How I didn't learn Spanish with Duolingo

But I made friends

"Can I have some chewing gum?" I asked. "Perdon?" she answered. "Chewing gum" I repeated. She looked at me confused. I was giving up but she was still looking at me, as if she was trying to make the effort to understand me.

It was past 10:30 at night in Los Angeles and the unfortunate graveyard-shift workers were starting to appear at bus stops. I was on my way to my night-shift job as a security guard and the bus was late. I was new in the country and I was still thinking in French and translating the words to English in real time. I must have been saying "Chewing gum " in an accent too heavy for the girl sitting next to me to understand.

I made one last attempt pointing at my mouth, chewing invisible gum. "Chewing gum" I said again slowly.

"Oh, Comer?" she said with a smile and pointing at her mouth. "Yes" I answered satisfied, "comer". She rummaged through her purse and instead of giving me some gum, she handed me five dollars and pointed at the Pollos Camperos across the street.

Andrea was a generous stranger who understood not one word of English and I was a misunderstood foreigner who spoke little English and no Spanish. She became my very first friend in this land of opportunity.

Success at Duo

Learning with Duolingo is fun and addictive. Earn points for correct answers, race against the clock, and level up. Our bite-sized lessons are effective, and we have proof that it works.

I have completed 383 consecutive days of Duolingo. Duolingo is an app that claims to have a scientific approach to learning a new language. If you are persistent, follow the instructions and complete the minimum daily activity, you will speak the language, Guarantee!

Over the years, I have failed to learn Spanish. I've worked at places where everyone spoke Spanish, yet I didn't learn more than a few words. A year ago I was talking with Walter, my Spanish speaking friend, and he introduced me to Duolingo.

I don't trust any claim made by an app developer, but Walter was convinced. He showed me the lessons he had completed in French, Italian and German and I was intrigued. That evening I went home, downloaded the app and spent 2 hours devouring it.

Things duo says


It's pointless to learn a language you are never going to use. In Los Angeles however, I have plenty of opportunities to speak Spanish. Anything I learn from the Certified Duolingo Spanish class, I can immediately turn around and practice with my friends. I wasted no time and completed the entire course in a record (see obsessive) pace.

Walter suffered me the most. I would try to have full conversation with him in Spanish and I could see his friendly eyes trying so hard to be polite and struggle not to break my spirit. For 70 days in a row, I did my lessons. I was positive that I was improving everyday. That's until I asked him where he parked his car.

"Dónde está el coche?"
"OK. Stop it. Just stop it." Walter snapped. "Coche? do you see a carriage in this parking lot? This isn't Cinderella."

My spirit broke. He finally decided to tell me the truth. Yes, Coche is car in Spain, but not in the Americas. Every other word I used was awkward and cringe worthy. I had no control over my la and el, over my un and una, I could not count from one to ten. My tenses were all wrong. Genders were always wrong. My spirit broke.

I had completed the entire course and was fluent in the app. On an average day I would complete 50xp. On a motivated day, I would do over 200xp. 70 days in a row is not nothing. I could relate to what he was saying because I felt the same way when he tried to speak French. But I thought he was just bad at it not that what he was learning was wrong. So first, I said this:

That's like your opinion man

Then I decided to explore the App a little deeper to understand what was happening.

Lost Streak duolingo


I speak French. I went to French school. Although I have lived long enough in California that I have switched my thought process from French to English, it is still a language that is embedded in me. To my surprise, learning French with Duolingo was difficult.

The answers are always ambiguous. They are cringe worthy. Others are plain wrong.

I tried my best to complete the course and often checked the comments to see people complaining that the answers were wrong. Walter is a fast learner and he had done his best to learn what the app was teaching, but the material he was learning from was the problem.

French, English, and Spanish share the same Latin root and often you can understand the meaning of a sentence just by looking at the familiar words. But this is also a confusion when translation is not one to one. The student ends up learning things wrong all the while the app rewards the effort with virtual points, persisting the lie.

You can experience this awkwardness when you translate a foreign language to your native language on Google Translate. The words are correct, the grammar is correct, but the meaning is off.

Things duo says

日本語 (Nihongo Japanese)

There was a big launch event with an app update to announce the support for Japanese. I was excited to learn this exotic language. Compared to Spanish, it was utterly difficult to learn.

I repeated the Hiragana lessons hundreds of times. I would practice everyday, slowly progressing until I get stuck and go back to Hiragana to refresh my memory. It took many months and lots of efforts to complete the Japanese course. Learning new things in a foreign language is difficult, but Duolingo has mastered the art of making it fun all the way.

I tried to look past the fun and double check my progress to see if I was learning anything useful. Unlike Latin based languages, I can't easily find someone to converse with in Japanese. So I went to YouTube to watch basic lessons and compare notes.

I had been practicing for months and I had not even known there was such a thing as Kanji. Now things made a little more sense. The app had been interchanging Hiragana and Kanji without any warning or explanation. I was blindly following.

Watching those videos on YouTube, I realized that I could recognize numbers here and there, but I could not count from one to ten. I could recognize the number 12, but I had no idea how it was pronounced. I could put a lot of sounds together, but show me random Katakana or Kanjis and I am lost.

I was recently in a crowded cafe trying to find an empty table to get some work done. I jumped on the first seat that cleared and was occupied by a Japanese man.

"Are you... Comfi Taburu?" the man said. I did not understand. He repeated again. I thought he was asking about a "coffee table". Turns out he was jokingly asking me if I was comfortable.

