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DuoLingo Review: The Quick, Easy and Free Way to Learn A Language

| 85 comments | Category: guest post

Today a brand new completely free language learning resource and tool for translating the Internet (via real people rather than automatically) has become publicly available. It’s called DuoLingo.

Luis von Ahn gave a TED talk about it some time ago (in both English and Spanish), so there has been plenty of interest built up about it, and an invitation-only beta has been in operation over the last months. As of today (literally from the moment I publish this post), DuoLingo is live for everyone to sign up on. Check it out!

You can learn Spanish, German, French (for English speakers) and English (for Spanish speakers), and many more languages will be added to the system over the next months. In today’s guest post, Adam and Darcie of Trekity.com share their experience using it to improve their Spanish:

Ever hear of Luis von Ahn?

If not… let me give you some backstory.

You see, a few years ago Luis did something terrible.

He meant well. He really, really did. But somewhere along the lines it went horribly wrong… and ended up causing more damage than you – or anyone else – ever imagined.

How much damage, you ask?

About 150,000 Hours Wasted… Every Day!

So what caused this heinous waste of time?

CAPTCHAS.

From his own reports, Luis discovered 200 million CAPTCHAS are typed every day and – at an average of ten seconds each – translates to 150,000 hours wasted typing CAPTCHAS!

So he decided to do something about it.

Here’s what he did: Luis changed the code so that whenever someone typed in a CAPTCHA, they were helping to digitize books. In other words, many words that you type into a CAPTCHA are actually taken directly from a scan of a real book, which you are helping to produce a digital copy of! (The other word is one that is already known to test that you are a human. You can see his TED talk about it here).

But Luis wasn’t done yet. He took two seemingly unrelated problems – translating the web and learning languages – and created a solution for both.

Enter DuoLingo: A Free Way To Learn Languages Online (And Translate the Web, Too!)

I’ve been fortunate enough to beta test DuoLingo for a month before it was opened for the public and I’ve been using it since.

Born in the US, my wife Darcie and I are traveling through Central and South America (currently in Peru) for 14 months…

… and while we’ve taken some language classes to improve our Spanish (Antigua, Guatemala) we’ve also tried a few other methods such as book learning and Rosetta Stone.

Both of which bombed.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to try DuoLingo… and believe me, it’s addictive.

Here’s how the process works: you create an account, choose a language (Spanish, French, German or English for Spanish speakers) and DuoLingo creates a “skill tree” like this:

Completing one skill unlocks other skills, which allow you progress from basic words all the way through various verb tenses and abstract ideas.

When you click on a lesson you’ll see a series of tips and common questions.

Observe:

Each skill has a number of exercises. You read (and listen) to phrases in both English and Spanish, then translate it into the box on the right:

When you get one wrong, you lose a heart.

Get four wrong and repeat the lesson:

And that’s it! Work your way through each lesson and learn a new language for free!

Of course, like everything nowadays there’s a “social” aspect. You can create an activity stream, interact with other language learners and “compete” based on your total points:

And here’s the activity stream:

To be honest, I don’t really care about any of that. Just gimme the lessons and I’m happy… but for all you A-Types who thrive on competition, go for it!

Highlights of DuoLingo

It’s Free. As far as price, you can’t argue with DuoLingo’s price tag. Unlike paid products – where the end user is a customer – DuoLingo users are more like workers, who together translate documents from around the web.

It’s a Game. This got me hooked. For each lesson you get three hearts. For every mistake you lose one. Make four mistakes and you must repeat the lesson.

I know… kinda childish. But as someone who grew up on “three lives” in Nintendo games, I found this approach very familiar and effective.

This leads to the next benefit which is…

It’s Motivational. DuoLingo gives you points for completing lessons, charts your daily progress and will even send you daily reminder emails to keep working (optional).

It’s Intuitive. DuoLingo follows Alice in Wonderland’s approach: Start at the beginning and end at the end.

You begin with basic words like man and woman, then proceed to basic phrases like excuse me, thank you and good evening.

Makes sense, right?

It Lets You Translate Both Ways.  Since I’m studying Spanish, DuoLingo serves up phrases in Spanish and lets me translate them into English. Then – in the very same lesson – it offers English phrases and lets me translate them into Spanish.

So that’s what I love about DuoLingo.

But there are several minor critiques I should mention.

A Few Cautionary Notes on DuoLingo

It’s Not a Substitute for Interacting With Native Speakers. As Benny says, the only real way to learn a language is to speak from day one. And while DuoLingo does a great job of teaching you vocabulary and sentence structure, it’s not a substitute for speaking with native speakers.

Since we’re in Peru in the moment, we’ve got LOTS of people to practice with (if you can’t travel, sites like italki for Skype exchanges or lessons can be very effective) – but I still use DuoLingo to keep learning.

It’s Tough to Skip Ahead. As someone mildly proficient in Spanish I wanted to skip past the basics. And while DuoLingo does offer shortcuts (three at the moment), the first major shortcut was farther along than I wanted to skip.

Therefore, I’d like to see five or more of these exams to jump ahead.

You can skip each lesson by taking a smaller test, but even these take awhile to get through.

