Duolingo – A Waste of Your 5 Minutes?
You probably are here because you want to know what other people think of Duolingo.
Can you really “learn a language for free in just five minutes a day” with Duolingo as they claim?
Summary of This Review:
In this review, I will show you why you will NOT learn a language in just five minutes a day with Duolingo.
Why? Because after about two weeks of studying for five minutes per day, the amount of your language that you learn every day will be the same as the amount that you forget every day, and you won’t be making any progress.
Are You a Duck?
I will explain why you might not want to learn Spanish with a program that thinks you should study phrases like, “I am a duck who speaks English.” That’s my favorite funny phrase from the Duolingo Spanish program, but funny is not the same as useful.
I will cover alternatives that will be better for some language learners. I’ll speculate on who is really paying for Duolingo if you aren’t.
The Most Carefully Researched Duolingo Review
In the review below, you will read some things that seem unbelievable at first. But every claim has been carefully proven from highly credible sources. If you don’t believe me, read the footnotes.
Teach a Language — Go to Jail
I’ll also tell you about the time when foreign language teachers were imprisoned in America for four years, simply because they were language teachers.
Will Duolingo Work for Me?
Duolingos’s methods can work, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time on it, just like you would with your old Spanish textbook from high school. I’d suggest three to four hours per day.
If you are a beginner or lower intermediate and are looking for something more time-efficient, I suggest clicking on the flag of the language you want to learn below and try a more time efficient lesson right now.
If you are an advanced student, then we recommend Yabla even though they are a competitor and we don’t get a commission by recommending them. If you need something you can learn in your car or while walking without looking at a screen, then Pimsleur is good too.
We have a comments and questions area at the bottom of this page, so please do leave your thoughts there. I would especially love to hear from anyone who has learned a language well by only studying with Duolingo for five minutes per day.
If you like this review, please share it with your friends Facebook, Twitter, or your favorite social media.
What Is Duolingo?
Duolingo is a language learning website and app. The site claims that “you can learn a language in five minutes a day.” It also claims that the lessons have 25 million monthly users.
The first claim is clearly a lie, and the second one might be too, for all I know.
Duolingo has taken boring language textbooks with methods that don’t work very well and turned them into computer games that still don’t help you learn a language very well.
The History of Duolingo and Why It Matters
Duolingo was founded in 2009 by a serial entrepreneur named Luis von Ahn, with his co-founder Severin Hacker.
Von Ahn’s claim to fame is that he was the creator of reCAPTCHA. It was and still is an anti-spam device that web developers put in front of forms that they didn’t want to get filled up with useless content by the spammers on the web.
Von Ahn claimed that people who used reCAPTCHA were helping digitize books with words that weren’t easily readable by computers when they were scanned. He called it a “massive-scale online collaboration.”
Cashing In on the Labor of Others
Von Ahn later made his first millions by selling reCAPTCHA to Google for US$26 million. In 2015, a Massachusetts woman sued Google for using free labor to scan books and newspapers.
Software Can Be Good or Bad
In his TED talk, von Ahn claimed that more than 750 million people had solved one of his captchas. However, what was the price that those people paid? Certainly, they were subjected to a huge amount of unnecessary stress, which quite possibly led to earlier graves.
Software developers need to remember the phrase, “First Do No Harm,” just like doctors do. ReCAPTCHA in the form that von Ahn originally released was harmful software.
Why the Founders Matter
The history of Duolingo’s founders is important to language learners because companies are reflections of their founders for a very long time.
The reCAPTCHA device was founded on a lie (“help digitize books”) that made it sound like you were having to type those hard-to-read letters in a form for the public good.
Where Are the Books?
So where are the libraries of accurately digitized books that 750 million of us helped digitize?
And if accurately digitizing books was such a valuable business, then why did Google redesign reCAPTCHA (after they bought it) into the current, much less stressful, “I’m a Human” checkbox?
Why reCAPTCHA Was Worth Millions
Luis von Ahn made his first fortune by getting millions of people to type difficult-to-read words into their computer. And that company, which had either little or no revenue, was still worth millions to Google.
Why was it worth millions? Because it was installed on millions of websites, just before checkouts and registrations and ticket sales and things like that.
And the knowledge of what millions of humans are doing on the web (especially when those humans are buying and registering and commenting) is a very valuable thing to big marketers and big government.
It’s called “Big Data.”
Why Is Duolingo Valuable?
ReCAPTCHA was a stress-inducing blot on the web landscape, based on the lie that you were helping digitize books for the public good.
On the other hand, Duolingo is friendly and warm and fuzzy, and it pulls you in with the lie that you can learn a language in only five minutes a day. It keeps you coming back with the levels and the badges and comments on the message boards.
You see, human attention is very valuable, especially when you are talking about the attention of millions of humans with credit cards.
Human Attention Is Like Location in Real Estate
Let me explain this by comparing the internet to real estate. In real estate, commercial locations with more people going by, or richer people going by, are more valuable to businesses than other locations with fewer of them.
The internet equivalent of that is to develop a website with a LOT of users (and richer users), so you can show them ads, and sell products on Amazon, and mine the data about your users to sell to marketers and other interested parties.
A site that attracts the positive attention of millions of people with credit cards is extremely valuable to a lot of people. That’s why Duolingo is a very valuable website.
Does Free Forever Really Mean Free Forever?
I first heard about Duolingo in 2011, when the company got its first big publicity.
Back then, the homepage said, “With Duolingo you learn a language for free, and simultaneously translate the Web.” I thought it was the stupidest idea that I had ever heard and promptly forgot about it.
Apparently, other people didn’t like it either, so the banner headline on the homepage was soon changed to “Duolingo. Free language education for the world,” and later to the current “Learn a language for free. Forever.”
In this case, “forever” probably does not mean something like, “The sun will come up in the east forever.” It probably means something much more like “I‘ll love you forever,” which tends to be a lot shorter kind of forever.
Duolingo Plus – Pay to Get Rid of the Ads
The free version of Duolingo currently is showing a lot of ads that you have to watch as your form of payment to use the program. If these annoy you enough, you can pay a monthly fee (currently $6.99) to get a version without the ads. This adds up to $83.88 USD per year so you can decide whether it’s worth that much to you or not.
