Is Duolingo Any Good? An Honest Review + Better Language Apps for Travel

Is Duolingo Good - An Honest Review Plus the Best Language Apps for Travel

An Honest Duolingo Review

If you've ever searched for language learning apps to use on your smartphone, you've almost certainly come across Duolingo. It's by far the most popular language learning program for smartphones and is used by 300 million people all over the world.

One of the great things about Duolingo is that it has made language learning accessible to everyone. You don't even have to speak English to use it.

The app also works for Spanish speakers who want to learn Catalan, or French speakers who want to learn German, for example. When learning from English, you can learn any of 32 Duolingo languages.

But the question is: is Duolingo good? Does it work?? In this brutally honest Duolingo review, I'll share with you both the good and the bad sides of trying to learn a foreign language using Duolingo.

This review is based on my own experience as an avid language learner and Duolingo user.

I have been studying foreign languages for many years, several of them to quite a high level. Before I quit my job to travel the world as a vegan travel blogger, I was a translator for the UN.

My husband and I even co-host a podcast for learners of English, so language learning is a big part of my life! And over the years, I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to learning a foreign language.

In this review, I'll focus in particular on the needs of language learners who are trying to learn a new language for travel purposes. And, in addition to explaining what Duolingo offers, I'll also talk about some other (better) apps for learning languages on the go.

But first, here's the nitty gritty on that cute little green owl called Duo and his super-popular app Duolingo.


Duolingo review - Duo , the cute little green owl, is the Duolingo mascot.

Duolingo review - Duo , the cute little green owl, is the Duolingo mascot.

Is Duolingo Free?

The best thing about Duolingo, and the reason it has become so popular, is that it's free. The company's tagline is "Learn a language for free. Forever."

Actually, the company follows a freemium business model. This means that they offer a free language learning tool and then try to convince you to upgrade to the premium version once you're hooked.

The premium version, called Duolingo Plus, costs $6.99 per month. I tried it for a month, and, to be honest, I don't really think it's worth the price, unless you're traveling in a country where you don't have data service on your phone.

All of the language learning features are already included in the free version of the app. The main extra features of Duolingo Plus are an ad-free learning environment and the ability to download lessons for offline learning.

Gamification in Duolingo

So, what about those language learning features? How does Duolingo help you to learn a language? Well, it does so by turning language acquisition into a game. And this is one thing that the developers definitely got right. Duolingo is fun, and it's addictive!

You can earn badges, climb up the leaderboards, and collect lingots, which you then spend on things like cute little outfits to dress your Duolingo mascot in. But for me, the most effective game element in Duolingo is the streak count.

duolingo review - streak count

Is Duolingo good? Well, it's very good at keeping me motivated.

A fire icon at the top of the screen records how many days in a row you have studied a language on Duolingo. Keeping my streak count turned out to be a VERY motivational factor for me. In fact, it got me hooked on Duolingo to the point where I was willing to overlook its many flaws. And yes, there are many.

Advanced Language Learning in Duolingo

Let me first say that Duolingo is primarily for beginners who just want to learn the basics. If you can already read 17th-century German Baroque poetry and want to level up your German game, this is not the app for you.

That's not to say that you have to start at the very beginning, though. It is possible to test out of multiple lessons at one time until you reach the right level for you.

If you already have a decent foundation and just want some reviews and extra practice of your language skills, Duolingo could work for you. But if you are at an advanced level, you'll probably find it too easy.

When researching this article, I used Duolingo to study eight different languages: Chinese, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Hindi, and Japanese. The first five of those languages I have studied and practiced for several years and speak pretty well.

Russian, I studied at an intermediate level several years ago and then stopped practicing. In the case of Hindi and Japanese, this was my first time studying these languages.

I had fun using Duolingo to study the languages I already knew well. The problem was, it just wasn't challenging enough. I tested out of most of the lessons and just did the ones I needed to reach the first of what Duolingo calls the "Crown Levels". In reality, I wasn't learning much; I was just in it for the crowns. See, gamification works!