The Translations (But Not the Lessons) Are Next to Impossible. The translations are an optional part of DuoLingo. This is where real sentences around the web need people like you to translate:

But the problem is, those sentences are NOTHING like the lessons. In short, they’re nearly impossible to translate effectively!

However, since DuoLingo’s purpose is to translate the web, I believe it’s a matter of time before they tweak this further (and besides, this part is completely optional).

[Addition by Benny: When I was testing it, some of the example sentences/words in lessons were simply wrong, such as "Hint: It's the translation of the bookcase" (librería), when clearly referring to photos of a library (biblioteca), correct English syntax being refused, i.e. "is eaten" rather than "has been eaten" being the only acceptable answer, or a European Spanish word not being accepted.

Even though I'm at a mastery (C2) level in Spanish and have worked as a professional translator in the language, I lost all my hearts and couldn't pass the low level test because of so many mistakes like this that I know I was right for. I took the test very late into the beta testing stage, so I had hoped they would not have such simple problems by then. Hopefully they have taken user feedback seriously so that they will have improved for this public release.

If they have, then my criticism wouldn't apply any more. Let me know in the comments if the mistakes I mention here have been corrected!]

In conclusion, I’m very happy with DuoLingo and will continue to use it to improve my Spanish.

So what do you think? Have you tried DuoLingo? Will you continue to use it?

###

About the Author: Adam Costa and his wife Darcie Connell run Trekity.com – a crazy new travel site – and co-founded the Travel Blogger Academy.  Follow them on Twitter for adventure and intrigue.

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Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them :)
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.

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  • http://twitter.com/vKothe Benjamin Hook

    Wow, this looks very cool! Too bad there aren’t more language options yet though. I’d love something like this to help with my Turkish!

    • http://amanofnonation.com/ Kevin Post

      Don’t hold your breath. My guess is that they are going to add more “popular” languages to the roster way before Turkish makes it. I too look forward to the day more Turkish resources become available.

    • Lexie

      The Turkish language option should be available in November, if you’re still interested…

  • Dominick O’Dierno

    Its a good idea, but unfortunately for me after trying it for a few hours I found it unbelievably boring.

  • Jen

    I just signed in to try, and there was an incorrect translation almost right away for German. It was asking for a literal translation from English, and I know that’s not right. I’m not sure about this program yet …

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      The “is eaten” example I gave was also too much of a word for word translation from Spanish. I don’t know if they consulted professional translators for this project. It would have helped.

    • Alex Huang

      Try now. It’s much better.

      • Natalie Ni Chleirigh

        And continuing to improve

    • teleute1313

      I’m using Duolingo and Rosetta Stone to practice my German as well, and I’ve noticed some inconsistencies, as well. Like using “läuft“ instead of “rennt“ for run, and using “isst” instead of “frisst” to denote an animal eating.

      • Eshloraque

        Well, these inconsistencies are not trivial and the translations not false. For example you run a marathon and in german it’s “läuft”. And “isst” and “frisst” are usually both used for an animal eating. I’m not sure when to use which one (as I am german), but for sure you can use “frisst” also to denote a guy eating in some manner.

  • s

    looks interesting? are they going to add more languages because i have no interest in learning spanish german or french?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      As stated in the blog post, more languages are on the way, but there is no definite timeline yet.

    • BigAl28

      They have now added Portugese and Italian.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jckael James Kael

    I like Duolingo, been using it for a couple of weeks now for Spanish and I might try German out later, I believe their next plans are to add Italian and Chinese. The translations are definitely a lot harder than the early lessons. I haven’t got much beyond the first section yet but I did A level Spanish a few years ago and hovering over the descriptions of the later topics there are ones I recognise from A level so it appears to take you up to a reasonable standard (though I had a teacher who expected a great deal and gave us an insane amount of work so my level achieved from school may not be typical) so maybe by the time you’ve got to the end the translations are more approachable. I’ll wait and see, this will be tested better with German which I have never studied before.

    Some updates for Spanish have been done in the last couple of days so that may have worked out some of the kinks. I have found so far that it has accepted European Spanish as alternative answers, the use of Latin American Spanish confused me initially but I’m becoming accustomed to it. The 3 lives thing may be something that appeals specifically to a certain age group for whom the 3 lives in video games was the standard (including me – I’m 24) but I really like it and it gives clear feedback when you get something wrong. A brilliant concept and more fun that a lot of other methods I’ve tried.

    • Adam Costa

      Hi James, I agree a lot of the kinks have been ironed out lately. And compared to other language learning programs, this one has an element of fun. Now if I can just get through this next level!

    • wsalcedo

      It’s mid-March 2014 and there are still frustrating English translations. Many times two words are switched where my answer would be better, but is marked wrong only because it was not exactly as it translated.

  • WC

    I’ve been trying it with French, which is a language I know nothing about. I’m finding it very, very hard to understand their spoken French, and some of the microphone bits are impossible for me, even though I think my recording sounds exactly like theirs. (And other times it has accepted mine, even though I know I messed up big time.)

    I seriously considering switching to Spanish, which I took in highschool, and I have a much easier time understanding. At least, I understand some of it when I hear people speaking it, unlike French.