If you are a curious person like me, you might wonder why they chose $6.99 as the monthly price. Why not $7.99, or $8.99 or $4.99? If anyone really knows the answer to why they chose that somewhat unusual price, please post the answer in the comments below.
My guess (and I freely admit that this is just a guess) is that this was approximately what they can make from advertisers by selling you very targeted ads.
Duolingo’s Search for a Business Model
When Duolingo was started, the founders said that they planned to make money by having people translate the Web and then charging customers, such as CNN, for translation services.
It turns out that companies weren’t interested in having their documents translated by millions of language learners, so that business plan was abandoned.
English Testing for $49.00
Language learning on the Duolingo site is still free (sort of), but the company now says it makes money by selling language competency testing for a fee, in competition with companies like International Language Testing and ALTA.
There is actually a very large market for English language competency testing and there is certainly nothing wrong with Duolingo competing in that market. People very often need to prove to a potential employer or a potential university, that they have achieved the needed level of proficiency in English.
Duolingo’s English test is semi-automated with the applicant being asked to upload images of his or her ID, then take pictures and video samples of themselves. Some parts of the test are very similar to Duolingo games, and there are also written questions that you must respond to in writing. You have to respond to some questions by recording short videos of yourself answering open ended methods.
Racially Sensitive Questions?
Since Duolingo is primarily in the business of data mining, they haven’t been able to resist asking their test takers questions that are utterly irrelevant to proving their competence in English such as “What race are you?” Someones race has roughly zero to do with the competency they have developed in English.
A person’s linguistic background may have a lot to do with how difficult it was for them to achieve a given degree of competence in English, but once competence or the lack of competence is proven, race is really an irrelevant question.
Perhaps you’ve heard this quote: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
So there is Duolingo, judging people by their race instead of simply measuring their competence in English. Shame on you Duolingo.
Still in the Red
Duolingo has yet to show a profit, but they have raised a cool $83 million from investors, who are once again throwing money at any silly idea with a strong user base, just as they did back in the 2001 dot-com craze.
For-Profit — But Not Yet
The company is listed as a “for profit.” Its goal, from its founding moment until today, is to get you to do something that has a monetary value for Duolingo.
Originally that value was supposed to be a translation, and so, as you might expect, translation is still a big part of Duolingo’s language lessons today.
The Dark Side of Language Learning
Here’s an important question: What’s really behind the free Duolingo platform? Who else, besides you, would like to know what languages you know and how well you know them?
Of course, big marketers and big government are always interested in knowing what you know.
And while it seems fairly innocent that Air France might like to know how well you have learned French this year, others may want to know what you know with a much less innocent intent.
Are Intelligence Agencies Interested?
Is the CIA interested in how well you know a foreign language? I think so, and so does NBC News.[13.1]
Do you know a foreign language and would you like to work for the CIA? Their official careers web page says, “New employees who already possess excellent foreign language skills may be eligible for a significant hiring bonus.”[13.6]
What Do the TOEFL Test Makers Do With Your Data?
ETS, the creators of the well-established English competency test called TOEFL, says, “We make (and reserve the right to make) all lawful, worldwide uses of Personal Information subject to this Policy and applicable law.”
Selling your competency data to any intelligence agency with a budget is a lawful use. If you don’t like that, then don’t use ETS or Duolingo.
Historically, when times change and the winds of war or oppression blow over a country, educated people (and if you know more than one language, you are educated) were often singled out for imprisonment or death.
Teach Japanese and Go to Prison for Four Years
Note that Japanese language teachers in Hawaii were singled out and jailed by the United States government during WWII.
Also remember that in the 1970s in Cambodia, everyone who was educated was murdered.
And of course, the Soviet Union had several pogroms against the intelligentsia.
Should You Trust Duolingo?
Do you trust Duolingo to share your competency data only with you, and not sell it to all the intelligence agencies and others who want to know?
Do you think that perhaps “Learn a language for free forever” means, in Duolingo’s case, either until they burn through their investor money or until they figure out how to get the CIA or the FSB to pay for it?
Do you know where the data collected from the Duolingo platform goes and how it will be used in the future?
How Many People Have Used Duolingo?
As of August 2019, Duolingo claimed to have more than 300 million active users. (Does anyone audit such a claim, or did Duolingo simply put a number into a press release and everyone believes it?)
Regardless, think about how the data from so many “free” users can be used and what forces might be interested in using it for their own purposes.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. There never was, and there never will be.
How Well Does Duolingo Work to Learn Spanish?
When you first sign up with Duolingo, you are asked what kind of learner you are, and you’re asked to set a daily target study time that varies from 5 to 20 minutes.
After you set your target study goal, you begin typing and translating (remember, their first goal was to sell your translations). Occasionally you’re asked to speak a phrase in Spanish or your new language into your microphone.
The voice recognition algorithm isn’t very picky, so as long as you say something that has the right number of syllables and the right stress, Duolingo will grade your answer as correct, and you can go to the next phrase.
Because Duolingo was built so that the company could get paid as you translated documents, it shouldn’t surprise you that the program will have you do a lot of writing and translating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with learning to translate as long as you want to learn to be a translator.
Because with Duolingo you spend your study time typing in the blanks and saying the occasional foreign-language phrase into your microphone, the efficiency of their language teaching method is not very high.
It’s Like Your High School Spanish Class
Essentially, Duolingo is a computerized version of a simple foreign language workbook that did not teach you any Spanish or another foreign language in high school. And, just as you found in high school, you won’t learn much unless you spend a lot more time studying than five minutes per day.
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. Most language learners don’t realize that it is possible to create high-quality memories that will fade slowly and put these memories into their long-term storage.
Having said that, if you put in enough time studying with Duolingo (and practice as much as you can), you will probably learn something. But you will have to spend a lot more than five minutes per day studying.
I’d suggest that you spend three to four hours per day with it. Boy, that would be a terrible headline!
What If You Don’t Like Games?
What if you are a person who doesn’t like games, and of course not everyone likes games. What if you would prefer to use a program that was faster to learn Spanish, German, or French and didn’t have all the overhead required to turn language learning into a game?
For people who are highly conscientious, I recommend trying the free demo that you can try if you click on the flag of your next langauge below.