Watashino namayewa Ibrahim des

He replied "Nice to meet you" in a way I had not heard before. I shook hand with Mr Tereso.

He spoke so little English and I spoke at most kindergarten level Japanese, yet we spent two hours discussing various subjects. We spoke about money, where I learned he was a retired investor and gave me investment tips. We spoke about family, where he told me that a girlfriend is the biggest and best investment I can make. We spoke about religion, where he told me that it cost nothing to ask God for what you want.

I had learned just enough Japanese to make a friend.

Things duo says


You will not learn to speak a new language with this app. Let that sink in. However, you will have fun playing the game. Duolingo is a game first before being a learning tool. It will be a motivator to explore more about the language you are trying to learn.

I have slightly improved my Spanish with the app, but what it helped me most with is to have the confidence to speak in Spanish to strangers. I listen to audiobooks, radio shows, even ads in Spanish just to improve it some more. The app was only the catalyst.

Language is more than just a syntax to learn. It is a culture and a perspective. Use the app to get yourself introduced to a new way of thinking, but by all means don't stop there. Meet people speaking those languages you are trying to learn and watch yourself learn new things you would never have learned otherwise.


Snippets from @Shitduosays


a :

The problem seems to be with you then

Mari :

I'm learning german from scratch with duolingo and it is working!

Reyes :

In almost all countries in the Americas "coche" means car, except for Guatemala in which it means "pig". What Walter was referring to is a "carroza". He's just plain wrong.

AX3M :

This was so heartbreaking to read.

Wim :

you are right, duolingo is a great app to learn a foreign language but I experience the same as long ago at school when in four years I learned to read and write in English, French and German. Grammarically all correct but when it came to speaking to a native person? Nope. English and German speaking I acquired frequent foreign contacts I had professionally. I lost French mostly, I grasp the meaning of what is said or written. The same I experience now with Duolingo Spanish and Italian. I have come quite far in listening and reading but you really need people to talk to, so far still a problem for me.

Ibrahim :

@Wim, you are right. At the end of the day, the best way to learn is to have a conversation with native speakers.

Philip Rossen :

Humans are the nicest way to learn a language.

Misty :

Who cares if you say "coche" instead of "carro"? If you say "coche" instead of "carro" in countries where "coche" doesn't mean "car", they'll find it weird but they'll understand through context. If you say "carro" instead of "coche" in Spain, same thing. Funny thing is, in Spain "carro" means "cart." I am Spanish and when I talk to people from South America, sure, we don't share the same vocabulary and some words seem confusing at first, but eventually we understand each other.

What I mean is that it's OK if every other word you use is awkward and cringe-worthy, if you swap "la" for "el" and "un" for "una," if your tenses or genders are not 100% perfect all of the time. I'm sorry your friend Walter didn't have patience with you, and honestly I'm also angry that he discouraged you from using Duolingo. I used to be a language teacher and never in a million years would I have snapped at somebody and told them to "stop it" because I didn't like the words they were using. Your friend totally knew that you meant "car" and he should have just shut up. You have to cut some slack to someone who is making an effort to learn a new language.

Ibrahim :

Hi Misty, thanks for the encouraging message.

You are right it is ok to make mistakes when learning a language, it ends up being the only effective way.


Marty :

I'm 150 days in on Duolingo Italian and I can barely count to ten, but I can zip through lessons like a (Duolingo) pro, let alone keep up a conversation.

As I don't have access to speak directly with others, I'm trying to supplement my learning with other resources. Coffee Break Italian is a good podcast that explains a lot of what Duolingo doesn't. Slow News in Italian and Italian movies will hopefully help my listening comprehension.

I'm sticking with Duolingo because I am learning something and the gameification helps keep me consistent. But alone, I don't believe it can teach a language.

I should also add that the Duolingo forum chats that accompany each question are very helpful.

Loly :

DUOLINGO me funciona excelente, he aprendido mucho y puedes comenzar desde 0

saludos a todos.

Omara :

Totally disagree with you I am just 100+ days on duolingo for Spanish I didn't have any experience in Spanish.

I was racing through lessons before travelling to a Spanish speaking country for the first time; and let me tell you this..

I am very comfortable around people, can have a conversation where both sides understand each other. I was afraid before i land, but once started talking with locals, oh man, i have never felt more confident and proud.

My method was always have around 10 lessons open for practice daily.

3 on level 5
3 on level 4
3 on level 3

And start a new lesson

And every day i finish one level from each of those 3 and level up the new lesson to level 3 So this means Complete one of those level 5, level up on of the 4s to 5, level up one of the 3s to 4 and level up the only one at level 3 to level 4 and start a new lesson and level it up to 3

Moreover, have a notebook where write down evey new word or phrase.

For all new duolingo users, don't get demotivated or listen to this.. I see it's all about the approach: Planning, commitment, positive attitude, motivation and believing.

Good luck you all.

Justin :

I think it's important to recognise two things about duolingo - thing 1, it uses "Spaced Repetition" which is a proven way of committing lots of things to memory more effectively than just rote beating it into your brain.

Thing 2, I think of language learning like building a house. Duolingo is giving you the wood and the nails (oversimplified house building, I know) and even the instructions. I.E., Duolingo gives you the vocabulary and the grammar. You can go out and build your house, and with no house-building experience it is going to suck, and the process is going to be long and brutal and you're going to feel a right idiot most of the time. But if you build some houses, you'll get better at it. And unlike building houses, learning to use the language you've learned in a more natural way is A LOT EASIER TO DO WHEN YOU'RE DRINKING.