    I love the idea of the chart where you can progress after conquering basic things, but some of the time the path doesn’t really make sense. Like having to learn science words before transportation (right next to each other on the path), if I remember correctly. Not a huge problem, but just weird.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Unfortunately I think this is going to bomb. Or, at least, it’s not going to do anywhere near as well as they were hoping. Between the blatantly obvious and simple errors you spotted, Benny, and the fact that translation isn’t that great a method to learn a language, and the fact that, as someone else stated, it gets a bit boring after a while…ehhhh, I think probably 90% of their users are going to end up messing with it for a grand total of 30 minutes or an hour, maybe a few, and then that’s going to be it.

    Personally I think it’s a brilliant idea that was poorly executed–poorly executed in that it was released way, WAY before it was ready. Anything with errors as stupid-simple as the ones you pointed out in the lessons, Benny, isn’t in the beta stage, it’s alpha and nowhere near ready for wide release. The sad thing is they’ve now shot themselves in the foot because they’re going to have every language blogger/writer/expert on the planet reviewing the damned thing and saying, essentially, “it’s shit, don’t use it” which will damage its perception so that even if they do make it awesome and get it to the state that it should’ve been when launched it won’t matter because its reputation is shot and no one will be willing to give it a second chance :/

    That said, I’ve only played with it a bit and not really done a proper review, which I will likely be doing for my own site, so I may end up eating my words which I will gladly do, as I live faithfully by the advice of one of my favorite authors:

    “Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.”

    –Mark Twain

    :D

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://www.facebook.com/rweba Mugizi Robert Rwebangira

      @Andrew_the_Odd:disqus
      I started using it on April 1st for Spanish as a complete beginner and I think I have only seen one error in that time. In addition most of the people who used it – even in early Beta – seemed to like it a lot so I think they can be quite successful.

      I think the difference is that you and Benny are very proficient Spanish speakers so you’re going to have a different perspective from beginner or intermediate speakers

      The main thing with Duolingo is that it makes it easy to stay motivated which is the key problem for most people trying to learn a new language just for fun (i.e. not for a job or other “important” reason).

      My Spanish went from ZERO to pretty solid A1(beginner) in about 2 months which is not spectacular, but is a lot better than I would have done without Duolingo because I probably wouldn’t have even started learning or kept it up once I started. Most importantly I now have built up enough momentum that I am confident I can keep going until I at least get to lower intermediate (B1).

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        You have an excellent point about skill level making a difference. I might be a lot more apt to recommend this for beginners than to use it myself or recommend it for anyone at or above an intermediate level.

        It’s good to hear it worked so well for you, I don’t doubt it.

        Motivation is really important so if it solves that problem then that’s a huge plus as far as I’m concerned.

        Good deal, thank you for replying.

        Cheers,
        Andrew

        • http://www.nononsensegerman.com/ Michael J. Sieler Jr.

          I like the competitive, game, step-by-step aspect. It keeps me motivated to get more points. It also helps me refresh my memory of German vocab that has been put on the back burner for the last year. I haven’t noticed any problems with Spanish (maybe because I’m a beginner).

          I dislike the strict translations in the tests and exercises. Like someone else said, I wish they had more thresholds to skip ahead. I have noticed some funky translations with German (maybe because I’m fluent).

          For now, DuoLingo is fun. Time will tell if DL is meant to stick around.

        • Daniel Brockert

          This is exactly my experience with the program. Three months ago when I started it was very useful, but now that I’m getting to more of an intermediate level it seems to be way less useful.

        • http://dinkerdwn.wordpress.com/ Ashley Houk

          I’ve been using it to brush up on my Spanish (which I’d say is about intermediate after 3+ years at college level) and it’s a fun, easy was to do it! Plus, I can fly through the lessons too see exactly what I need to be working on and seek resources elsewhere.

    • Elias

      are you Benny’s brother?

    • p155

      Haha you were SOOOO wrong :D

      • Marmia Day

        lol ikr

  • ffuentes

    I just tried it out and it seemed to me that the “chunk” translation is pointless. Some of the “better” translations were nonsensical but that’s not people’s fault because you’re forced to translate out of no context.

    I don’t think it’s boring for everyone, however it does have some errors that can make you lose “hearts” and therefore a test that’s also wrong info into your mind. Moreover, Duolingo microphone has serious problems, many people claim it doesn’t work (i’m one of them) and it’s too focused in writing. (I tested the English course since I’m a Spanish speaker)

    Still, I hope Duolingo works out, it sounds like a fantastic idea. I wanna learn French or German using it.

  • Julie

    I like Duolingo. I’ve been using it mostly for the German, but I also played around with the Spanish and French a bit (both of which I’m fluent in). I found the same problem as you with the French–but I inputted my feedback, so hopefully, the longer the system is available, the better it will get. I got some emails thanking me for my feedback, so at least they’re pretending they’re fixing it!! But, with the Spanish, I was fine… I worked my way all the way through (using as many shortcuts as possible) without much problem–but I do have mostly Central American Spanish, so that might be the difference. In German, I’m doing fairly well (I might have an affair advantage, though–I am a linguistics major). The case/gender system is messing me up, though!! But, overall, the way they are teaching it is as close as natural as you can get in an independent language learning environment. The one thing that really bugs me is that German clearly has at least two words for singular “you.” I’m assuming that they are a formal and an informal one, but there is no way to pick up which one is which!!! At least not by the “absorption” method that is best for learning languages (I could go look it up, I suppose… but should I have to?)