Once I saw the golden owl standing on the top of the podium telling me I had "conquered" those languages, I stopped using Duolingo for all of them except Chinese (which is the weakest of the five for me).

Duolingo gamification - conquering a language

Woo hoo! I'm on top of the podium!

You can keep going deeper into the levels, and the content is supposed to get harder. This is what I am doing with Chinese, but so far, it's still a bit too easy for my level. I'm OK with that, though, because my Chinese skills are rusty, and I'm just trying to refresh them a bit.

In my Russian studies, I reached a point where I was no longer able to test out, so I completed a lot more of those lessons than I did in the other languages. Eventually, I also "conquered" Russian.

This is kind of a ridiculous thing to say, because I can barely string a sentence together in Russian. But I'll get to that in a minute.

Beginner Language Learning in Duolingo

First, let's talk about what it's like to learn a language from scratch using only Duolingo. Because that's probably what you're here for, right?

I realize that most people are not language geeks like me and don't spend hundreds of hours practicing Chinese characters just for fun. I'm a weirdo, I know.

Maybe you just want to learn a few useful travel words and phrases for your next trip overseas. Can you do that on Duolingo?

Umm, maybe. But I can't really recommend it.

Lack of Grammar Explanations in Duolingo

I have two major complaints with Duolingo. The first is that there are no explanations of grammar rules. You are just supposed to pick up the rules intuitively as you go through the lessons, which are mostly multiple choice and translation questions.

Perhaps this would work if you were learning a language that was quite similar to your own. For native speakers of French who were trying to learn Spanish, for example, the grammar might be similar enough for them to figure out what was going on.

But as a native English speaker trying to learn Japanese -- a language that has complicated grammar and three separate writing systems and is nothing at all like English -- I needed help, and I wasn't getting it from Duolingo.

And I had an advantage over the typical English speaker, since many of the characters used in Japanese are the same as in Chinese. Even then, I was still lost!

I will say that is seems the app developers are working to change this. After a recent update, a little lightbulb icon now appears when I open a Chinese lesson. If I click on the lightbulb, it opens a page of brief grammar/cultural notes.

Cultural and Grammar Notes in Duolingo

Cultural notes in a Duolingo Chinese lesson

This does not appear in any of the other languages I've tried, though. Let's hope Duolingo will be rolling this out to other language lessons soon.

UPDATE June 2019: It looks like the grammar and cultural notes are gradually being rolled out for all languages. I now see them for Japanese, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian as well as Chinese, but still not for Czech, Hindi or Russian.

Ineffective Language Learning Exercises

And now for my second big complaint about Duolingo: it's too easy to guess the right answer. A multiple-choice question is much easier than an open-ended question where you have to come up with the answer yourself. And there are no open-ended questions in Duolingo.

Even when Duolingo asks you to translate a sentence, it gives you a jumble of words to choose from, so you basically just have to put the words in the right order. In practice, this means that you don't really learn, even if you get the answer right.

When trying to learn Japanese, I found that I kept progressing to harder and harder lessons without having learned the content from the previous lessons. I could have just kept guessing the right answers, but I knew that it wasn't getting me anywhere.

UPDATE June 2019: After a reader suggested this in the comments (thanks Alena!), I gave Japanese learning with Duolingo another try.

This time, instead of moving on to the next content bubble as  soon as it is unlocked (after reaching level 1 on the previous bubble), I am continuing to study the same bubble until I reach at least level 3. This approach, combined with the new grammar notes, is working much better.

I still wouldn't recommend trying to learn a language solely with Duolingo, but I do believe it can be a useful tool when combined with other things, at least for some languages. Probably still not for Hindi (see below).

When trying to learn Hindi on Duolingo, I couldn't even make it past the alphabet. There were so many letters that sounded exactly alike, and the disorganized way in which Duolingo was presenting them to me certainly wasn't helping.

So, eventually I gave up and started looking for other language learning apps. I found several that were much more effective than Duolingo, which I will share below.