The program below will work very well for anyone who already knows how to form effective study habits.
Fortunately if you don’t yet know how to form effective study habits, they are easy to form when you understand a little bit of the science behind it.
Everyone who tries the free demo below and reaches their study goal for today, will get a free report on how to easily form new language study habits.
Stupid Phrases That Make the Teachers Laugh
If you ask language teachers to make language lessons without giving them proper supervision, they get bored in a hurry. To counteract their boredom, they start making silly lessons to entertain themselves.
Duolingo has a huge number of truly stupid phrases that the teachers who wrote the course probably thought were funny. These vary from phrases about ducks who speak English to phrases that will help you when you need to talk to your cat, or even when your cat needs to talk to you.
What I Like About Duolingo
Duolingo has a color-coded fade built into the lessons. The colors fade as the time you studied the lessons moves further into the past. This is good because it reminds you that language competence is a “use it or lose it” skill. Every memory that you don’t review will fade.
Language learning is a neuromuscular skill, similar in some ways to learning a new sport. You have to grow your foreign language muscles to learn a language. This is possible to do in Duolingo, but probably most people don’t.
How to Use Duolingo
You need to say the foreign language phrases OUT LOUD immediately after the teacher says them. Typing them doesn’t give your mouth muscles the practice they need.
Remember, for the most part you are not trying to learn how to type a new language, you are trying to learn to speak it and understand it. If you want to learn to speak it, you have to open up your mouth and speak.
What Duolingo Does Exceptionally Well
Two essential features are needed for any language learning program to work. It has to work technically when people diligently apply it, and it has to work psychologically for some portion of the language-learning public that wants to use it.
Duolingo falters technically. Its methods are not very good, and it doesn’t work very well even if applied diligently.
But what the creators of the site have done exceptionally well is to build a system that pulls people back psychologically.
Other companies with systems that work better should gamify their language learning systems to solve the psychological problems of language learning.
Good Reminder Emails
The best feature of Duolingo is its daily reminder emails. I highly recommend choosing the daily reminders, clicking on them each day to keep them coming, and then using a more effective language learning program for your studies like Anki, Memrise, or Language101.com.
You won’t learn quickly from Duolingo, but it still can be very useful if it pulls you back to daily language study. Use the following alternative programs that make better use of your study time and will help you form long-term memory storage.
You’ll Probably Like My Other Reviews
If you like this review you will probably also like my reviews of other language learning products. Pimsleur is a good program for beginners that has a much longer list of languages than what Language101.com offers. Yabla is an excellent program that we highly recommend for intermediate to advanced learners.
I also recommend Fluenz for people who need to do preparation for a language academic test like a CLEP test.
Rosetta Stone, has a fundamental design mistake that they have been marketing very well for a long time.
If You Are a Beginner — Try These Free Lessons
If you need to learn one of these languages below, click on the flag of your next language and try the free lesson for 30 minutes right now.
So What Do Other Experienced Language Learners Say about Duolingo?
“I have a huge problem with Duolingo. The biggest problem with Duolingo is, it’s memorization. It’s 99.9% memorization. All you are doing is memorizing words and phrases, etc. Memorization is not comprehensible input. In fact, you could memorize the entire dictionary. You could memorize the whole Spanish dictionary, the French dictionary, Arabic dictionary, etc. and you would still not speak the language. It just doesn’t work that way.”
Jeff Brown, polyglot and full-time language instructor
“I would recommend it as a secondary learning aid. It is great to use when you have 10-20 minutes to kill, like while on a commute, as you will certainly learn something in the target language.”
Conor Clyne, polyglot, Language Tsar.
“The learning tasks at Duolingo are pleasantly presented and cleverly gamified. Duolingo tells us we can learn a language in five minutes a day, which I sincerely doubt. The user gets frequent rewards for correct answers. A variety of messaging is used to persuade us not to quit, but it didn’t work for me. I need meaningful content.”
Steve Kaufmann, polyglot
Duolingo claims that you can “learn Spanish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.” While you can learn some Spanish with Duolingo, it will take you a lot more than just five minutes per day. Plan on spending at least fours hours per day with it. Also read Spanish books and watch Spanish movies to become fluent.
1. “Learn Portuguese in just 5 minutes per day. For Free.” Duolingo. Retrieved November 11, 2019.
3. Craig Smith, “By the Numbers: 17 Amazing Duolingo Facts and Statistics (2019).” DMR: Business Statistics, Fun Gadgets. Last updated August 30, 2019. Retrieved Nov. 14, 2019.
4. Duolingo website is available here: https://www.duolingo.com/
5. L. von Ahn, Massive-scale online collaboration. TEDtalks.com, video, April 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
6. D. Harris, Massachusetts woman’s lawsuit accuses Google of using free labor to transcribe books, newspapers. Boston Business Journal, January 2015. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
7. Von Ahn, Massive-scale online collaboration.
8. “Episode 8: El Secuestro.” Duolingo Podcast, February 1, 2018.
9. L. von Ahn. What is the business model of Duolingo? Quora.com, December 2014. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
10. Frederic Lardinois, Duolingo Raises $45 Million Series D Round Led By Google Capital, Now Valued At $470M. TechCrunch, June 10, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
11. For International Language Testing, go to http://www.languagetesting.com/, and for ALTA go to https://www.altalang.com/.
12. L von Ahn, State of Monetization at Duolingo. Duolingo Forum, May 22, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
13. Von Ahn, What is the business model of Duolingo?
13.1. J. Hsu, Fluent in Another Language? The CIA Wants You. NBC News, March 9, 2011. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
13.2 Central Intelligence Agency, Careers and Internships, Last updated February 23, 2018. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
14. A number of resources indicate the use of the Social Security number or another governmental identifier for ETS (provider of TOEFL testing) (“ETS Legal: Privacy and Security,” ETS, retrieved March 9, 2018) and some indication about the use of language in national security (“Linguistics and National Security,” Linguistic Society of America, retrieved March 9, 2018, and P. Koning, “Using Languages in National Security,” The Language Educator, February 2009, retrieved March 9, 2018.
15. “Enemy Aliens: Japanese Americans in World War II.” In American Journey: The Asian-American Experience (Woodbridge, CT: Primary Source Media, 1999), retrieved March 23, 2018.