  • Jena

    Learning other languages is really tough at the beginning, most especially if you just have to stay in that particular place for a short period of time and just learning to get through..

    The easiest way to learn/remember tongue-twisting words I guess is venturing fun at the same time. I bumped in to this website here and I found it way easier to get by.. with the personal experiences that the author have gone through himself on all his travels.. it’s just crazy! :D and cooL at the same time http://streettalksavvy.com/ check on it! hope it helps you too! :-)

  • TimNg109

    I’m amazed you gave DuoLingo such a great review, but then I see you are at level 7. A little further on you will start to see that the lessons just keep getting worse and worse. First, you will notice they are not well balanced and sometimes misleading. For example, you might be asked to translate a sentence with a new word, however the list of meanings for the new word does not include the expected translation of the sentence. Then you will lose your last heart and have to restart the lesson and remember not the offered translation of that word, but the hidden one that only the computer knows. You will also start to get asked to transcribe sentences with words you’ve never learned and thus have no way to know how they are spelled (you can guess pretty well with Spanish) or where the accents if any are (you can’t guess this with any language). I’d advise against using DuoLingo at this time.

    • jan

      I have been using duolingo french for about a month. I love it and I hate it. I am learning more with it than any other program I have tried. I use it every day.

      But I agree with a lot of what TimNg109 says, still, a year later!
      It gets more frustrating as you advance, because you can’t tell when you are making a mistake and when they are, and they have tons of errors, still. (Early 2014) You can report the errors, but you don’t know if anyone is listening–I think not. Once you get to more difficult constructions, the errors keep you confused about what you are learning

    • Luke Carter

      I’ve experienced this a little, probably not as much as you did because that was 2 years ago, and whenever it has happened (rarely) I’ve been glad for the fact I’m kept on my toes, and that simply scrolling over each word to find the correct answer will not always work.

  • Victor

    Today, the question is very relevant.
    casino

  • Chloe

    I’ve tried learning German so many times and this has worked the best for me so far. The little practice quizzes are so helpful and it’s set up very well (from what I’ve experienced) with the categories and the skill tree. My only problem is the grammar and I’m hoping it will teach that later on. I’m on the fifth category and seventh level. It’s going very well though, I love not making flash cards. :-) and even with the translation part that nobody seems to enjoy, that will happen in real life. Teaches you problem solving skills! Not perfect, but the best I’ve used.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Kathleen.J.McGregor Katie Davidson

    I noticed that most of the comments are fairly old. I think duolingo has listened to user critique, because I have had no trouble with syntax, or European Spanish vs Latin American Spanish. I think they have also taken steps to make the translations a more useful part of the lessons, I’ve been using the program for over a month, and although the translations are difficult, the grammar seams to fit what I have already learned.

  • Laurel

    Unfortunately that’s just the french language. I’ve been using duolingo as a means of additional practice while I’m living in Paris (I also took French in school), and spoken french is hard to dictate because so many words sound the same when they’re spoken (ie lit, lis and lisent all sound very similar). You have to go from context in real world situations, and sometimes the sentence in Duolingo isn’t great at giving you the necessary context, though most of the time, you can get there. It’s like trying to learn which nouns are masculine or feminine, the french will always tell you: “well… you just know!”

  • Tamara

    i saw another comment below that was only a month old, so I’ll throw in my 2 cents as well: I’m using duolingo daily for spanish and am currently on level ten – and I love it. I skipped past some of the earlier stages and am now working on things that, quite honestly, I should be better at. this is what I love about duolingo – it’s forcing me to go back and concentrate more on my gender/singular/plural agreements, to focus more on using the right pronouns, reminding me about the difference between these/that/those, and also teaching me a handful of new expressions and words. I think duolingo is an excellent *supplement* to learning a new language, and I haven’t been bothered that often by mistakes or wrong translations on their side. I also find some use out of the comments thread on each exercise.

    I take notes while I’m doing lessons, things to remember, things to look up later, and things to ask spanish-speakers “is this really something you say?”

    my favorite aspects of duolingo are the fact that it’s so addicting and doing the timed tests – it’s really helped to show me what I need to work on. the best way for me to use it is to spend about 2 hours each morning with it, getting as far as I can before I’m bored/tired.

  • Defiant Oli

    Just started learning Spanish using duolingo and have found it’s simple structure and method easy to use and effective. I find doing one section every night has allowed me to pick up basic vocab and sentence structure, and the easy learning curve of the tool itself and the way it tracks your progress and gives visual feedback on your process, I think will make it a good method for lots of people with a high task completion rate. You are so wrong about “reCaptchas” btw, Captchas were already part of the internet and are used as a way to effectively stop spam, adding the scans from books meant that “Captchas” have helped to digitize thousands of books which would not have been possible otherwise.