Before moving on to those other apps, though, I should mention that both the lack of grammar explanations and the lack of open-ended questions are apparently resolved in the desktop version of Duolingo. But who wants to sit behind a computer to study?

If you're like me, you need a study tool that you can take with you and whip out during those random minutes of free time throughout the day, like riding the subway or waiting in a doctor's office. That's why this article is about language learning apps, not language learning computer programs.

Better Language Apps for Travel

Lingodeer - best app to learn Japanese, Chinese or Korean

LIngodeer also has a cute mascot. He's a deer.

When I finally switched from Duolingo to Lingodeer to learn Japanese, it was like someone had flipped on a light switch in my brain. Everything started making sense!

Those grammar explanations I had been missing? They’re all there for when you want them, but they can also be skipped if you don’t want them. And the level of difficulty was just right. It was easy enough that I felt encouraged rather than frustrated, but challenging enough that I actually learned the content I was studying.

Like Duolingo, Lingodeer also has a lot of the gamification features that make learning fun.

Lingodeer language learning app - gamification

Who doesn't want to win a trophy?

Speaking Your Target Language

In addition, it also gets you speaking the language, not just listening to it. Actually, I do remember doing some speaking exercises in the Russian modules of Duolingo, but not in any of the other languages.

In any case, Lingodeer will get you speaking from the very beginning. You can listen to a native speaker pronouncing a word or sentence, then record yourself repeating it and play back the recording to compare your pronunciation.

At the end of each lesson is a "Story" section, where you can record a voice-over for a short video using the words and phrases you learned in the lesson.

The Best App to Learn Japanese, Chinese or Korean

Lingodeer is geared primarily to learners of Asian languages, so there's a strong focus on teaching the characters. You can watch animations that show you how to draw each character stroke by stroke.

For this reason, I highly recommend Lingodeer as the best app to learn Japanese. It's also probably the best app to learn Chinese or Korean.

The number of languages you can learn on Lingodeer is pretty limited right now, although it's growing all the time. In addition to Chinese, Japanese and Korean, English speakers can also learn Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Vietnamese.

UPDATE June 2019: Lingodeer has now added Russian. Yay! And for most languages, they have also added a second level for more advanced learners.

Other language combinations are also available. For example, Russian speakers can learn Japanese, and Bahasa Indonesian speakers can learn English.

Advanced Language Learning with Lingodeer

While the initial course will teach you the basics of the language, for some languages there is also a second, more advanced course. In addition to studying the level 1 Lingodeer course in Japanese, I’m also studying the level 2 Lingodeer course in Chinese.

Since I’ve already studied Chinese for several years, it’s still well below my actual level. But it’s a fun way to review, and, unlike with Duolingo, I do feel like I’m actually (re)learning some Chinese with Lingodeer.

There’s a good variety of different types of exercises in each lesson. While this does include multiple choice, there are also some more challenging tasks, and you can do extra reviews in the form of a pop quiz any time you want.

The lessons come in a set order, on topics such as nationality, gender and days of the week. If you want an all-around knowledge of a language, it’s nice to have this structure to tell you what to study next.

And if you’re not starting from scratch with a language, there are various test-out checkpoints where you can skip ahead.

Language Learning for Travel

On the other hand, if you just want to learn basic Japanese for travel, it’s not ideal. There’s another app that I’ll mention below that’s better for just learning Japanese phrases for travelers (as well as travel phrases in many other languages).

That being said, the topic of travel does come up pretty early on in the Lingodeer lessons.

Lingodeer app - useful phrases for traveling

Hey, that's my hobby too!

One thing I did notice today while using Lingodeer is that some of the sentences taught are rather … unorthodox. Like this one:

Japanese phrases for travelers

Not the kind of example sentence you typically find in school textbooks.

or this one:

Lingodeer - language learning app for travel

Geez, that deer has a bit of an attitude!

Perhaps this is an Asian cultural influence? I’m not sure which country the developers are from, but I have a feeling this wouldn’t fly in a US-based company. In any case, the lessons are based around real-life, everyday topics.

