Why Duolingo Doesn’t Work

… at least on its own 🙂 It’s pretty common nowadays to hear people blurt out something about Duolingo if you ever mention that you like studying languages. It kind of drives me crazy, so imma tell you what I think.

If you haven’t tried Duolingo, then I’ll give you a brief overview of what it does. Each language course (and they have plenty! From French to Ukrainian to Turkish) takes you through different units that cover a vocabulary topic or a new grammar concept. You play through each subunit like a game. Duolingo introduces a new word or concept, and then it tests you multiple times until you pass the subunit. These tests include things like typing out translations to and from English (or whatever your native language is, provided they support it), choosing the correct word from a list, and, on the mobile app, matching words and their English translations from a list. Duolingo incorporates an spaced repetition-esque system that suggests you retest old skills that have gone stagnant.

Duolingo has a great variety of language courses, including some languages (like Ukrainian) that have a dearth of English language resources. It provides a lot of basic grammar and vocabulary, so what’s my problem?

I know people who have spent hours on Duolingo courses only to try their hand at native-level resources (be it books, movies or people) and lose all confidence they had gained through the addictive game-like system that is Duolingo. The problem with Duolingo is that it actually provides very little, but this aspect is not common knowledge. The vocabulary and grammar are very, very basic, and Duolingo forces you to spend far more time on these topics than is actually necessary. It’s a slow-moving, low-level course that tricks people into thinking that they’re learning a lot more. In fact, the thing that makes Duolingo so likeable, it’s game-like interface, is what causes these drawbacks. People get addicted, and they grow over-confident. When they see an actual book, watch a movie, or, God forbid, meet a native speaker, they’ll likely have a heart attack, assume that they just don’t have a “knack” for languages, and give up on their goals.

It’s these things that makes Duolingo do more harm than good. Of course, if you can remember that Duolingo is a tool like anything else, then you can make it work for you. Just don’t listen when they tell you you’re 60% fluent in Spanish, because that number is utter crap. I personally use Duolingo when I want to pick up some basic vocabulary and make it more active. It’s great for learning the kind of household vocab that novels and movies can leave out.

That being said, I still think there are much more efficient methods for filling holes in your vocabulary. Duolingo reviews too much, and makes the process so, so slow. And honestly, I usually give up on Duolingo after a short time, because it’s simply too boring. If you like Duolingo, that’s swell, but remember that it’s a tool, one part of your language acquisition. Don’t depend on it for everything!

 

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