  • Pate

    I have to be particularly proficient in German by September, and my current speaking skills are nonexistent. Is it possible to merely use Duolingo to learn to speak (and write) the language efficiently? Thank you so much for everything you’ve done on this site, I really do enjoy it. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515235479 Maureen Thompson

      I’m not sure if I can answer this. I have only used Duolingo about a week (it was mostly material I was somewhat familiar with from learning in the past – Spanish) but I just wanted to let you know that you can use a mic with the program. I have not done so yet but I am assuming it will rate your answer based on a recognizable response. At least you would get some practice speaking. However, I read about a website called Verbling where you get a chance to speak with a native so you might want to check that out. I doubt that you could exclusively use Duolingo. For example, I learned colors in school. The colors section on Duolingo left out several colors that I would have expected to see (orange, purple, brown). Good luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nico89 Nicola Miccolupo

    It’s here!!

  • Shawn Cooke

    I started DuoLingo about a month ago for French, and had a very different experience from many of the reviewers. I think the time since this article was written to now account for the difference.

    I have been pleasantly surprised with how forgiving the program has been in terms of my translations. Only rarely have I been judged incorrect in an English translation I was sure about.

    I think the biggest reason for this is the “Still think you’re correct?” link. One imagines that this is a way for the developers to crowd source corrections in such a way that the program become more and more accurate over time. Nearly a year since release, this appears to have paid off in French at least, and I imagine that other languages might be similar.

    • jan

      There is now no “Still think you’re correct?” link. (March, 2014) You can report a problem, but there are so many problems, and lots of other users report the same problem in discussions. Therefore I feel pessimistic about improvement.
      However, for me it is really fun when I am not angry about their stupid errors. I do really, really hope they improve it and it keeps going.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anum.cara.3 Anum Cara

    Hello!

    I have been researching online sites for learning “German” and am really happy with duolingo!

    Buusu, Mokka (which really drove me insane)and others do not cover GRAMMAR in any depth and THAT is disastrous.

    Learning German without learning the Grammar is absolutely MORONIC!

    Duolingo gets you right into the Grammar in a fun and active way AND I also use Anki for making FlashCards as well from what I learn on the duolingo site. (all of you, check out the Anki Flashcards they are free)

    I like to learn by being presented with the words, then words in context with Grammar. I do not like the Mokka method where you are thrown into conversation and forced to “learn on the fly” as I am very methodical by nature.

    Also, German has complex Grammar and duolingo has excellent conjugation tables that you can always review that were a part of your lesson.

    Learner beware, you will be wasting your time at those other sites if you don’t have a sound foundation in the Grammar of the language you are learning!

    Also, when the times comes to speak with people socially and you don’t know how to apply linguistic differences in formal and informal context you will truly look pretty crass.

    Warmest Regards to everyone,

    Alexis

  • souzalesson

    Hi dude, I’m very happy to have discovered your website and to know that there are another crazy polyglote in this world hahaha =)

    What does your friends think about that? I’m still considerated like a crazy because I can speak 6 languages :p

  • Veronica Cai

    Hi, Benny, just to say Hi. I have been on your mailing list for a few months now. I am a translator/interpreter/bilingual host/language learning enthusiast. Just want to say thank you and I will keep following your posts. :)

  • Bart_at_EB

    Tried it out. Looks good for an introduction to a language and the price tag is right!

    I think it’s important to point out its limitation. As do so many tools, DuoLingo only focuses on only one aspect of language learning. There are several different skills involved in language learning, and it’s important to decide which ones are important to you, and be able to choose the right tools and environments to master them.

    For example:
    – Reading texts
    – Listening to real speech
    – Engaging in conversation
    – Getting a feel for the culture, both the “high” culture (literature, history, etc.) and “everyday” culture (customs, etc.)

  • traveler

    Don’t get too excited. Certainly the price is right and the gaming aspect is fun. You learn by translating given phrases and sentences into and out of your target language. When you make a mistake (and you will) you are shown the “correct answer”. You get hints for your translating by mousing over individual words and seeing suggested definitions, but these suggestions are poorly integrated into the lessons, so that they often don’t include the definition that is required. Duolingo skimped by not using native speakers to write the sentences, so sometimes you are learning American English expressions with foreign words. People constantly complain in the discussions that a legitimate translation they entered was not accepted. This will continue to happen, because there is no way for Duolingo to list in advance all the legitimate translations of the sentences they offer. Some also complain about the voice that reads sentences aloud, since it is obviously robotic. There is an “Immersion” section where people translate articles from the internet into the language they are learning. This is fun to do, but the founder of Duolingo had the romantic notion that students in exchange for free lessons will translate the whole internet, which is hardly realistic. People are supposed to pay to have pages translated, but that seems not to happen much in actuality. Students also get to choose pages they want to upload for translation. It’s hard to know whether the project is financially self-sustaining. Discussion boards are active and students happily share questions and problems. So this is still a work in progress and is sure to evolve.