And it’s kind of refreshing (and I guess realistic?) to learn words like “lazy” and “dumb” in addition to “smart” and “pretty”.

Lingodeer as a Stand-Alone Language Learning Method

Overall, Lingodeer seems to work well as a stand-alone language teaching method. If you used only Lingodeer and nothing else to study, you would still get a pretty solid foundation. And that’s something I definitely can’t say about Duolingo.

Of course, as you progress, you should still seek out as many opportunities as possible to listen, read and speak if you really want to learn a language. Keep reading for my review of another app that will help you do just that.

But Lingodeer is a very good starting point. It’s also available for offline study, so you can download all your lessons at once and take them with you.

Drops - best app to learn useful phrases for travelling

Just want to learn useful travel phrases? Try this app.

Visual Learning

If you are a visual learner, then you’re probably going to love Drops.

Drops teaches the basics of language learning – words – in quick 5-minute word games (matching pictures with words, completing phrases, solving word puzzles, etc.). What stands out the most about Drops is the way that it uses images to teach a language.

Duolingo is entirely based on the written language, while Lingodeer uses a combination of word-based and picture-based exercises. But in Drops, every single word or phrase taught is associated with a picture.

Visual Learning of a Foreign Language with Drops

In Drops, every word or phrase you learn is associated with a picture.

So far, I’ve only used Drops to study Hindi, and since I’m an absolute beginner at Hindi, I’m mostly just learning individual words and a few short phrases. And for this, the picture-based method is great.

It really does feel like a game, and my allotment of five minutes of study time per day simply flies by (if you upgrade to the premium version you can study for more than five minutes).

At some point, I would like to be able to string whole sentences together in Hindi, so it will be interesting to see how Drops handles more advanced levels of language learning.

With Lingodeer, I’m already learning full sentences and sentence patterns in Japanese, even at a beginner level. In Drops, I’m not sure if or when that will happen.

But with Hindi, my goal is not to become fluent. I really just want to learn a few useful phrases for my vegan trip to India this summer, and the Drops method is great for that.

So, while Lingodeer gets my vote as the best app to learn Japanese or Chinese, Drops is my favorite Hindi language learning app.

Keep in mind, I have different personal goals for those languages. If you just want to learn basic Japanese for travel, then Drops is probably the quickest way to learn simple Japanese phrases for travelers.

And there are more than 30 languages to choose from in Drops, so, no matter where you’re headed on your next trip, Drops can probably teach you a bit of the local lingo.

Lessons are divided by topic, and you can skip around to any topic you want. This is also really handy for travelers, particularly if you have specialized interests.

For example, since I will be leading a vegan tour of India (find out more about that here), and food will be a major part of the tour, I’m focusing on the Hindi lessons about food and drinks.

And while there are other translation apps that can help you order vegan food, I would recommend that all vegan travelers use Drops to learn a few words like “meat”, “cheese” and “eggs” in the local language of their destination.

Drops is ideal for travelers who are looking for a low-impact, effective, and fun way to learn a new language. Plus, you can use Drops offline, so you don’t have to be searching for Wi-Fi all the time while you’re traveling.

It's already a cult classic and was just named Google's Best App of 2018.


Memrise - flashcards and a bit more

Instead of a cuddly animal, Memrise has a spaceship/astronaut theme.

I had known about Memrise for a while, but I had always thought it was just a flashcard program. And while that’s mainly true, the company has also developed language courses that include other types of exercises in addition to flashcards.

Some of those exercise types are only available with a premium account, but others are free to use. With Memrise, it’s important to understand the difference between the official language courses and the user-generated, “community” courses.

Language learning exercises in Memrise

The different types of language learning exercises in Memrise.

The official courses are created by Memrise, and they all follow a similar pattern and must meet a certain quality standard. Currently, there are official Memrise courses for 18 different languages, including two different variants of Spanish and Portuguese.

There are community courses for many other languages, but be aware that the quality of these varies dramatically. Anyone who signs up for a Memrise account can create a community course.

