500-day streak in Duolingo: Is it useful?
Hallo, Ciao, Selam, Shalom, Hujambo,
Duolingo is basically a language learning app that gamifies the learning experience into a fun game, it does a very good job of pushing you into opening and playing the app for at least 5 minutes a day.
I’ve been using Duolingo on-and-off since 2014, through many of my life stages and various language learning methods as I moved abroad into new countries every few years. Now, after finally completing my goal of reaching a 500-day streak continuously, I can finally speak on how useful the app is.
Does Duolingo help in learning a language?
For an introduction and push into beginner’s level, then yes. However it falls very short into teaching you the full language, nothing really does unless its a combination of immersion (studying + listening + conversing).
Learning a language requires lots of active exposure to authentic language setting. Duolingo, as an app, has its own limitations (well, even text books). Naturally, I learned way more through immersion in living in various new countries by forcing myself to speak the language for ‘survival’.
What I found through practicing many languages on Duolingo and completing the full Italian tree/course; the app goes a long way in teaching, though with its own limitations. Limitations that depend on the type of language you are studying:
- Learning a language while actively taking lessons/exposure in: This is where I find Duolingo shines the best, being able to practice and learn the language with full immersion makes the app useful.
- Learning a language that is in a similar group to a langauge you already know (eg. 🇮🇹 speaker learning 🇪🇸): Duolingo makes it easy to understand and pick up similar cues and comparison between the languages.
- Learning a new language writing system: In languages with new writing system, Duolingo does a very good job of repeating the lessons and making you hand draw the letters step by step until memorisation without real studying (At least in my experience in Hebrew).
- Revising a language you already know: Useful in remembering vocabulary, and to remember any short comings in grammer.
- Learning a language in a new language group (eg. 🏴 speaker learning 🇹🇷): After the initial introductory first lessons, the language quickly becomes very difficult to understand grammer-wise.
My favourite two aspects of Duolingo are: 1. Having friends as competition. 2. The value of routine. Duolingo makes it easy to add friends, and watch their progress and ‘tease/support’ each other as you watch their scores and daily streak advances — helps into finding competition and admiration to those who score higher than yourself. And the other point is how it teaches you the value of conssistent lessons and everyday study, watching your self ‘grow’ day by day.
After a while, the daily classes and streak becomes more of a chore, where you end up completing easy lessons just to pass by the daily streak. And after your out-compete your friends and complete the full language lesson (or tree), there is little reason to return. I completed my Italian tree and found barely helped with my grammar.
And I personally believe, as a visual person, that half of the language learning happens through body language, posture and watching how each word is spelled through the natives’ mouth. And the most important part of language learning is speaking to humans after all, and knowing that no app would be able to replace a complex human life, Duolingo shouldn’t have high expectation of language learning.
In summary, I do find Duolingo useful. We do not need to gatekeep language learning —we need to understand the limitation of using one method of languages learning. That does not mean we can’t learn a language for fun or for no reason of course, especially that not everyone can afford the other methods such as living abroad or private lessons. So I will always recommend Duolingo as a second or third best option for a casual learner.
I do feel slight melancholy ending Duolingo, but as my language goals changed into focusing deeply into one language and one new alphabet at a time — I feel it is my time to finally leave the digital method and into the physical world again. And so, on this 500-day streak, I have finally deleted the app from my phone, my iPad and my work computer. I don’t have a heart to see my streak disappear and the notorious owl to stalk me.
Thank you Duolingo. Adios.