So, no, you can't count to ten, you mix up your el and la, but you learn that with time and use. You'll find the same thing in Japanese, with wa and ga. It's something that everybody gets wrong forever, you just get less bad with it eventually.

TL;DR don't be discouraged and don't discount what Duolingo can do. There are lots of Spaced Repetition based learning utilities out there and this one is particularly well put together. But also set your expectations reasonably, and talk to people, look a fool, and get better.

ALSO - for people having a hard time finding language partners, there are services like italki that set you up with native speakers all over the world so you can chat via Skype. And if you're in a decently sized metropolitan area you can usually find people who want to do a language exchange.

Adam :

I have been learning Norwegian through Duolingo primarily. There is a lot of merit to what others have said in that Duolingo is not the ONLY thing you work with or use to learn a language. In fact there are plenty of errors in the Norwegian course and these are often highlighted in the discussion forums.

In addition to Duolingo, you need to immerse yourself in the language as best as you can, as practically as you can. I often try and watch TV and Radio programming from Norway, and where I can, I try and speak with fluent Norwegian speaking people.

Often, I challenge myself with translating Norwegian subs in English TV programs (thank you NRK) and you would be surprised at how much more difficult it is compared to sitting there doing Duolingo lessons.

Lesson of the day: Duolingo is a useful tool as a part of a suite of tools that you resource and use to learn your new language.

Fer :

Hey, thanks for sharing this! I just discovered the app and I thought it was incredible... but then I have no one to talk to in the language I'm learning, someone to validate what I am saying is right or wrong.

However, I may say that we do say "coche" or "¿Dónde está el coche?" in spanish, at least in Mexico. What Cinderella rides, the carriage, we say "carruaje"... so I find no cringing in your sentence. Maybe your friend was having a bad day haha

Thanks again for sharing your experience, I will see the app with different eyes now.

Ibrahim :

Hi @Fer

Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you find someone to converse with in your new languages :)

Sam :

I just want you to know that in most of Mexico, we say coche. Spanish varies wildly from region to region, and your friend sounds like he is dead set in his ways.

Jan :

Duolingo really helped me to improve my Hebrew and my Portuguese. I don’t wanna be offensive but maybe the problem is your attitude. It sounds like you expected Duo to fulfill miracles. You’re trying to learn Japanese with Duo but never heard of Kanji, seriously what do you expect Duo alone can accomplish? Learning a language always requires more than one learning source! But Duo is a great one of them, if used properly!

Ibrahim :

@Jan, If you learn Japanese with a teacher, isn't he responsible from telling you there is such thing as Kanji? Well, that's what Duolingo failed to do.

Also the miraculous claims you mentioned are exactly the exact moto of Duolingo.

Heather S. :

I stumbled upon this article while reading about Duolingo through the years (I started using it around January 2013). At the time English speakers only had access to Spanish, French, German, and Italian, and Portuguese was in beta. Most of the Italian I knew prior to taking lessons while doing a program called the Add1Challenge came from Duolingo. I couldn't speak a lick of the language beyond, "Ciao! Mi chiamo Heather, e tu?" but I could read a little. I'm sorry your friend was so harsh with you. All of my friends get super excited when I try to say things in their native languages. Unfortunately if you don't use it, you lose it.

Through the years I've realized that Duolingo cannot be the sole resource but it is a decent start. I question though the lesson order as being able to greet people seems a higher priority than knowing that "tu oso bebe cerveza" (o "il tuo orso beve birra"). ;)

Ibrahim :

Haha. Thanks @Heather. Cerveza for all osos!

jh :

hmm... I'm coming really late to this party. I recently signed up for Duolingo. To me, it's just another tool to add so that I can iterate the language. I don't expect Duolingo, or any program or even a class or a teacher to bring me to even semi-functional fluency. Aka - the fluency of a toddler who wants something.

Maybe I'm missing the point. Sure, Duolingo touts gamification. But is it really a game? Isn't it just a bunch of test questions... and just like a monkey that gets a prize every so number of correct answers, we get our little prize. But it's just a bunch of test questions. And testing is one way to practice and learn. (it worked for me. It may not work for other people.)

I do find value in the forum. There, I find other people who had the same question I had. Other times, I kick myself because I should have considered gender when describing something. For a native English speaker, it's difficult to suddenly start thinking in gendered terms. A table is a table. Why would some pervert look at that table and think... "You look quite manly with all those ahem legs..."

We don't mock little kids who make mistakes. We are gentle with them. I wish your friend was similarly gentle with you. You were comprehensible. And that is the function of any human language, communication. It doesn't really matter how badly you communicate. You aren't a diplomat or a negotiator. The goal of language is so that you can communicate and that the other person can understand your intent. Grammar will slowly leach into the brain with more practice. Same for vocabulary as you imbibe media and interact with others. At some point, a person will "feel" that something sounds "righter" than another phrase. (Oh... and for a native speaker to have issues understanding a rank beginner trying out the language is absurd. It reflects a lack of mastery of their native language if they cannot understand what you said. If I said "je amo agua".. which is definitely not French, you would have used that clever brain of yours to parse it out and figure out that I love water. Hand gestures, mimicry, facial expressions all play a part in human communication.