Often, these are meant to be personal study aids to accompany an outside course or textbook. In my experience, many of them are unusable as a stand-alone study tool. I tried several community Hindi courses on Memrise, and they were all pretty useless.

Eventually I discovered Drops, which is clearly the best Hindi language learning app I’ve found, and I gave up on Memrise for Hindi.

I’m still using it for Russian, however. Unlike the Hindi courses, the Russian course is an official Memrise course, so I’m confident that the content is accurate. Although, like with Lingodeer, I sometimes come across an unusual phrase or two …

Memrise - best vocabulary app

You did what now?

Here’s hoping I won’t need to use that sentence when I travel across Russia on the Trans-Mongolia.

If Lingodeer had a level 2 Russian course, I would probably use that instead, but for now they just have level 1. Memrise has seven different levels in Russian, and I’m currently working my way through the fourth level.

So far, for my language level, Memrise has been the best app to learn Russian of the ones I’ve tried. It’s mostly just for building vocabulary, though.

[UPDATE May 2020: Two pieces of good news to report:

1. I made it safely across Russia and Mongolia without wetting the bed.

2. Lingodeer has released a Level 2 Russian course, which I'm now working my way through.]

For practicing listening and reading comprehension, I use a different app, called Beelinguapp.


Beelinguapp - learn a language through reading and listening

Beelinguapp gives you the mass input you need to really learn a foreign language.

Beelinguapp is rather different from the other apps described above. While some of those above focus on learning vocabulary words, and others teach a combination of vocabulary and grammar, all of them teach through exercises (multiple-choice, fill in the blank, translation, etc.)

But Beelinguapp teaches through bilingual audiobooks. Inside the app, you can read a short story, an article or even a whole novel in a foreign language side-by-side with your native language.

When you come across a word you don’t know, you can simply look at the English version (or whichever language you choose as your native language) to help you along.

In addition, you can also listen to a native speaker read to you as you follow along with a karaoke-style prompt that shows exactly where you are in the story.

Bilingual reading in Beelinguapp

Read a story in two languages at once with Beelinguapp.

There are many different types of audiobooks inside the app, ranging from fairy tales to scientific papers. And you can read and listen to them in 13 different languages.

If you are an absolute beginner language learner, then this is probably not the best app for you to start with. I recommend learning the basics first with one of the other language learning apps reviewed here.

What’s the Best Way to Learn a Language?

But once you’ve built up a decent vocabulary and have a basic understanding of grammar, you need to get as much input as you can in your learning language to really advance. After all, this is how you learned your native language, right?

Sure, you studied grammar in school, but you were already speaking fluently well before your first day of school. And how did you learn to speak your own language fluently?

By listening to the people around you speaking. So, to speak a second language fluently, you’re going to need more than grammar exercises and vocabulary flashcards.

What you need is mass input, and reading and listening to stories in your target language is an excellent way to do that.

Language Learning Apps You Can Afford

The language learning apps reviewed here are the best ones I have found at an affordable price. Some of them have limited free versions, while others just have a free trial. None of them will break the bank, though.

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An Honest Review of the Best Language Apps for Travel

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About Wendy Werneth

Intrepid traveler, vegan foodie and animal lover. I uncover vegan treasures all around the world, so you can be vegan anywhere and spread compassion everywhere.


  1. Ashutosh Nirvadyaachari

    Very informative and awesome review!

    I tried to learn Esperanto on Duolingo for a couple of months. I’m a person who is not motivated by gamification, so I never tended to claim those lingots or badges or kept track of it. I did learn a bit but it was kind of boring and felt like unsystematic learning system. It was good for cramming all new words we learn through repetitive process. But after some time, I understood that I won’t be able to pronounce many of those complicated words yet I continued to learn to at least read and understand it. But can’t keep up with the increasing number of words and it always kept me guessing about the grammatical rules. I ain’t a polyglot like you but I do know Hindi & English upto intermediate level perhaps. “10 minute a day” invitation tempted me into this. But I broke my daily streak when I broke my smart phone and I felt a bit relieved with no more Duolingo …lol!

