Duolingo – what’s it all about?

EDIT 2019: Although the points made in this blog are still relevant, Duolingo keeps on changing the way you work your way along the tree. So some of the images might not be accurate anymore. For example, this is something new Duolingo informed me about in 2019:

Duolingo - what's it all about?

And in 2022 they changed the path

Original post:

Most people have by now heard about duolingo, a completely free resource of language learning.

I’ve tried it out for French and have suggested to many of my students to use the German version for extra German practice.

A few things have been mentioned to me, so I have worked my way through the German course to see how exactly it goes.

You need to register with duolingo, which, I know, does not please everybody, but as it saves your levels, it isn’t possible to use without registering. Once you’ve registered and chosen your language you get your first choice:

Are you an absolute beginner or do you already know some German?

Let’s assume you’re an absolute beginner, what will you get?

As you can see, it starts very easy. You can probably guess the answer, but if you can’t, the ‘tips and notes’ button top right gives you more information. You then work your way though the various exercises, practising you reading, listening, writing and speaking skills. If you make a mistake you lose a heart and if you lose all four hearts before completing the lesson, you will get tested on those things again. As long as you don’t lose all hearts, you then continue to work your way through the lessons and levels.

Although the levels are very prescriptive and you can’t chose which bit to learn, you do have the choice to ‘test out of this skill’. If you pass the test, you get moved forward, if you don’t, you have to complete all lessons from that level.

Here is a picture from a higher level:

So, what’s my verdict?

There are a lot of positives:

– It’s free!

– The lessons are short and you can easily do one a day.

– You can do the lessons on your computer or phone.

– You can compete with fellow learners.

– It’s a brilliant way to keep up or improve your German.


– You can’t chose the topics.

– Beginners can’t use a lot of sentences straight away (it’s highly unlikely you want  to say ‘a lemon is bad’ or ‘the apple is round’ or ‘this soup tastes sweet’ or even ‘she learns with our cats’)

– The higher the levels, the more mistakes there are and you can lose hearts for correct answers. I was able to spot the mistakes but a real learner usually doesn’t.

– Although there are grammar explanations, they are not always that helpful.

All in all I am slightly concerned if somebody wants to teach themselves just by using duolingo. As an additional tool it is perfect, because you can always ask your tutor if there are any problems. If, however,  you do want to teach yourself with it and get frustrated because you don’t understand something, then you may want to consider getting lessons just once a month, like I outlined in my Teach yourself German … with a little help post. That way you can ask questions whenever they arise without having to join a class.

EDIT 2017: Here is an interesting video from Luis von Ahn about why he developed Duolingo

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