Sorry for that paragraph of me ranting. I get so tired of hearing native speakers babble about how they can't understand somebody. I can understand the broken English of numerous immigrants. I've never had a problem with a foreign call center representative. I can understand the various dialects and the local vocabulary in other regions of my country. That's because I'm a native speaker. If a pig could learn a bit of english, I should be able to understand said pig. A native speaker is stupid if they cannot understand even the badly accented broken fragments of their language.

Oh ... as for @Heather S' comment. There is a reason we generally start off with a "Hello World" lesson in the beginning. It's the universal opening. It's the phrases and the actions that you will always be doing. It's why the first programming lesson is "Hello World". It's the first input/output structure. After that, we start defining words, creating relationships, describing actions and so on. But the first thing we learn is.. "I come in peace".. or something like that. The next thing is probably Goodbye or Thank Your and Please along with "My name is...". It's called foreplay and you don't get to first base without foreplay. We don't ask for the military codes to the nuclear weapons on the first date. Possibly that doesn't occur even after 20 dates.

Ibrahim :

Thanks for your input @jh. Few people read the whole article before jumping to the comments, though I'm glad for those who did. Like I said, the app was only a catalyst, to learn more about the language. Meaning, once I realized that some of the things I was learning were incorrect, I used additional material (not from duolingo) to learn more about those languages. Case example, I used YouTube for Japanese.

Maybe I have made my friend sound harsher than he actually was, it wasn't my intention. I just wanted to show how he made me realize that most of the things I was saying was incorrect. Which prompted me to learn from an external source.

Mike :

Good article, I have found some of the same issues with Duolingo.

But FYI English does not share a Latin root with French and Spanish. English is a Germanic language with some Latin derived vocabulary, much like French is a Latin language with some Germanic derived vocabulary.

John :

Honestly I was going to agree until I read where you said you had no control over your un or una. Well it does go to show you weren't paying attention then and the problem is with you because they clearly explain just like male ends with an o an females end with a. The worlds are just the same. If its autobus it doesnt end with a so its obvious it un or el. I mean come on. simple stuff

Ibrahim :

@John there is no lesson in Duolingo, they just show you the words. And to counter your point with un and una: Madre ends with E not A, yet it's una. Coche ends with E not o, yet it's un. Now think of someone approaching this the first time, it's not easy without an actual lesson that explains it.

Mokar Chorap :

I'm sorry to say this but the way you percieved dullingo is wierd. It's a tool for learning a language, a fun tool in a way. But the fun "clicking the words that pop up" way of learning is what stopped you from learning. Instead of focusing on completing the challenges you should have spent time learning about the words, memorizing them and seeing how they should be implemented. After about a week of learning spanish on duolingo you could have learned to count and how to use "el" and "la" in the correct form seeing how those are among the first lessons.

But in any case, learning a language requires practice and i dont think the "15 minutes a day are enough" that duolingo promotes is nearly enough. I may sound a bit like an offended kid or a dense person but i think it's a shame that this post will have a negative effect on new users. Enough ranting, i must congratulate you on a really well made post and i think you should write more.

Ibrahim :

Hi @Mokar

I appreciate your criticism.

One theme that most commenters seems to persist is that they went outside the app to learn some more things. And I agree with that just like I stated it in the article. I don't think this post will hinder newcomers, instead, it will encourage them not to rely on a single app, that Guarantees it is all they'll ever need, to learn a new language.

USA essay writer :

Duolingo is a helpful application. When I was working as a developer in my previous company a lot of client’s used to speak French. Which was difficult for me to understand. So to learn French I used Duolingo app. No doubt it’s very helpful.

Adrianna :

I came to Germany a few months ago because I want to get my bachelor in chemistry from a German university (as they are know worldwide for their advancement in STEM fields). As I didn't want to get here without any knowledge at all I started to learn with Duolingo. At first I was totally amazed how easy I was making progression. I thought "Damn, German is so easy!"...and then I landed in Berlin. Well let me take a shortcut here: First thing I did was subscribing myself to a German intensive course (linked for reference) at the locally know speakeasy language school.... I was expecting to attend a language school. I wasn't expecting the low level I had to start at... So: yes Duolingo is nice and it was fun to learn, but for advanced topics and anything beyond daily survival it totally failed for me. I don't think this can be generalized that as we all learn differently, but this was for me a major bummer. I thought I could come to Germany and just attend the language school for about a month until I'm at level C1. I wasn't close to it. Well with the help of my teachers (who encourage me to talk as often as possible) Duolingo became sort of my modern vocabulary trainer, because even though I couldn't learn the language with this app I totally got the vocabulary straight from the beginning :D So my advice: Combine a language school with Duolingo...

A. :

What's the alternative then? Pick a English-to-Spanish handbook? Attend Spanish classes? Speak with a native without having any idea about their language?

Nobody said you are gonna be a native speaker just by using Duolingo. I would rather jump into reading a Spanish book or watching some Spanish TV show after learning the basics on Duolingo.

Basil :

Well, I have used Duolingo for Spanish for 20 days now. I used it before for 20 days, as well. I knew broken Spanish before. My Spanish was limited. Anyway, I can definitely say that my Spanish has improved a lot. I have 10,000 experience points for Spanish. I can think a lot in Spanish. I have been going through at least 100 XP sometimes much, much more. You said you did say 5 lessons. Some of us go through anywhere from 10-40 when we have time. I also repeat the sentences out loud. I do know that coche is used in Spain. And carro is used in the Americas, but last I looked, Duolingo uses "carro", not coche. Also, your friend's response to your use of coche was too much. He just should have told you that in California people would say carro, and that's all.I think you should probably edit your original post to be more accurate when depicting Duolingo. I use it much more than you did and burned through thousands of points, and I can see the difference when I type sentences in Spanish on the app Hello Talk.

