The Complete Duolingo App Review: Does it WORK?

illHello Junkies!

Here’s my Duolingo App Review.

I figured this app deserves a mention!

What’s Duolingo? It’s an online language learning app/software that prides itself in being completely free. And it is honestly free. You can learn around 15 languages with this app.

It’s available for iOS, Android and as a Windows App.

So… how will you learn a language? Well, it takes the gamification approach of games, points and quizzes to teach you words and phrases. It’s VERY similar to Rosetta Stone… think matching words to pictures… without the hefty $300 price tag.

  • Matching Games (words to pictures)
  • Translation Games
  • Listening Tests
  • Progress Tracking & Reminders

It’s very much translation and text oriented – although you can hear the native speaker’s pronunciation as well. You won’t learn to speak, grammar, alphabet, but since it’s free, it’s a nice supplementary tool to someone that’s already learning a language. If you’re a complete beginner, you should probably start with a textbook first. You’ll see why in a bit.

So when I signed up, I wanted to learn Russian as a Beginner. Here’s my process. Let’s get into the Duolingo App review…

duolingo app review

And it starts feeding me the first lesson. Lesson 1 of 5 covers the 7-8 words listed down below. Interestingly enough, two of them are not Russian words (Tim & Tom in Russian). Notice though, there’s no Alphabet lessons or grammar lessons. If you’re a pure beginner – most of what you get will require some guesswork. You have no idea what the words are below.

duolingo app review

So here are the matching games in full action. You get a question “which of these is a house?” and you have to select the right one. As you can see, the captions – words – are written in Russian… so if you don’t know the Russian Alphabet (or the language you’re learning)… you might be out of luck here. The answer’s obviously the one in the bottom right corner…but you can’t read that, can you?

duolingo app review

Then there are translation quizzes. You can tap on new words to find out what they mean and translate them. This is pretty interesting and makes it easier.duolingo app review

As well as English to Russian sentences. One problem here is that you don’t learn grammar so knowing to write “Dima eto dom” isn’t exactly intuitive for a beginner. You can definitely string that sentence together knowing “Dima” “eto” and “dom” but you don’t know WHY it’s correct and what the grammar rules are.

I can only get it right because I know Russian.

duolingo app review

Another problem with these translation quizzes is that you’ll often get some really odd and random sentences that are not practical. For example…

duolingo app review

Dad, this is not my motor. Yes, as a beginner, I really need to know this line. (I don’t.) And yes, I marked it with a wrong answer – “Dad this is not my Tim.” Another problem is that you can also get marked wrong for questions that are right…

Russian is a fairly loose language in terms of sentence structure and word order. My sentence (while, yes, containing a different nuance) is grammatically correct and here I am getting marked wrong for it.

duolingo app review

Listening tests. I personally like these as these actually tune your ear to some of the phrases and words. I’m a big fan of listening to native speech as one of the ways to learn a language fast. More so than matching words to pictures.

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And once you’re done with a lesson, your progress is tracked and you gain experience. Like a game! This is pretty nice from a gaming perspective. Probably my most favorite part of the app itself.

duolingo app review

And just like that Duolingo guides you to learning basic words, phrase and has you translate and listen to learn a language. But is it any good for learning a language? Well, here are my pro’s and cons and my overall Duolingo app review.

Pros of Duolingo:

  • It’s free and it’s always updated.
  • Very well designed and nice to look at it.
  • Big community of learners and fans.
  • You can learn words and phrases.
  • It’s a fun/game-like way to learn.
  • It’s easy enough progress ahead and learn while you’re on the go.
  • Great supplementary learning tool to something else.
  • Motivating with notifications and reminders. (Though the one notification they send if you’re inactive – “It looks like these notifications aren’t working, so we’ll stop” does seem very defeatist and makes me laugh at the app’s lack of confidence, haha.

Cons of Duolingo:

  • Not good for COMPLETE “I know ABSOLUTELY nothing” beginners.
  • Don’t use this as your primary of material. It won’t teach you the alphabet or grammar so you’ll need a more serious resource that actually teaches and explains things.
  • You don’t learn language fundamentals – alphabet, grammar rules, etc. – so you’re pretty much guessing around.
  • You won’t learn to speak and understand real conversations. Well, if you’re translating words and matching pictures, you’ll just get good at knowing words. You won’t learn the basics like “hi, hello” and typical conversations that textbooks can and will teach you.
  • It’s hard to take this as a serious language learning tool. Maybe it’s the game aspect of it but I can sit and match pictures all day and then review – but put me in front of a native speaker and I won’t know what to say. Matching pictures and recalling words is one skill, putting them to use is another skill (that you don’t get to grow with the app.)
  • It’s Free. I’m a little suspicious of purely free products. It tends to mean that if it’s free… then you are the product… kind of like Facebook is free and then sources your activity and data to advertisers. Then, they make money off of you.
  • Translating random sentences pulled from the internet can get boring. At least for me. I do like the listening component of their App…but translating stuff comes nowhere near to speaking the language.

Final Word. Do I Recommend Duolingo?

Overall – yes, why not? It’s free! I can’t tell you not to try it. There’s nothing to lose. FREE! That’s what the Duolingo app review is for! There is value to it if you already are learning a language with a textbook, class or some other course. However, it’s main strength lies in vocabulary and translation so that’s where you will see the most results. You won’t learn to speak, grammar and understand conversations.

  • It’s a great review tool for a language you’re already learning
  • It’s like a game you’d pull out on your daily commutes to kill 15-30 minutes, except you’re learning a bit of language.
  • Most importantly, because it’s so easy, it’s a great method for STICKING to language learning everyday. Most people QUIT because their resources are too hard or they haven’t built up the skill of persistence yet. This app can help you build up persistence if you stick with it.

And it is addictive – like most new apps are. But then it can become very boring, as it did for me. Translating sentences that aren’t practical makes me wonder “Am I even learning what I need to know?

And as such…

I don’t recommend it as a #1, primary learning resource nor as a starting point for beginners. No point in playing guessing games when you can pick up a textbook and learn, in proper order, all of the things that a beginner should know. Unless you want to realize LATER that you’re only learning words and need to back it up with something more serious.

The App takes on the popular “let’s learn reading & words first” approach that will never allow you to speak and listen well. This is exactly why a lot of learners tend to be good at reading and writing… but always suck at speaking and listening.

Looking for more serious resources? What should you do next?

Well, that’s it for my Duolingo App Review.

Overall, I tend to agree with the review written by fluentlanguage.co.uk and theĀ review written by HackingPortuguese.com. However, that’s my opinion and if it works for you, by all means, do what works for you.

What are your thoughts?

How do you learn with this app? Let me know what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Be sure to leave a comment.

– The Main Junkie

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