    • Ceci Pipe

      There was a question on Reddit a while back, possibly in an AMA, where Luis responded to that. He said that Wikipedia pages were the most popular to be translated (which is free of charge), and that not every user did translations, but that enough users translated enough commercial sites for Duolingo to be viable; and thanks to donations he had enough funding to last for a while even if everyone just translated Wikipedia or didn’t translate at all.

      The suggestions aren’t too bad at the lower levels while at the higher levels the words have multiple definitions so it becomes a bit harder but it’s still possible to get by, at least in German.

  • Courtney Dawson

    I am currently using DuoLingo to learn French. I took a semester of it ages ago and remember nothing. DuoLingo is so intuitive and easy that I find myself practicing while doing everyday chores around the home. It just sticks with you. This is the best way to learn a language. Also, they now offer Portuguese, German and Italian.

    • Dawn Grabow

      Hi Courtney~~

      Did you used to live in Elsenfeld, Germany?.:)

  • Lonely Salad

    Pardon my ignorance, but how well does the Spanish in Duolingo translate to Latin American Spanish? If I learn Spanish using Duolingo, will I be able to speak Spanish in Peru and be understood?

    • William

      Yes, Duolingo offers translations of both Latin American Spanish and Spanish Spanish.

    • PFC

      I have the same question. Anyone?

  • Beatriz

    How many levels are there for each language?

  • Suzanna Wright

    Hello, Mr. Benny. I’m not entirely sure whether you’ll see this or not as I’ve never gotten the courage to comment on this blog before, but I just wanted to say that Duolingo has changed a lot since it first started. As of today, they introduced a new feature called the language incubator. As of now, it allows bilingual volunteers to help create courses for learning English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, or Portuguese from any language in the world. Later in the year they will open it up to allow courses to be made for learning any language from any language, (and I do mean any. Including Esperanto!). Anyways, I have been using the site for over a month now and I would love to see its content grow. I was hoping that maybe you or any multi-lingual buddies you know could consider contributing, because I know they could use people with your level of understanding in so many different languages. I know it could help a lot of people around the world who can’t afford expensive materials and your contribution (or the contribution of anyone you know) would be greatly appreciated by me and duolingo-users around the globe. That’s all I wanted to say, thanks for everything you do and for this awesome site that has encouraged me to be a polyglot when I grow up. Ciao!=)

  • Tyler Dolan

    I wanted to post on this because a lot of the comments are pretty old and I just started with Duolingo a week ago.

    Full disclosure: I had two francophone grandparents who died when I was young and a living Russian-speaking grandmother, so I might say I have a bit of an ear for pronunciation/ linguistics, etc. I am doing the duolingo French course and I would say I come in as somewhere between an absolute beginner and intermediate with obvious advantages to a true beginner – I tested into level 6 without much effort.

    I think that besides being free, Duolingo is the best structure I’ve seen for taking someone like me to intermediate level in a language that they have only passing knowledge of. In a week I have gone up several levels, learning tons of vocabulary. The best part of this program is that it solidifies sentence structures through repetitive sample sentences. This is a great strategy for language learning.

    I think my biggest (and many people’s biggest) criticism of the program is that it occasionally presents you with French expressions that contain words you don’t know and use the target vocabulary in abstract or idiomatic or just generally non-literal ways. I would say that this annoyed me at first, but it’s actually really helpful. Besides learning really basic expressions that you’ll hear, it’s good for your brain to be examining unknown words or phrases through both a literal and figurative lens. In our native languages we use tons of words with obvious etymology that we’ve never taken the time to think about. All languages do this, and you have to keep your perspective on words and phrases elastic in the first few years of language learning.

    I guess what I don’t love is that passing a lesson doesn’t require mastery. It would behoove you to actually fail a lesson a few times so you get multiple exposures to the new vocabulary instead of squeezing by with zero hearts but not having to type the sentences multiple times. I find that being exposed to the same short sentence with one or two words of target/ shaky vocabulary about three times really nails it into my head.

    Ok. I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but those are my thoughts. Duolingo is great. Pair it with a small amount of hardcore grammar lessons, go to conversation tables with native speakers for 6 months (most universities have these weekly and they’re often open to the public) and start listening to music and news in the target language and you could quite seriously be strongly conversational in only a few months.

    • Cat

      I’m also late to the discussion, but I wanted to reply to your comment because I think it speaks to precisely what I LOVE about Duolingo.

      I only grew up knowing English, but I took French in high school (2 years) and for 2 semesters in college.

      I came out of those classes with, at best, a scattered understanding of non-standard verb conjugations, no understanding of anything but the present tense, a large handful of nouns and adjectives, and a completely flawed understanding of de la, du, des, and how most plural and possessives worked.

      Basically, I could ask the time, tell people I couldn’t speak much French, ask for the check, and determine if someone was telling me to turn “left” or “right” to go somewhere. It’s gotten me by in France a half-dozen times, but I crave understanding the language fully.

      The thing I love about Duolingo, as you mention, is the structure. I can pick any verb, noun, or adjective that I’m weak on and practice it. When I don’t “get” a translation or answer, I can immediately click to read the “forum” response on that particular sentence and 9 times out of 10 there’s a native french speaker in there explaining why “Il y a” means “there is” and how if you deconstruct it too much it kind of makes your head melt.