I think you were too harsh with your criticisms of Duolingo. Plenty of us actually make major strides with Duolingo. I don't rely only on Duolingo. I actually started with Memrise. I find Duolingo more useful for me after I went through a ton of Memrise. However, some people achieved an A1-A2 level of some languages, and it's free. Reaching A2 with a free app isn't bad at all.

Guillaume :


What about "hello talk" app to talk to real people?

Craig Allen :

I'm Australian and started learning Portuguese on Duolingo after a trip to East Timor where it is one of the languages.

I completed the course, then did some in the Memrise app. I also took classes with a Brazilian teacher and watched a lot of Netflix dubbed and/or subtitled in Portuguese. I read books in Portuguese with the Kindle app on my Android phone, integrated with Google translate so I can look up words and phrases as I go. All the while I've been doing google searches to solve grammar mysteries that I encounter.

Then I visited Brazil for six weeks, had a great time and communicated, clumsily but well enough to make friends and interact with everyone I met. Back in Australian, I met and am dating a lovely Brazilian woman who is studying English here. We chat and text in both Portugues and English.

Duolingo is useful but not sufficient. It will help you acquire a basic foundation in a language. But you need to use as many methods as you can simultaneously.

And I can see that over the four years I have been using it, it is definitely improving. They are constantly testing and developing both the app features and the course constantly.

Give it a go. It's worth the effort. I'm now studying Indonesian in preparation for a trip to Bali. Next I'll do Spanish.

Terry :

There is always a difference between formal language and they way people actually speak. I took german in high school the teacher was from Esse. I spoke german in bavaria with no complaints but in frankfurt i was told just to speak english. So i am learning spanish and than my girlfriend can teach me Mexican lol

Ali :

First of all I should say that I’m not a native English speaker and my mother tongue isn’t latin based. I learned English the academic way for some time and continued on my own for a few years by watching videos, reading books, talking to natives, etc and I’m now at a point that I can confidently say I’m at least conversionally fluent according to many native speakers.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s get to the point about Duolingo. I started studying Spanish using this app, and I’ve almost finished the course. As someone with experience in learning a new language to fluency from scratch, I should say that you are both right and wrong at the same time. Yes, Duo doesn’t teach you to speak a new language. At least it’s not a sufficient tool to do so. But here’s the point, nothing is. Neither is a traditional class in a fancy institute or university. In order to learn a new language, you first need to make a solid basis in terms of common words and simple grammar, and then improve upon it by reading, watching videos, listening to music and talking to native speakers. And btw, by reading and listening I don’t mean the stuff that are made for training new speakers. I mean the actual stuff that a native speaker uses. By watching movies in your target language, reading the novels that are made for the native speakers, etc, you are immersing yourself in that language the same way that a child would learn and improve his/her language skills. And I know all this because that’s what I did with my English, and was really successful doing it. To be able to do that, as I said again, you’d need to get a good basis, and wether you use a traditional form of learning like a classroom environment or an app like duolingo(which is much cheaper and probably easier), you can get to that level. Now I’m not denying the fact that a class would get you further than an app, and that’s because the other students are your language partners and you’ll have more opportunities to practice you speaking, but neither of them are enough. Anyone who claims that apps like duo are useless or that you can master a language to the level of fluency just by attending classes is a fool. But people that are radical supporters of duo and think that the app on its own is enough are even more of a fool because of their claims. As this text stated, language is not a syntax. By learning the language, you are learning a culture and therefore have to immerse yourself in that language as much as you can in order to do that. As a wise man once said, when you talk to yourself like a crazy person, but in a different language, you know you are leaning the language correctly.

On a side note I should mention that even when learning with duo, just doing the exercises isn’t enough. You should take notes of every thing you learn whether via the app or by some other method, and actually review them to make sure that you have learnt it correctly. That’s how you can form that strong basis that I was talking about earlier.

Ali :

After reading the comments I should add another thing. In one of your replies you claimed that duo doesn’t have any lessons and is just pop up questions. WRONG. If you opened you eyes and looked more clearly, there is a lamp icon on every lesson which you should check before learning the lesson, in which you will learn the grammar that the lesson is using (and they make a really good job of teaching you that grammar, btw). Also, when youkre doing the lessons, you shouldn’t just go with the flow of the app. Try to close your eyes before the sentence shows up and try to figure out what is being said before seeing the Spanish(or any other language’s) text. When you are asked to translate from, say English to Spanish, don’t look at the word buttons or use any hints. Try to say the sentence on your own and outloud with the correct pronunciation, and then answer the question. These wwre just a few examples of how to learn things with duo. Since you claimed that you messed up the Un/Uno or Él/Ella or that you couldn’t correctly count to 10, specially as these are amongst the first things one would learn with duo, I kinda feel like you weren’t really using the app at all. And btw, that 50 xp/day thing is not enough at all. I’m a med student and don’t really have too much free time, yet I tend to finish a lesson until level 5 everyday. It means that I’m gaining more or less 300 xp/day on average. When I have more free fime I might actually do over 800 xps in a day. If you limit yourself to what the apps wants you to do, you can’t even reach the basis I was talking about in the other comment. With this mindset and laziness, you just wouldn’t be successful with an actual Spanish class either. In other words, you’re not qualified to review something you don’t know how to use.

