Duolingo Review – Is That Green Owl Really As Great As They Say?

Designed to make the language learning process not just easily accessible but enjoyable and a source of fun, Duolingo was unveiled to the public in 2012 and has skyrocketed to more than 300 million registered learners of 38 languages. Today, in this Duolingo review, we’ll be taking you on a guided tour through everything that Duolingo has to offer you, whether you’re an amateur linguist or a full blown polyglot.

That includes any potential downsides, of course, to offer you a rounded and accurate picture.

As a friendly and functional app with an eye-catching design and an adorable (if intimidating) mascot, many have found it a wonderful first step into the world of language learning or offering great opportunities to practice existing abilities.

Despite being absolutely free to use (with upgrades and extras available by way of subscribing to a premium membership – more on that later) you’ll notice it still ranks highly against even some of the most expensive competing apps and software.

Finally, remember that this is just one of the hundreds of language resources that we have put together or reviewed. We have kept this Duolingo review as honest and balanced as possible; you can see our Duolingo and Rosetta Stone comparison here.

So – let’s get right into it!

Duolingo Review: Quick Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • A smooth, easy-to-use interface that’s manageable for tech newbies
  • Continuous motivational features including your daily streak, the life system, XP, badges, and in-game currency
  • Makes education fun with a series of entertaining tasks, lessons, and skills
  • Weekly league allows you to compete with friends and strangers and rank up when you do well
  • Returns to old lessons and reminds you of existing knowledge – follows a spiral syllabus

Cons:

  • Some language courses are longer and more fleshed out than others
  • Premium membership is needed to access certain features, including offline practice

Getting Started – What Languages Are Available To Learn

English speakers looking to learn a new language – rejoice! There are over thirty at your disposal, so there’s bound to be one that tickles your fancy. Feast your eyes:

  • Arabic
  • Brazilian
  • Portuguese
  • Czech
  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • Esperanto
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Hawaiian
  • Hebrew
  • High Valyrian
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Indonesian
  • Irish
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Klingon (beta)
  • Korean
  • Latin
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Navajo (beta)
  • Norwegian Bokmal
  • Polish
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Spanish
  • Swahili
  • Swedish
  • Turkish
  • Ukrainian
  • Vietnamese
  • Welsh

Unlike many competing language learning tools, Duolingo also caters to speakers with first languages other than English, albeit in a more limited capacity. These include:

  • English, in Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese
  • Mandarin Chinese, in Japanese
  • Esperanto, in Spanish, French, and Portuguese
  • French, in Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish
  • German, in Arabic, Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish
  • Italian, in Chinese, French, Portuguese, and Spanish)
  • Japanese, in Chinese
  • Korean, in Chinese
  • Brazillian Portuguese, in French and Spanish
  • Russian, in Spanish, and Turkish
  • Spanish, in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian
  • Swedish, in Arabic and Spanish

Duolingo Review: The Basics – How It Works, Interface and Design

First things first, you’ll need to download the app (available on nearly all Android and Apple devices) or head to the website and register yourself for an account. All that remains is to choose your language, and there’s a lot to pick from, as you saw!

Next, pick your daily learning goals – do you want to achieve five minutes a day, fifteen, or maybe more? It’s up to you, and you can increase or decrease your current goal at any time, so no need to panic if you’ve made things too easy or hard.

Either start from scratch as an absolute beginner or take their handy entrance quiz if you feel like you have some useful existing experience. You’ll be placed at a point in the course that suits you – but don’t worry, you can always go back to the start!

Then, you’re introduced to its iconic learning map – separated into modules, which are presented in numerical order, you’ll cover a variety of topics ranging from themes (like food or entertainment) to grammar (such as tenses and conjunctions).

Duolingo Review: How does the Course Work?

Although you can – and are largely encouraged to – return to earlier lessons and practice old content, you move through the course chronologically. It isn’t possible to move on to later classes until you’ve successfully completed those that come before.

Every module is divided into individual levels, which you can test out of if you feel like you’ve learned enough or you’re already familiar with its content. This is useful as an intermediate learner – you must successfully pass the test to move on, though!

For beginners, this is a beautiful way to start learning a language, as you can get stuck into your learning in just a couple of minutes, already coming away with around ten or twenty new vocabulary words you didn’t learn before at the end of day one.

Everything is designed in bright colors, with clear fonts, adorable digital drawings, and accompanying images – the software is intuitive and it is very much obvious what you’re being asked to do or where you need to go at every stage of play.

Duolingo Review: What Makes Duolingo Great – Key Features

One of the best things about Duolingo is its constant motivation of the user. It does this in several different ways, each an important facet of their widespread success – let’s talk about them:

Lives

Very much reflective of a video game, in Duo users start every day with five “hearts” which serve as your “lives” in the game – by failing to successfully complete an exercise, you will lose one of those hearts, and it won’t refill for a couple of hours. This is one aspect that makes several Duolingo reviews so positive.

If you’ve played Candy Crush Saga, it’s similar to that system – once you’ve run out of hearts, that’s it; you need to wait until that clock runs down to replenish your lives, and play again. Unless… you spend some more money for a premium membership!

The desire to keep those lives intact so you aren’t interrupted mid-session works to keep you trying your best on every exercise, thereby improving your overall learning by encouraging you to think more carefully about your answers and retain that information.

Leagues

When you first join Duolingo and successfully complete a lesson, you’ll begin right at the start in the Bronze League, added to a leaderboard with 30 other brand new players to compete for the coveted top spot and level up to the next league.