16. For more information on the genocide in Cambodia, see the sources below. Encyclopedia of Genocide states: “There were no practicing lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, or the like. These professions were deemed unnecessary or presumed to contain simple truths any peasant could pick up through experience. Those who had been such professionals under the old regime were either killed or had to work in the field like everyone else” (I. Charny, ed., Encyclopedia of Genocide: Vol. 1, A-H [ABC-CLIO, 1999], 135). Also, “If you wore glasses, or could speak a foreign language, or were educated, you were classified as an enemy; were arrested, tortured, then killed.” G. Stanton, Blue Scarves and Yellow Stars: Classification and Symbolization in the Cambodian Genocide, The Cambodian Genocide Project, Washington and Lee University, 1989. See also: Genocide Watch (n.d.), Cambodian Genocide Project, and “Cambodian Genocide,” World Without Genocide, last updated May 2018.
17. For more information see:
Library of Congress, “Internal Workings of the Soviet Union: Revelations from the Russian Archives,” Soviet Archives Online Exhibit (2016).
Stuart Finkel, On the Ideological Front: The Russian Intelligentsia and the Making of the Soviet Public Sphere. Yale University Press, 2008.
Dmitry Dubrovskiy, “Escape from Freedom? The Russian Academic Community and the Problem of Academic Rights and Freedoms.” Interdisciplinary Political Studies 3, no. 1 (2017), 171–99.
M. David-Fox, “Communism and Intellectuals” in Silvio Pons and Stephen Anthony Smith, The Cambridge History of Communism, 3 Vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
E. Gracheva, “Of Russian Origin: Stalin’s Purges.” RT Russiapedia (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2018.
18. “By the Numbers: 17 Amazing Duolingo Facts and Statistics (2019).”
19. Parmy Olson, “Crowdsourcing Capitalists: How Duolingo’s Founders Offered Free Education To Millions. Forbes, February 14, 2014. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
20. Elvira Sanatullova-Allison, “Memory Retention in Second Language Acquisition and Instruction: Insights from Literature and Research. The IAFOR Journal of Language Learning 1, no. 1 (Winter 2014).
21. Suzanne Graham, Effective Language Learning: Positive Strategies for Advanced Level Language Learning (Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 1997), 14.
22. For my review of Pimsleur, go to https://language101.com/reviews/pimsleur/ and for my review of Yabla go to https://language101.com/reviews/yabla/
Jeff Brown, polyglot, on Duolingo.
Conor Clyne, polyglot, on Duolingo.
Steve Kaufmann, polyglot, on Duolingo.
Thank you for writing these type of reviews. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these to get a glimpse of your view what is a good language software. I guess you have all the answer and I’ll give language101 a try. Thanks again.
Thanks for the feedback! We do our best to provide an excellent product. Let me know if you need any assistance using the software – email@example.com
I’ve tried duolingo for three months. It is very frustrating. Software for the computer and for the iPad are very different. On the computer you can make as many mistakes as you want during the course of a lesson and could continue for hours making mistake after mistake.On the iPad five mistakes and all of your hearts are gone and you’re done for the day. On some occasions I’ve gone through five hearts In less than five minutes. It’s ridiculous to have software that purports to be the same application with dramatically different implementations.
The duolingo test is so bad. Do not take it. It ruined a language. How a language is dissected into a single word. Your test is blocked because your anti-virus jump out, or by you email jump out. Where can I find the pure computer to your test? There is no IT support and just block your test. I did four times, waste my money.
I investigated Duolingo to see if I could learn some Ukrainian with it. After being compelled to type the equivalent of “mother” and “father” and being forced to select photos of the same, I decided very quickly that Duolingo was going to waste my time and not teach me enough Ukrainian to find a Slavic girlfriend. No more free Duolingo courses for me. You get what you pay for.
My Ukrainian girlfriend also speaks Russian and we talk Russian at home.
I recommend learning Russian and then going to Belarus to find a Slavic Russian speaking girlfriend.
I’ve been using DuoLingo for almost 2 years and I’m very happy with it. I’m not delusional enough to think that I can learn a language using any program in 5 minutes a day, but I devote between 10 and 45 minutes a day, and I feel like I have a good foundation so that when I complete all the lessons I can continue learning on my own. Also, since neither this website nor any that it recommends have Irish lessons (except Pimsleur, which has only 10×1/2 hour lessons) It’s pretty much my only option. I will say one thing, though: don’t use the phone app. It’s worthless.
Thanks for the tip about the Duo-Lingo Phone App.
Have you been able to find any native speakers of Irish to test your Irish skills with?
I have done some google searches trying to find live Irish lessons, but I only found one woman who teaches it, and she charges about $75/hour, which is not in my budget.
We have a few Irish lessons which our customer service person will let you use for free if you ask. I need to write an article on how to learn a language that you can’t find good lessons for.
I have a 680 day streak learning Swedish on DuoLingo, spending an average of 30 to 45 minutes a day. I have completed all five levels of the 66 different theme categories, hundreds of subcategories and thousands of questions. Of course no language can be functionally learned in five minutes a day. But get past the hype and go to the pragmatic question of whether the program succeeds. It does.
The explanations of each category are excellent, but the gem of the program, if people choose to use it, is the discussion forum that follows every single exercise question. You can go there if you got the question wrong but, just as worthwhile, when you just want to explore. It is staffed by Swedish moderators! I can’t overstate the value of this – plus a number of everyday Swedes who chip in. One moderator is a grammarian – not stuffy, just very, very good at explaining rules about things like syntax and the like. Ask any question and get a helpful answer. Like common usage. Some programs will teach you words or phrases that are correct but obsolete. Here you can also get the vernacular. Time commitment, for sure. But worth every minute.
I started out with Memrise and Rosetta Stone. I dumped Rosetta Stone in favor of Babbel and friends at a 4-week introduction to German Class recommended Duolingo. So I use those three apps plus about four YouTube channels and I listen to GermanPod101 podcast using Stitcher. In addition to at-home study, I joined a English-German meetup group where there are regular weekly meetings at a local restaurant. Although I’ve looked into a language schools, at the moment it’s very expensive so I opted to book a native speaking tutor through iTalki instead. I have only taken one lesson through iTalki but I like it so far. The bottom line for me is apps are good for vocabulary building and review but they don’t help you become conversant in hearing and speaking a language to others. The only thing that can do that is listening to and speaking the language with others and remain receptive to positive feedback and correction.