Pika :

From this post, I would be quite discouraged to learn new languages using Duolingo...

But I think it is really caused by your expectation, circumstances etc. I've recently started to learn Spanish with Duolingo and I've found it to be really effective (for me waaaaaay more than flashcards). Still, I learn and teach languages, so I am well aware that I need to do much more than just learn using an app. Learning a language is a complex process, too complex for you to be able to learn it only with an app. It also depends on how you're using it. If you are not sure about the grammar and you don't find the answer in the app, look elsewhere. If it teaches you numbers, try to say them from one to ten on your own etc. And also, you have to learn using other methods too.

  • Btw, the only thing you need as a learner is to get the other person understand your idea and it doesn't really matter if you suck at grammar or use a wrong word. No one in their right mind can expect you to be perfect if you're learning only for a short time... and with app.

Dickon :

Well my experience is mixed, so let me just explain my situation first.

I am British and my wife is Mexican, and we live in the UK so the only practical Spanish practice I get is when we decide to try and have a solo spanish lesson.

I have been to many latin countries and had proper Spanish lessons from a Catalonian lady a few years back, so I can most definitely know how to count to 10 and the days of the week.

The el and the la is more repeat and looking at the sentence structure and the word than just what the lessons say.

I am using it, because it is helping me improve my vocabulary, and yes I do try to do more than the max 50 points per day, but also whenever possible I switch the 'select a word' off and attempt to type in the correct response.

It is far too easy to just click through and gain points when the choices of t-shirts are offered as "camiseta" and "rojo", but if you have to actually type in the right answer with no hints you very quickly get good or lose hearts.

I would say that it is a very useful tool, but like every workman would say, you need to have more than one tool in the toolbox.

I am sure that if you push yourself and use it as both a source of reference, refresher, confidence booster and catalyst to other methods of learning then your fluency in the language will improve.

It also helps if you say everything out loud to someone fluent in the language who can help you with the phonetics of the language you are trying to grasp.

Lise Charbonneau :

I would like to learn Free Spanish language..

Thank you Lise

Barsw :

Studying 50xp isn't studying. I did 500-1000xp a day to learn Portuguese and studied the accompanying grammar. And I studied it Eng to Port, then reverse, than from Spanish and so on. After 3 months I was able to express myself in Portuguese, watch Brazilian movies with Portuguese subtitles and so on. I also used Memrise to strengthen the most used works. So my conclusion is: Duolingo does work but it still requires 500-1000 hours to learn a new language if it is in your language group

Ibrahim :

@Barsw I completely agree, That's what I stated in the article. Duolingo is only a catalyst in learning a new language. If you only follow its suggestions, you won't go very far. You have to supplement it with outside material.

Awesomystic :

Sorry but I disagree with you. I've mastered not only Spanish but also Italian with Duolingo. Full confidence while talking to natives and I got compliments everywhere. It does work but remember to keep the eggs golden that's the key to master Spanish or any other languages on duo lingo

Bonnie Covert :

Duo Lingo is amazing and you can learn a lot of basics. But I agree with those who say that at some point you need to talk face-to-face with a person. When you are ready, there is a website called You can find people learning your native language who speak the language that you are wanting to learn, you can trade conversation time with people in that community. Or, you can pay for a tutor or a teacher. Give it a try it's pretty amazing as well.

Ibrahim :

@bonnie thanks for the recommendation. I'll take a look

Learner :

You are right about Duolingo being useful as only a starter, I have roughly 6000xp with it but still can't converse in Spanish.

There is no repetition and urgency involved with Duolingo as there is when taking an in-person Spanish class in which the stakes are higher.

That being said classes aren't a luxury for everyone, I have decided to give Busuu a try in the mean time as it seems to be more structured than Duolingo.

But I think that when the heats on you and you have to speak to people in Spanish and there's no alternative, that's when and how learning is done best. Being fully immersed in the language.

Daedeb Dluohsi :

Duolingo is the worst language site I have ever found... I wasted months on there only to be trolled by the lessons by force feeding my brain incorrect information and not being allowed to skip that to continue on.

Samantha :

I am supplementing Duo with books/movies/music, but the app has taught me so much including numbers, colors, and basic everyday convos. I cover up the words before translating and don’t just zip through the lessons. If you just zip through them and press the buttons (as I did with Rosetta Stone Mandarin) you won’t learn anything. As of 2020, they also have a tips feature and I still get un/una and este/esta etc mixed up, but listening and reading it in real life has helped.

Jessica :

I've been using Duolingo for Spanish for the past week. Last night was a lot of el tran, el aeroporte, and el carro. (carro was indeed used so maybe it's been updated, idk) For me it has been quite helpful. I already had a smattering of kitchen Spanglish under my belt as well as some long forgotten high school Spanish, and it's bringing all of that back (without the profanity, lol).

Do I think I will become fluent with it? Hardly, but it will get me back up and running enough that I can order beer and burgers and then get directions to the bathroom afterwards, and that's a start.

Joe :

I have been learning with Duolingo. The coche is car in Spain, not the Americas. So is marido. Marido is husband in Spain.

Juan Marco :

No pos por pendeja

Steve :

It seems the app has improved a lot since you used it.