      There are definitely flaws in the program. I have found myself using expressions and forms that aren’t explicitly covered in a lesson (“Avez-vous?” vs. “Vous avez” to ask a question for instance.)

      But as someone who has tried Rosetta Stone, and who has the entire Pimsleur French series, Duolingo gives me enough of what I need to bury myself in further details. I’m a grammar nut, so when I find links in the forum posts about a statement explaining “Il y a” or “c’est” vs. “il est” I can drill down and read about the things that interest me the most, helping me to understand the WHY of the language, not just rote memorization.

      It’s only been 3 days and I’m addicted, and at French level 6. Can’t wait to run through the whole tree and practice, practice, practice!

  • http://www.seriouslyspain.com/ Seriously Spain

    Thanks for the review. I was just looking for something to help my dad learn Spanish and this popped up. Checked your review and already have him signed up. Thanks a lot :)

  • Zulu Flow

    Am using DuoLingo to practice Spanish. I’ve never fully learned a new language before so the way I’m going about it is to simply string days together and aim for a minimum of 50 coins per day. I’m super unattached to the outcome of actually learning Spanish and more focused on my input of putting in the hours and stringing the days together. Whether or not I pick up the language is another story. Especially as I am not really speaking with that many native speakers or getting any lessons outside of DuoLingo. Another strategy I am using is to download and hire out a bunch of spanish movies and watch at least one a week with subtitles.

    Am currently on day 9 of my streak, with a target of 240 days in a row (which is quite ambitious and will be extremely difficult as I travel sometimes to very remote regions for work – but hey, gotta aim high!) – so will report back in few months to see how my experiment goes

    Thanks for this article btw

    Much Respect

  • Daniel Brockert

    Unfortunately Benny they have not fixed this problem. I am using Duolingo for French everyday and appreciate the program for what it is, but there is a lot of nickle and diming. In practice it is often a spelling test or a test of how well you remember THEIR answer. This morning I wrote “he is pretty wild” and I lost a heart because I was supposed to write “he is quite wild.” They need to have some efficient method of rooting out these types of bugs in the system.

    • http://caaenglish.com Ray Vogensen

      No, the problems are still there. It Portuguese it is a disaster, with horrible mistakes. How can you honestly translate a sentence that is wrong?

  • Theo Marques

    I wouldn’t even say the errors are the main issue here, the whole premise of Duolingo is flawed. I’m amazed at the amount of people who bought into the idea that they’ll learn a language by translating often nonsensical sentences back and forth. Translating only encourages people to think in their native language when you really should start thinking in your target language as early as possible. In fact, it’s bizarre that what they call their “immersion” program consists of… more translating. How’s it immersive when you’re still dealing with English? I’m not saying Duolingo is completely useless, but if it’s your only or even main learning tool, you’ll never learn more than a bunch of disconnected sentences (lots of which will sound unnatural to a native speaker anyway). The fact that they measure your knowledge of a language by how many words you memorized should be warning enough.

    • http://caaenglish.com Ray Vogensen

      I totally agree. I would recommend BBC languages, or in the case of French French in Action or Learn French with sous-titres. Much more professional and entertaining, I found Babel, which charges a modest fee, much better, although far from satisfactory.

  • http://throwyourselflikeseed.blogspot.co.uk/ Andy Pakula

    Duolingo is excellent. Picked it up just recently and am actually enjoying learning Spanish. I’m hooked in a good way. The fact that it is free and has no advertisements is just amazing. Luis von Ahn is a business model genius!

  • http://caaenglish.com Ray Vogensen

    I disagree on Luis von Ahn being a business model genius. He must have made tons on reCAPTCHA, but I don’t see Duolingo bringing in any profit. I may be wrong but from a language learner’s point of view it misses the mark. Granted you might learn some scattered vocabulary, much of which is totally useless when you use the language (Italian goes on about wolves, sheep, cows, and bears), but there is no interaction, and most importantly, as has been pointed out here, so many of the more advanced sentences are incorrect both in the target language and in language 2. Plus there is little consistency. Ex. In Portuguese there is a sentence with the pronoun “tu” and the correct verb conjugation even though in Brazil no one uses this form. It is from Portugal, but the site claims it is Brazilian Portuguese. Then there is a sentence using the word ” rapariga”, which is supposed to be girl, although it is only used in that sense in Portugal and actually means “whore” in Brazil. In the Spanish site there is the word “emparedado”, meaning sandwich in a particular region of Latin American, but unknown by the other millions of speakers. I was excited at first but soon became so irritated by the mistakes that I left with a very negative impression.

    • Jonny Alexander

      Actually, various locations in Brazil ONLY use ‘tu’ (Santa Catarina) and all of Brazil use the word and know it’s meaning, they just prefer to use Voce, just as Portugal use Voce sometimes as a more formal way to say the word ‘you’. I learnt Brazilian Portuguese in Brazil and use ‘tu’.

      You are correct about rapariga though, they are way off with that one.