You are certainly right that study is no substitute for practice. Both are essential. Keep up the good work!
Seriously? Learning an extra language will get you killed?
Fortunately usually not, unfortunately occasionally yes.
Read the footnotes about the Soviet or Cambodian genocide.
Hey Duolingo is great. It is fun and free. I went through the program before going to Brazil and was able to get along O.K. Certainly could not understand conversations of locals but definitely could converse with one if they spoke “devagar”.
I know it has goofy sentences but it has great grammatical explanations with each section.
I am doing Danish now and enjoy it too. Chau
I’m glad you had a good experience. Did you use Duolingo and nothing else and only study for five minutes per day like they claimed?
I doubt it.
Duolingo is Not for free anymore. Mandatory break times of FOUR HOURS ( unless you pay them not free money) is not conducive to learning anything. Blatant false advertising
I started Duolingo almost a year ago, at the recommendation of my daughter. I have “finished” German once and am working on Polish. My streak is 198 days plus another 50+ days of efforts. I have plenty of gripes about the old and “new” updated Duolingo. The new app is especially discouraging. As already pointed out by another reviewer, one must take breaks of four or five (yes FIVE) hours or else watch ads to regain the privilege of working on it. It is increasingly unnecessarily harder to “pass” one skill or even a lesson. Practicing has become harder to do because there are so many maneuvers demanded by the software. I am put off by the uselessness of many of the sentences (a waste of time) and the bias against western religions. In spite of all that I keep up daily practice. It helps me to keep thinking about language and seeking the fascinating similarities between languages. That’s what kept me going. Now I want to try Language101 and am glad there is an alternative.
My husband and I have been studying Spanish Duolingo now since 2015 . I recently reached a 400 + streak but for some reason my work is not being registered and I have had to do five or six sessions to make sure I don’t loose the streak. I have finally lost patience with it and am now going to move on to something new. We spend time in Spain and have found Duolingo useful in general but as you say you have to talk to Spanish speakers to make progress . Your review was very interesting and confirmed my own views . So now I will forget the streak and keep the emails and move on.
Going 400 days of not missing a day of Spanish study is very impressive. You have developed a very valuable study habit that I wouldn’t lightly suggest that you stop.
I would suggest keeping with Duolingo for 5 minutes per day and then do 30 minutes to an hour with Language101.com Spanish, Anki or Memrise.
Where Duolingo is great, is pulling you back to study. Where the other three are great is being effective after you ARE studying.
I just passed my graduate German exam, a translation test, relying mostly on Duolingo. I also looked up extra grammar rules on my own and had a German friend explain some basics here and there. I’m currently using it for Spanish as well. As a history grad student who is required to know multiple languages for the purpose of translation, not conversation, I think it’s great. Traditional classes were always terrible for me as I’m dyslexic and take longer to memorize rules and vocabulay. I’ve never gotten above a B in any foreign language class, but on my own with Duolingo and some suplamental materials I’m doing much better than I ever have.
I dedicated an hour each day to Duolingo, and through out the day I would study more vocab with Quizlet of them Chegg notecard app to pass the exam. Now I spend about 30 minutes of German a day, an hour a day on Spanish including using tandem every now and then to practice with native speakers, and I’m working in an hour every night for Latin. I’ll probably never be fluent, but I can read texts and understand what they’re saying!
So does it bother you that what brought you to their site was a big lie that you could learn a language with their program in 5 minutes per day?
Look, I’m glad you had good luck with Duolingo, but their lies should bother you.
Get a grip, slating an app that is responsible for getting millions of people interested in learning languages. Sure it is not perfect, but it doesn’t claim to be.
In our culture we have a word for false advertising and then trying to direct people to a different product. It’s called “Bait and Switch”. It’s very unethical and it’s what Duolingo does.
16.09.2018 Duolingo send me email saying that they created account at Duolingo using my email address. Since then every day Duolingo sends me spam. This is secret behind 200 million Duolingo accounts:
1. Get other peoples’ email addresses
2. Create accounts for them
3. Spam them everyday
4. Advertise everywhere 200 million accounts.
I’m not going to remove account I did not create. Every Duolingo spam is reported to SpamCop and other blacklists.
I definitely think Duolingo has gotten better over the years. There aren’t really any phrases like “I am a duck, I speak English” anymore. It’s mostly useful phrases now. I think it works best when you use it more as a vocabulary builder alongside something like language101.
I just checked this and the ducks that speak English are still quacking in Duolingo.
I’ve recently started the Duolingo course in Czech, for one reason: Rosetta Stone, with which I’ve had success in French and Russian, does not offer Czech, which seems to be a very hard language to find a course for. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks, but I’m already disillusioned. It keeps throwing random phrases at you that you would never use in real life. I can’t remember the last time I ever said “a morning and and afternoon” or “young tree” or “different machine” in real life in my native language, but these are the sort of things that Duolingo keeps forcing you to repeat (hence Brent’s example about an English-speaking duck, which at first I thought was a joke). With Rosetta Stone, you’ll be speaking in full sentences within your first five minutes, but I don’t think I’ve yet been given enough Czech to say a single sentence. I can’t prove or disprove the five-minutes-a day claim – can anyone? – since that doesn’t mention HOW MANY days you would need in order to make that happen. In that regard, it’s no different from apparently exaggerated claims about weight-loss diets or supplements; you can always find SOMEONE for whom the claim turned out to be true. But I find the constant repetition of odd random phrases to be pointless and frustrating. They keep hammering away at them, and even when you tell it to “skip” something, it keeps taking you back.
Also, it doesn’t offer a feature by which you can listen to any word you choose to hear at any time, which RS does, and which is very useful for leaning pronunciation. And all of the cutesy little cartoons showing you how well you’re doing and telling you how many points you’ve earned are a little too gimmicky for me – they don’t really mean very much. No; in general I’m not impressed, but I have no other way to pick up a bit of Czech, so I may stick with it.