I already spoke Mandarin (Chinese), but I'm taking it in the app now to refresh, and everything is accurate (occasional pronunciation difference from how I learned some words, due to regional dialects, but still totally fine).

I'm learning Russian and Spanish in the app too. I have nothing by which I can gauge my Russian progress, but I can understand most of what my roommates are saying now (they don't know I'm learning Spanish, yet).

Here's the thing: I don't do between 50-200 XP every day... I do between 500-3,000 XP points every day.

I've only been using it for about 2 months, and it's doing wonders for me.

But yeah, if you only do 200 XP per day and don't actually try to progress through the tree, and also don't review your finished lessons, then you could use it for years and never learn a language.

Shoot for AT LEAST 1,000 XP every day. Do the entire tree. Constantly review finished lessons. Then, you'll finally be a beginner in the language.

Paul barrett :

You say english shares roots with latin, it does not english is a language from the Germanic family

Eva T Machado :

I'm learning german with duolingo and i can actually communicate, it does work. My genders are right, my tenses are, as well. It's your fault if you don't pay attention when learning or actually trying to memorize the genders. If you have no control over your el and la, that's your fault, not duoligo's, because i do have control over my die and der and my tenses with a similar streak :)

Jo :

I really question the validity of this article, or at least its objectivity. It seems to me that you'll get out of Duolingo whatever you put into it--it's not meant to make you fluent, but it IS a good starting point and a way to get your foot into the door. I certainly didn't become fluent in Spanish on Duolingo alone, but if you add in watching TV shows, movies, and speaking to people in the language (or just listening to people using it around you), you're going to have so much more luck with it. To blame the app for not handing you a language on a silver platter seems pretty lazy.

Learning a language is not an easy task, so I don't understand why anybody would expect Duolingo to be an easy program. It's difficult and it has flaws and some translational issues, but this is why there is a discussion board included in every single translation. If you have access to Duolingo, then you have access to the internet, which is a pot of gold as far as translational and language information goes.

Duolingo is NOT designed for creating fluency easily, or really at all. I wish people would stop framing it like it was.

Pawy :

My first thought was that those are some rookie numbers here. I'm going with atleast 150xp a day and that's because I use many other resources which fill all the gaps Duolingo leaves me with. Sometimos I go about 400-500xp but I dont have all day for that, if I do it I need to decrease amount of time spent on other resource (which is not good) - remember: try to start listening to conversations and start being vocal as soon as possible.

Ibrahim :


Duolingo is NOT designed for creating fluency easily, or really at all. I wish people would stop framing it like it was.

Well that's where you are confused. People are not framing it like that. Duolingo is. They made a claim, and I and many people disagree. You can't say that your app is scientifically proven to make fluent speakers. Those are the words they had on their homepage. So that's why articles like this exist, to challenge them on their non sense.

Sami Latif :

This article seems to have been written in an objective fashion, under the pretence that the claims made are subjective.

I'm truly sorry to hear how your friend discouraged you, broke your spirit as you have put it, my Bahraini father and many of my foreign friends make countless mistakes with the English language all the time, it's the only way to learn, but NEVER have I once thought their mistakes were cringy. Hearing someone make a mistake in your language should be a reminder of how hard it is to master a language, it should only increase your respect for those who are learning, not pity their image as they fail to perfectly converse.

I agree that Duolingo makes some pretty outlandish claims and I'm glad that there are people like you to flavour them with a dose of reality, but everything in proportion! DUOLINGO is free, and for some, the only way to learn and you will 100% get out of it what you put in.

I'd go as far as to say this article is toxic, for those reading my comment please supplement your learning with podcasts, youtube videos and other sources for further educational and motivational purposes (I listen to Spanish podcasts whilst at the gym and it's improved my response times immensely).

It's sad to see how motivated you once were and your perspective on the situation now, you clearly have a great work ethic and perhaps this may have been altered by your environment. Disregard the claims that Duo has made as I can only agree with you on that front, but why discourage others? You can do it, we all can, especially with the motivation that the online Spanish learning community has to offer.

Brooke :

I’m VERY curious when this article was written? I’ve been using Duolingo for a month now and I’m at about 25k XP. I shoot for a bubble a day and practicing all the other bubbles at least 1-2x every couple days. Goal is nothing goes broken. I feel I’m learning a lot and have zero issues with comprehending any of the language rules. This article was extremely hard to read. You sound like you weren’t even dedicated. There’s no excuse for not understanding the feminine vs masculine words.

Chicken Wing :

This helped me with tips but other than that Walter is kinda a jerk bro wth

Victoria :

I really like the concept of open sources, however learning a language is a complex process, it requires clear structures, a functional learning method all things that an app can't guarantee.

I speak 4 languages, German is my forth one, and the most difficult one to me. Using free apps could be a good and cheap start, but then as everything in life you get what you paid for. Sometimes unlearning an incorrect word from an app like Duolingo requires double the time and energy than learning the correct one.

In my experience investing in a good language course pays off on the long run! Last year I have signed up for a German course and 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 organized a cultural activity to better learn the language and the customs!

Krys :

This article was well written and had many important and also valid points. You need more than just Duolingo to learn a language. And in 2018 that was especially true!

I am very pleased with Duos overhaul of their Spanish course as of late 2021, and I have high hopes for the future as they continue to develop the course further.

Id be very interested in your thoughts/opinions on Duolingo since they have made so many changes. I still think the Duolingo app isn’t enough but if you join virtual Duolingo events and meet people to practice speaking with, and you follow their podcast- you’ll eventually achieve a good fluency.