  • DaiWales

    I was doing so well at beginner level in Spanish – but then Duolingo started asking me to translate words I had never seen before (even with a French and Latin background) and without giving me the chance to learn them beforehand.
    So I lost hearts – and heart. I was following the course sequentially – so I don’t understand why I am presented with several new Spanish words to translate(unseen) . But I will persevere ! Dai Wales

    • geneven

      I’m enjoying myself, shortly to reach level 20 of Spanish. It has been a nice review of the classes I took almost 50 years ago, and I’ve definitely learned more than I knew then. There is a lot of chat with real experts and native speakers giving real insight into the nuts and bolts of Spanish usage. I feel more comfortable with Spanish than ever before.

  • sean

    I know this is an old post, but I recently came across the very same Tedtalk discussion and decided to delve into the German course. I think it is fantastic….but I know little to no German to begin with. I’m a complete layman and I came across Benny’s liner notes at the bottom of this article and wondered, regardless of language, if those issues had been worked out. I appreciate the response…to an old post;)

    Also…they very basis for this program, coming from the Captcha program is astounding, as it is proactive. I learn….the writers of this website translate the internet. I would love to see more organizations using this method to better humanity, but at the same time flourishing in their own right. Remove money from the equation and see how powerful we can make an individual’s mind and better her place in the world

  • Tony Chan

    Hi Benny!
    I’ve been using Duolingo the moment I came back from a trip to Mexico. It’s been a great help to introduce me to the Spanish language. You’re spot on that it’s not a subsitute for a native speaker. My plan is to use Duolingo to get my Spanish up to at least A2 level then begin speaking it with native speakers.
    As a true beginner to the language I haven’t spotted any glaring errors when translated into English. I’m guessing they must be improving the program.

  • James Register

    I´ve spent about 15 hours on it learning Brazilian Portuguese. It´s ok as a tool, It could be better. There aren´t any helpful tips or charts, so it can´t stand alone as it aims to do, for this language. I have to look elsewhre for explanations of grammar. There are quite a lot of errors with the translations slowing me down.

  • Media Gem

    I’m on Level 9 and really enjoying Duolingo. I spend 2 months a year in Tenerife and I’m learning Spanish to communicate with the locals. Muchos gracias.

  • Lisa Tiffany

    I just tried the first French lesson twice and was irritated when they said the word for woman was the same as for wife and it kept trying to get me to use the French letter c as in garçon yet had no instructions on how to find that letter to type on my iPad. It just automatically did it in this post but not in the game. The game kept asking me to make logic leaps in language that I might do while trying to speak to someone but most likely would be very wrong like assuming the word for wife was the same for woman.

    • http://www.streettalksavvy.com Street Talk Savvy

      the word for wife and woman ‘femme” is the same in French It is seldom used ‘ma epouse”

    • skiesofblue

      Yes, it is the same word in ordinary speech. There is a more formal, legal term, “mon épouse”, but it is rarely used in normal speech. Just as the word for “husband” is “mon mari” in usual speech, “mon époux” in more formal contexts.

    • Thomas

      Garçon uses a c cédille, and with an iPad you just have to press longer the letter c to get it, like any diacritic.

  • Tandis

    Hi i have recently tried this language course.its a really good and quick way to learn language comparing to books and TV . I suggest anyone who wants to learn languages like French and Spanish should try this. Duolingo repeats and reviews every word that you learn many times that you never forget that word

  • Al Wallace

    Let me be the first to say, duoLingo is completely legit. I’m 2 months in, and I already beat the whole thing and I’m completely hooked. If you played the competition, you might have already been embarrassed by me. Call me crazy, but I am absolutely on my way to being fluent in Spanish with duolingo. Ignore all the critics and skeptics who tried and failed and gave up. If you’re dedicated, you can do it, or at least have enough of a foundation to begin conversing with Spanish speakers to become fluent. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I believe that if you do it for at least two years you can be fluent. The amount I’ve learned in two months is amazing, two years will be even better.

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  • claire

    Duolingo is one word. D is capitalized, nothing else.

  • Eric Oberg

    despite the lousy sound quality “sa pomme” sounded like “savon”. I was ready to sign up. However, the sign in window was inert. Nothing I could do to enter my information and sign up. I’ll try again some day.

  • KB

    Yeah, I’ve been doing Duolingo, and their errors drive me nuts. -Lived in France for a while, and many of their phrases are NOT at all correct. And their English translations often make no sense at all. I always tell them that, so….. yeah, I hope they change it and get it corrected… at least ask a native English speaker! I’m browsing right now for other programs. Oh, and I can’t help but comment on Rosetta Stone here. Yeah, don’t like it at all. You can do it in your native language and it tells you you’re wrong. *Sigh*… .. whatever. Browsing for better -CORRECT- programs right now. Fluent in 3 months? Yeah, I wish!

  • Kate M

    I’m using Duolingo for Italian and really enjoying it, the game aspect of it is very addicting. Concerning languages now, Spanish French, German, Italian, and Portuguese are stable. Dutch, Irish and Danish are in beta meaning they are available but with possible mistakes in them. Hungarian, Sweedish, Turkish, Russian, Polish and Romanian are ‘hatching’ or being worked on to be made available. Pretty excited for Hungarian and Polish.

  • Myra Esoteric

    Hey, it’s better than crushing candy all day.