I think that the person who first wrote the review is INSANE. I am learning FRENCH on Duolingo; and it is fantastic. It is quite sure that no one spends only 5 minutes; but the app is amazing. It has been only a month since I started learning on Duolingo; and I am able to give directions on roads, inform an immigration officer about my purpose of travel; and order a dish in restaurants to the least. This is a great progress because I didn’t know a single word in French before Duolingo.
So, people I advise you to ignore these guys and spend only around 45 minutes to an hour everyday on Duolingo and you will learn a lot.
I agree, that if you spend 45 minutes to an hour every day on Duolingo, you will learn something.
This is one of the most frustrating programs I’ve ever encountered. I paid for 6 months and nonetheless constantly get ads then another offer to buy. They box you in with their little chests of added points am currently I’m stuck in something that wants me to join a group and won’t let me flip back to exercises. I HATE THIS SYTEM!!!
I have been doing DUOLINGO for three weeks now. You’re correct in saying it psychologically brings you back each day. I’m alright with that for now. It’s winter and at least I’m getting my mind stimulated. I do feel thought that I’m just memorising rather than learning alot. What I want to know from you is: Are there any completely FREE SPANISH COURSES out there that I can 1) learn to carry on a conversation 2)understand when you write Spanish why it seems backwards. I have to admit, being a senior I still don’t have a clue what a noun,verb,adjective,etc. is. Am I wasting my time?
You don’t have to know what a noun or a verb is, as long as you can use them correctly. Can you?
Duo lingo took money via PayPal from my account which was not authorised by me for further lessons. When I tried to create a profile I was blocked with a notice saying email already taken.As I have used this email for many years and am still receiving prompts from Duolingo I can only assume
this is a mistake or a scam.
I was sorely disappointed. I took German for speakers of American English and got seriously tired of the questions asked by the non-English speakers–people who didn’t know enough English to understand the answers and just kept asking the same thing in their broken English and wasting everyone else’s time. Translations were sometimes ludricrous–not just because they made no sense, but some were actually incorrect English. The only good thing I can see about Duolingo is that it offers languages that are hard to find. Whether you’ll actually learn them is another thing altogether. I took the course to brush up my German. From the moderators, I learned a few things I hadn’t known. From the course? Only frustration.
Learning a language in five minutes a day is ridiculous of course. However, I have been studying Spanish on Duolingo for a year now. It has taken me to a B1 level in reading and writing Spanish. I can follow Spanish Tv and movies very well if the Spanish captions are on. More importantly, Duolingo is fun, addicting even. The silly sentence constructions are part of the fun. These crazy sentences keep you honest too. You have to pay attention or you will get the answers wrong. I have tried other products, and they became boring in weeks. I would make some progress, then stop for extended periods and forget everything I had learned. Duolingo alone won’t take you to fluency, but it gives you a solid base to work from.
So how much time do you spend every day? I’m a constant advocate for honesty in advertising, and Duolingo falls sadly short in this important category.
i understand you have something to sell, but readers of this article need to understand that there is no language learning program that will make one fluent within the confines of that program. It is good that there are numerous learning programs available, so language learners can pick and choose among these to find what fits their interest, life-style and commitment.
I took french for five years in high school and college and was seriously disappointed when my speaking and comprehension skills were so poor when i went to France. I came back and decided to commit to improving my French. since at that time i had long drives to work, I used Pimsleur tapes which are excellent (and which i got for free from the library). Later, I discovered duolingo, which I now have used everyday for several years. This has immensely increased my vocabulary, grammar and reading ability. In fact more than half of my current reading is in French.
My point is that it doesn’t really matter what you use for language learning as long as you stick with it with some consistency. For some people duolingo fits the (duck) bill.
I´m sorry, but Duolingo is invaluable. There are not many Dutch language courses, and what Doulingo does is to introduce you to the language in a very addictive way. After completing 60 lessons of 10 questions each you will remember “paarden” (horses) until the day you die. It becomes fixed in your brain. Sure, the old “Ik ben een appel” (I am an apple) is there and everybody is in the joke, but the important part is that “Ik ben” and “Je bent” (I am, you are) become part of your thoughts and you will not have it otherwise. Yes, the fixation on translation doesn´t help, and repetition becomes monotonous and teach you stupid phrases. But as a base, it works very well.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: I work with the web version for 2 to 3 hours a day. I think that you need to complete at least 20-25 “lessons” per day to sear the words and rules into you if you are not living in your language destination (country).
I’d like to see them feature, “Learn Dutch in 2 to 3 Hours A Day” as a headline. Not sexy, but honest.
Hey, I was wondering if you know any alternative to learning Chinese, but if you don’t it’s fine? Your article really opened my eyes and I kind of want back all the hours I waste on the app. Keep up the great work and have a fantastic day!
I think Fluenz is solid on Chinese.
Uhh.. ok then,
“Then don’t use ETS”
Alright then, let’s not use the ETS. Let’s not take the SAT. Or any AP classes. What a joke. You clearly don’t know what the ETS is, and while yes, they are an organization which I personally despise a lot, you are simply peddling conspiracy theories in your article.
“Historically, when times change and the winds of war or oppression blow over a country, educated people (and if you know more than one language, you are educated) were often singled out for imprisonment or death.”
This is literally the dumbest reason ever. Did you know the government can see all of your credit card purchases, according to the US District Attorney from New York’s Eastern District after September 11? They probably will know you purchased language services from your website and would target you too. And let’s not forget the conflict of interest from a website advertising their own product dissing on Duolingo.
This is the 21st century, and you are concerned about someone knowing you are learning Spanish? Google already knows where you are, what you like, and what you chat about. But no, let’s hammer on about how 50 years ago people were imprisoned for learning languages.
If you are gonna live in this superstitious fear, then everyone, the government is sending chemtrails into the sky, the fluoride in the water is brainwashing you, and 5G is a hoax. What a stupid argument.
Duolingo makes money from ads (like almost every other website on the planet), their reward system (where you buy little tokens for your streak and health), their Pro version, standardized testing, and website owner translation fees. Sure, the ads are targeted based on data, but so does most of the internet.
If you are gonna complain about it, then why the hell does your contact page use a Skype phone number, when Microsoft is notorious for collecting data and profiting off of it?