I think articles like yours are one the reasons duo worked so hard to make so many changes so thank you for your insightful article.

Smoda :

If you worked at jobs surrounded by Spanish speakers and couldn’t learn it then you might have a learning disability. Not being sarcastic, immersion is the quickest way to learn a language and I know a ton of people who learned Spanish just from working in back of a restaurant with Mexicans for a couple years. Also if you were flying through the program at an obsessive pace, you were not giving yourself enough time to let the lessons sink in. I’m on Duolingo for 85 days now and I’m already able to pick up about half of anything I read in a Spanish newspaper down here in Miami. I only use it for about 40 minutes a day but also you wrote this a couple years ago. The amount of courses has increased so much since then and they also have improved on their approach to learning. But it definitely sounds like the issue is more with you, you shouldn’t write something that discourages people from using a very beneficial tool based on your inability to learn from it.

Dhfgvffhh :

I will never learn any language by any means.

Olivia N. :

I have the same problem when I use google translate, and i never find the real answer

Jack Watts :

Duolingo is a tool. How you use the tool makes a difference. If your goal is simply to "complete the course in record time", then it's not a surprise that it's not that helpful in actually learning a language.

Is your goad to "win the game", or to learn a language? If it's the latter, than you absolutely can learn the language with Duolingo as a primary tool. 1) It shouldn't be the only tool 2) the goal should be to comprehend as much as possible, not to check as many boxes as possible, as quickly as possible

Courtney :

I have been using Duoling for 303 days and the one thing I knew is that you're not going to be fluent because you use it, but it will make you a far better speaker than you think. In the end, you still need to practice your Spanish with those who are willing to help you. Fluency comes over a long long period of time and immersion and even then you're semi-fluent. That's why better than nothing, but I have to say that since I've been on the app, when I hear Spanish now it all makes sense and I can have some pretty decent conversations.

AmazingTalker :

I think the only way to practice speaking is to find a real person and chat with him frequently.

Vincent Joseph :

Hello and good luck to all.

I speak several languages.

I have several criticisms of Duolingo. One is that I have very rarely read of anyone using a dictionary or even consulting any online dictionaries. It's like a state secret that dictionaries even exist. Another is the most important. Your pronunciation is very important. While the spoken word in Duolingo is generally of a high quality, suggestions for improving one's accent and smoothness in speaking are nonexistent. That's a shame since saying something grammatically incorrect but well said is probably going to be overlooked as a horrible voice and poor pronunciation make the listener ready to take off for an important appointment. Think about Junior's voice or Zari's. UGH more later.

Ibrahim Diallo :

Thanks @Vincent, You are right. Dictionaries is a secret weapon no one wants to use!

But I suspect it's because apps are gamified and want you to spend all your time on the app and nowhere else.

Paul Smith :

It’s definitely you. Sorry, this isn’t an insult in any way and I hope you don’t take it that way, but I use duolingo and have been for just under two years. While I certainly wouldn’t consider myself fluent in Spanish, I can definitely have conversations with spanish speakers from various different countries (Mexico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Spain, etc). Native Spanish speakers are always shocked when I tell them I pretty much strictly use duolingo for learning. I sometimes watch movies in Spanish as well but most of my actual learning comes from the app as movies just help me to hear Spanish being used by native speakers. Perhaps you just learn differently, and need to implement a secondary source of learning to help you progress. I think that using this app is like anything in life, if you devote time to it consistently and stay engaged while studying - you will learn. If you are inconsistent, distracted, multi tasking and don’t put in the time - you won’t.

elle fitz :

I enjoy Duolingo and have found that it has vastly improved my understanding of the language. I live in The Bronx, lots of Spanish speaking people here. SO I do get to try out my new "skills" regularly. If you want to have some fun, do Duolingo in your native language to see if it seems accurate. English is my native language- I go to the English language course. I see that the pronunciation is exaggerated but the grammar is correct. There isn't anything INCORRECT so I have more confidence that Duolingo is teaching me properly in the language I want to learn ( Spanish)

Kwasi :

Thank you for your insightful article. I started learning Spanish in middle school and continued through high school. In my adolescence I briefly attended a Spanish speaking church and I grew up with many, many native speakers. I took additional Spanish coursework in college and even tested out of some of the coursework. When I was speaking and listening in Spanish consistently, I could easily translate content from TV or radio and carry on conversations without issue.

For me, Duolingo was intended to get me to where I could start using Spanish in my work by getting the language back in my ear and in my mouth. In some cases, what I am getting from Duolingo is not what I learned in school or used in real life. I don't know if this is because it is not intended to be comprehensive or some other reason.

After spending the last two weeks using Duolingo to "brush up" my Spanish, something I noticed from the beginning began to become more and more frustrating to me as I progressed. Duolingo seems to be translating more "thought for thought" in some cases or perhaps even the general sense of sentences from Spanish to English (when you select answers, etc.) but it is NOT translating these sentences literally (or accurately) in cases where there is no reason not to.

This might not seem like a big deal, but if you are planning to use a second language in a business environment or something similar, this could be a very big deal. So, I can understand your friend's frustration. At first this issue was mildly annoying, but the further I get into the course, the more I suspect I will need to move on to a different platform.

While I suspect that Duolingo has made substantial updates to its content since your initial experience with it, I can see where using it would be self-limiting for serious students.

Let's hear your thoughts

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