more who understand it.

How many months is Duolingo English valid? ›

Results for the Duolingo English Test are valid for two years.

Does Harvard accept Duolingo? ›

English is the language of instruction at Harvard Extension School.
Meeting the Requirement.
TestMinimum Approved Score
Pearson Test of English Academic (PTEA)70
Duolingo English Test (DET)125
2 more rows

Will Duolingo be accepted in 2023? ›

Yes, Duolingo is accepted for 2023 intakes. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, certain universities and colleges have begun recognising the Duolingo English Test as well as the IELTS or TOEFL exams for admissions. Many foreign universities are also accepting Duolingo scores of international students.

Do all US universities accept Duolingo? ›

Ans. Yes, Duolingo English tests are accepted for USA student visa applications. There are over 100 universities in USA that accept DET. Even after the pandemic, the universities are still accepting Duolingo as proof of proficiency.


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