Duolingo is far from perfect (and your service might be helpful), but your arguments about the government somehow arresting you for learning Spanish, French, Chinese, or whatever language is dumb. Hell, they would have to arrest the majority of high school students since many states mandate foreign languages in their curricula.
Read the footnotes. I can’t make this stuff up.
I enjoy using the free version of Duolingo every day to improve or maintain my knowledge of both German and Spanish vocabulary. However, there are 2 aspects I find frustrating: the poor English grammar of expected answers such as “I already did this” and “Did you write him?”; and the inaudible last word in many listening sentences.
Despite these annoying faults, I am going to continue with this app as it does motivate me to practise every day without fail.
Duolingo really does have the psychology of motivation done very well.
Regardless of what anyone thinks, Duoling is useful to those of us who either have no time or money to take a traditional language course. Perfect? Of course not; however, i am finding it to be very useful. Five minutes a day? Just hype.
Five minutes a day is not just hype. It’s flagrant lying.
Well, I just got an ad for secret service employment opportunities on Duolingo. So. I mean, you aren’t exactly someone I would trust, since you have vested interest in knocking the biggest fish, and selling your own (which also is not free, but has some free starter stuff). But I definitely think apps may not be ideal for language learning. There’s too much money in big data, no matter the company. And there’s no real way to know what any of them are doing with your data, regardless of what any of them may claim.
Thanks for confirming the data mining aspects of Duolingo and good luck with whatever career you choose.
I thought I liked Duolingo and I sort of do. I am one of those who put in about 3 hours a day and I have several years of sort of making myself learn Spanish so the structure, repetition and the audio of Duolingo Spanish is what I need.
The problem is that sometimes the answers to their lesson tasks are wrong and they are forcing me to give wrong answers in order to get through the lesson. Duolingo has an online reporting system where you can tell them of errors, but the problem is that they don’t think that they have errors in their answers so there is no option to query the validity of those answers. For example, if I am asked to translate an English sentence into Spanish, I can indicate that the English is incorrect or that the associated audio is incorrect, but if the answer that Duolingo expects is incorrect, I have no way of indicating that in their comment block.
Furthermore, there is no way to tell anyone at Duolingo outside of the reporting mechanism I mentioned above. I can’t send email to a language-technical staff asking for clarification. Instead I am routed through a massive Q&A structure that does not answer my question on how to contact Duolingo for these kinds of errors. For this reason, I am not likely to renew my subscription. Some errors I catch, but I worry about those I don’t catch that instill bad habits.
I use to love Duolingo as I have been studying for about a year. Now after months of paying to skip the ads and get a little more serious, I can’t even get on anymore even though I’m connected, Dúo keeps on walking on by………..It’s really getting annoying. There is no one answering any questions..ever!! It makes me sad to think of all the time I put in and it has been my favorite thing to do everyday for 2 to 3 hours. I feel that they hook you to pay and now it’s a running scam and they’re all laughing at us!! You suck!! Do something or loose all of us…
I studied Spanish for several months with Duolingo and I felt that I was making real progress. Then I started getting error messages saying that they were having trouble connecting to Duolingo, which effectively ended the lesson. These occurred with every lesson, making it impossible to progress. The problem persisted even when I changed my broadband provider. There was no usable technical help so I had to abandon the course. What killed Duolingo for me was not the course content but a simple technical bug about which they evidently neither knew nor cared.
It’s amazing that even though they got millions of dollars of venture capital money that they still have customer service and technical problems.
Duolingo, you have lost a once loyal customer. You emailed me 1 week before discontinuing our live tutoring services, which we were learning from. Thanks for nothing. But what’s worse is you charged us full price for the month only to cancel our services MID-MONTH. Duolingo you’re trash and I hope you lose all the money you swindled us out of
I can’t recommend Duolingo.. For German for example: It’s fun if you are attending a German language school or if you’re otherwise learning German. But using only Duolingo leads to some deep mistakes only a teacher can correct, especially when pronouncing words. This is something Duolingo can’t correct, something I learned the hard way. I needed to attend basic German classes, even though Duolingo told me otherwise, but my speaking skills where …well non existent.
I’ve been using Duolingo for French, but only for a brief time thus far. However, I’m impressed. I certainly spend far more than 5 minutes, and I’m retaining so much simply because of the amount of repetition it throws at you.
I do not have thousands of dollars till throw at language programs or tutors. All this program asks of me is to watch an ad every few minutes. I’m more than fine with that. I also don’t care what the creators business backgrounds are. How does that affect my ability to retain the vocabulary they throw at me?
I’m not sure what people are expecting here. If you’re expecting a free version of Middlebury’s intensive 40k plus intensive language immersion courses, then sure, it falls short of that. Frankly I feel like I learn more in one week with Duolingo than I did in one month in the classroom.
LGBTQ friendly, parents should know this prior to having your children learn with this so they can decide if it is appropriate for them. A personal decision for sure. Several stories my son read were about lesbian and/or gay couples.
It’s boring and it’s like a test.
Not only have I not encountered useless phrases in the french program: in addition to the regular quizzes, they have stories and conversations between people on many different topics.
They are fun and helpful. I also use « mango » from my public library and listen to stories in French. Duolingo is still an absolutely excellent resource that shouldn’t be knocked.
Any thoughts on Latin, my 4th grader signed her self up. She dose about 20 minutes a day and made her self a vocabulary notebook. I know verb conjugation is very important in Latin and worried it may not be presented correctly. .. as for the article, big brother watching, I don’t really think they care that my fourth graders learning a Latin.
That’s not enough time.
I had worked through the leagues and was three leagues from the top when suddenly I now find myself back at the first league????
I can appreciate the comments about you forgetting some of what you learn as you progress, and yes it can be true, but if you go back once in a while to refresh yourself, and look at other on line videis/audio/text in the language your learning it does help.
What I can say is that I knew no French at all this thing lady week (except for bonjour, citron and Renault) but now after only 5-10 minutes a day for a week, I can now infested much more that I thought I would. Its no substitute for an official French lecturer, but for free you can’t complain.
I would recommend this to anyone starting out with a language to give you the basics, and then maybe progress to other training or simply visit the Country and learn by doing!
Don’t pass this by, give it a go and see yourself what you can do in a week.
Je suis parle francaise!