To do this, all you need to do is practice! Finishing each lesson nets you some valuable XP, which are the points that move you up in the league – stay ahead of your fellow players and keep your position in the top ten to be upgraded.

Beware! If you are at the very bottom of your league, you run the risk of being demoted back again at the end of the week. Whilst not annoying at first, when you’ve reached that final Diamond League status, this can be incredibly frustrating!

Lingots

Completing an exercise will also net you lingots, which are tiny little gems serving as the game’s currency – you are awarded these at various points throughout the language learning experience, and they can be used to buy a number of bonuses.

You’ll earn lingots for completing a ‘skill’ for the very first time, successfully reaching your daily goal, leveling up to the next XP rank, maintaining your streak, inviting friends to the game, or finishing the weeks’ league in first, second or third position.

Things you can spend your hard-earned lingots on include: bonus skills, power ups, streak freezes (those get mighty important once you get past your first few weeks of play, you have my word… there is no worse feeling than losing a 100+ streak!)

Streaks

Now, this is a big one – every single day that you play even just one lesson, you keep your existing streak alive and add another day to your journey. Miss just one day and all of that hard work disappears up in smoke… there’s nothing you can do!

Sure, if you’ve only been playing a day or two this isn’t too big of a deal, but imagine forgetting about over a hundred days, or even a thousand… the devastation just isn’t worth considering, so always stay stocked up on streak freezes using your lingots.

By upgrading to a premium account you also get access to one free streak freeze a month, in addition to unlimited lives. If you’re scared of losing out or messing up, that upgrade is probably worth your while, just to save you some unnecessary stress!

Achievements

These aren’t quite as exciting, but they can be great markers of your progress, as well as awarding you some valuable XP and lingots when you unlock each one – represented by badges, there are many to achieve, each with its own set of tiers.

These achievements or badges are unlocked after you’ve completed a certain amount of tasks or a specific action and will differ slightly depending on whether you use Android or Apple software or are learning via the web.

Fun nicknames you will be given as a result of these successful completions include Wildfire, Weekend Warrior, Champion, Conqueror, Scholar, Sage, and Challenger – it sounds pretty badass and it makes you feel pretty smart, too.

Are There Any Potential Downsides?

Unfortunately, when it comes to the potential for practicing your speaking skills, there’s not that much available; although you can toggle speaking exercises on and off, you’re either reading things aloud or repeating a phrase from an audio clip.

In a similar vein, a lot of Duo’s language courses tend to only accept one very strict answer for translations, which fails to acknowledge the wide variety of dialects and different meanings that can impact a word’s spelling, pronunciation, and meaning.

This means that your focus is on gaining vocabulary and forming sentences rather than learning to speak coherently and have a fluent conversation with a native speaker or other learners – this is where services like italki can be better.

Similarly, we’d also recommend Rosetta Stone over Duo for a more immersive language learning experience, that constantly has you listening to native speakers and practicing your own speaking or pronunciation skills as a focal point of your learning.

Although it can seriously bolster your learning, Duolingo is never going to be enough to get you speaking a language fluently, primarily because of the downsides we’ve listed above – you can practice, but you’ll get very little by way of real-time feedback.

Is Duolingo Plus Worth It – Should You Get Premium Membership

No Duolingo review would be complete without answering this question. Beginning its journey as an absolutely free app, and pledging that would always be the case, Duolingo does not require a paid membership.

It is primarily supported by ads – to get rid of those and also access a couple of bonus features, you can pay $12.99 a month (or $47.99/$79.99 if you buy a six month/year’s membership in advance) for Duolingo Plus, their premium subscription service.

Whether this is a worthwhile investment for you depends on several factors, perhaps most importantly your financial situation. If a regular subscription fee is outside of your budget then don’t worry too much about it: the only thing you’re missing out on is the chance for “unlimited hearts” and one free streak freeze per month.

Those are certainly useful features, but they won’t inhibit your language learning. Plus, if you opt for using the online web edition (or if you have run out of hearts in the app but don’t want to stop practicing…) then you don’t need to worry about lives at all, as they aren’t a part of the program when accessed via a browser.

That being said, if you do have the funds to pay for a membership, enjoy and appreciate the service that Duolingo provides, and would like to support the developers financially, then you absolutely should. They do a brilliant job and this will help keep the app free for those who truly need it!

In Summary…

So, how to summarize this Duolingo review? For those who are looking to dip their toe into the world of language learning, without committing more than fifteen minutes a day and spending absolutely nothing… Duolingo is most definitely the app for you!

With nearly forty possible languages to pick from, your options are vaster than they have ever been, and it’s incredibly easy to get started, right from your computer or, as app users, directly to the palm of your hand.

By covering a variety of activities, on topics that focus on reading, writing, listening, and (at times) speaking, you can go from absolute beginner to speaking in fluent sentences, just after a couple of weeks of play.

Intermediates will also surely find some content that is brand new, as well as appreciate the clear, concise, and enjoyable nature of the revision activities, exercises, and material available to study.

If you’re a learner searching for the most immersive, authentic, natural way to learn a new language, with plenty of opportunities for speaking practice, you might want something more extensive, like Rosetta Stone.

That being said, as a quick refresher, a way to revise existing knowledge or pass the time, especially convenient when you’re on the move, traveling or away from home and your notes, it can be a truly revolutionary tool. Use it well! We hope this Duolingo review has been useful. Don’t forget to share it!

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