For me Duolingo is useful for beginner,specially for learning English it’s so benefit and it helps me to practice and increase my English skill.
I am doing research about grammar ability for my students, I think using Duolingo is good idea as media and best method to learn English for beginner
I tried to take English test from Duolingvo more then 6 times. They have very poor application, and usually test terminated after few minutes after beginning. They said: your mouse have left central square in our app. Eventually I disconnected mouse and use only keyboard. This time test is almost finished. But before final question, they said: we lost connection to your camera”.
I connected my laptop to wired network and successfully finish test. One day later they sent me email:
“You spoke very little during the graded speaking section. You must speak for 30 to 90 seconds in reply to each question”.
But if your test allow to click button “Next”, you shouldn’t blame me for short answer. If button “Next”becomes available, than answer is long enough. Isn’t it?
Anyway, I finished this test second time. And two days later I received email from this scum company:
your Duolingo English Test could not be certified for the following reason:–
“You looked away from the screen for an extended period of time”.
What’s the hell? Are they kidding? What is an inadequate employees evaluate tests in Duolingvo?
I’m sitting in front of my laptop when I taking test and look in the screen all time.
Don’t waste your time and money on this scum company.
Translation: Duolingo cuts into our market share so we are going to tell you it’s a waste of time.
Duolingo is not a waste of your four hours per day. It is a waste of your five minutes per day. Read the review again. If you spend a lot of time with Duolingo, you will learn something.
What we object to is the outright lying they are doing in their advertising. We have called Pimslseur to task on that in the past. It hurts the entire industry by making unrealistic expectations of impossibly fast learning.
We like many of our competitors like Yabla and Fluenz as well as others like Lingq.com and Memrise.com.
We have a reputation for doing the best we possibly can with reviews. You can read more of them here: https://language101.com/reviews/
I agre with many statements re Doulingo: it’s very slow, you won’t learn a language with 5 minutes learning per day, etc.
I have been a student of duolingo for several years and I am very angry with the changes that they made and I will be deleting it. They made it so that you have to get 5 lives now and you can be almost completely done but if you use that 5th live you’ve lost the whole lesson. And for t2 days straight I’ve had to pay to keep my consecutive days because it loses track and wipes out my time. It also does not replenish my lives daily, it picks and chooses how many to give me. You made it so that it’s more like a game… If I wanted to play a game then I would go to another site. It has helped me because I have a number of people that come in that speak Spanish and I now could understand some of what they speak but you have ruined that for me and I am not paying you money to get back what I was already getting.
“Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day”
Like most advertising slogans this is somewhat ambiguous, and designed to catch your attention rather than convey an absolute truth. I suspect most people would interpret it as selling the “fact” that with Duolingo you can “learn” (i.e. engage in the learning process of) a language by spending just 5 minutes a day on their app. And that is pretty much the case with Duolingo: the lessons are designed to be completed in around 5 mniutes and, in order to do so, the app foregoes verbose explanations and instead dedicates the time to getting the user to actively engage in answering questions, making mistakes, and hopefully learning from them.
Of course if you wanted to build a conspiracy theory around it, you could always interpret the slogan as claiming that you will “learn” (i.e. achieve some kind of fluency in) a language by only studying it for 5 minutes a day. And then you could claim it to be a lie, because nobody becomes fluent in a language just be studying for 5 minutes a day. But here’s the thing: most people realise you can’t achieve fluency by studying a language for just 5 minues a day! So they don’t interpret the slogan this way. They are probably just people who would like to learn (i.e. engage in the learning process of) a language, realise that it’s probably best to do a little bit each day rather than say study for an hour once a week, and simply don’t have a great deal of free time each day. And Duolingo fits their requirements rather well.
There is nothing ambiguous about their slogan. It’s a very clear bold faced lie.
Pimsleur has also been guilty of similar bold faced lying by claiming that you could, “Learn Spanish in 7 Days.”
This kind of lying hurts everyone involved in language learning and it needs to stop.
Duolingo is kinda bad for people who aren’t beginners. I learnt more in one Japanese class than in a whole month of Duolingo, so I recommend looking for an actual class. I’m glad this post exists as I’m glad more people think it’s a waste of time. I’d really like for Duolingo to have a contact number or something. As for phrases that are pretty weird and you won’t use, a couple of the strangest that have stood out for me are: my dog sells hats and excuse me i am an apple. Not sure when I’d ever use these since I don’t have a dog (let alone know one who has a business) and I’m 100% sure I’m not an apple
Duolingo wasted my time. I was using German-English three-four hours per day for almost two-three months. I was new to the German and knew nothing about it. So I couldn’t understand is the difficulty because of language or platform. I lost all of my passion then I started with another method, afterward I realized all the time I spent on Duolingo was a waste.
Duolingo didn’t help me at all to improve my German! I am actually concerned about what they have done with my data. Tired of going nowhere with the app I have signed up to a German course! Totally worth it, now I am C1 level! I recommend Sprachenatelier Berlin, I started with an online course due to COVID, the teachers were top-notch, then I continued with classes on site in Berlin, every Wednesday they organised a cultural activity to better learn the language and the customs! https://www.sprachenatelier-berlin.de/en/topic/5092.prices.html
I remember tryiing Duolingo immediately when it came out and then off and on again over the years. Now I don’t feel so bad never sticking with it. It felt lacking in substance, but I sincerely thought that was the only way to do it.
I remember being turned off from it when it first came it. It started teaching me several simple words and partial phrases. Then out of nowhere it demanded I translate an entire paragraph of the fluent language. It wouldn’t let me progress or even go back without doing this. I didn’t understand it at the time, it just made me stressed and feel incompetent. Now I get that it was because they were trying to make money off of people translating things for free. BUT I think it is the stupidest thing in the world to have people who know only a handful of words to translate actual writing of a language. I mean how did they not know that I was just going to partially use google translate and random guesses to make a scrambled paragraph of nonsense as a translation? I had originally thought it was a legitimate teaching tool only, but when I input my definitely wrong answer and it didn’t tell me I was wrong or show me what the correct answer was, I just stopped using it immediately.
I find it interesting that you recommend Memrise (which I like to use to make flashcards of anything I need to remember) because it doesn’t seem that different from Duolingo, however maybe they just do it more competently with their lessons.