    It was good to read your review esp. about Duolingo. If I get this giveaway, I’ll like to try Lingodeer. If there isn’t any Esperanto then I guess I’ll opt for Mandarin or Cantonese. Thanks for this opportunity!

    • Hi Ashutosh,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences learning Esperanto with Duolingo! I definitely relate to what you said about having to guess the grammatical rules. Unfortunately, LingoDeer does not yet have Esperanto, but they do have Mandarin. Good luck in the giveaway!

  2. One thing many Duolingo users don’t realize is that Duolingo *does* have grammar notes and tips (albeit rather brief, but still helpful). I don’t know how to access them on the app, though, only when using Duolingo on the website. Another thing available when using it on the website is the user discussions on every question (sometimes extensive and illuminating).
    So it’s still a weakness of the program that you can be a heavy Duolingo user and never be made aware of how to access the grammar notes or the discussions or even that they exist.

    • I did read about that in someone else’s review of Duolingo. I’ve never tried it out myself, though, since I’ve never studied on the Duolingo website. For me, most of the appeal of Duolingo was that I could use it in my spare time when I was out and about, in the form of an app. I agree that they should really make a better effort to inform their app users about the additional features available on the website, although it would be even better if they could just make those features available on the app.

    • Yes, there is a difference between the app for your smartphone and using Duolingo with your internet browser, the app offers reduced opportunities.

      But you can use Duolingo on your pc as on your smartphone with a browser, then you will get extra information to grammar rules, you might also have access to tiny cards (depending on the language that you are leaning), you have extra short stories, where you have to answer questions to show that you understood what you have read.
      For most of the exercises, you will find a link to a peer group, discussing them, quite often with extra information from an expert, that’s something I have never found in any other language app.

      If you don’t want to use the multiple choice answers you can switch to the possibility to type the translation on your own over the keyboard.

  3. I’ve been using Duolingo for almost two years and they’ve made some great improvements in that time. They seem to listen to their users and respond by improving their app – for free – with no annoying stall tactics to try to get you to pay. I tried Lingodeer for 1 day and got really annoyed. So I’m done with them. After using Duolingo and then taking a 1 week language course with other learners who hadn’t used Duolingo, I did better than the others did even though they had been taught the grammar rules. Native speakers of any language do not learn grammar rules when they are learning – little kids learn well by imitating and not taking themselves too seriously. My vote is for Duolingo, and they didn’t even offer me anything to review them.

  4. I used Duolingo for a while some years ago. I used it to learn Spanish and Romanian for my trips. One thing I don’t like is that I had to start from basics even if I knew the basics just to complete and earn all the badges. I think that has changed now. You probably can start learning now starting from your current level.

    I am not sure if gamification always help. I was progressing really fast with my Romanian just to maintain my speed and streak. But when it came to practice the language with my friends I had forgotten those words already. I am usually good with languages :)

    • Hi Sanskar,
      It sounds like you and I have had similar experiences with Duolingo. I also find that I do it just for the rewards, but when it comes to actual learning it’s not very effective for me. On the other hand, I needed something to get me back into the habit of practicing my languages, and Duolingo gave me the motivation that I was lacking. It’s like what they say about exercise; the best exercise is the one that you’ll actually do. Now that I’m back into the habit, I’ve switched over to other apps that I find to be more effective.

      • H,
        Quite often you can start with a placement test or you use the key button and if you don’t have more than three mistakes you could finish a whole block of exercises very fast.
        To improve the language learning process Duolingo recommends you to repeat sentences more often, to read them loud and to try to write the sentences down on a piece of paper after you have finished working with the app.

        But it’s nothing wrong to us additionally second app as well for learning a language.

  5. Hi!
    Lingodeer looks like a great app and I can’t wait to start my journey in learning the Japanese language with the help of it. I’m very happy to be one of the 5 winners for the giveaway, when or how would I be able to redeem the membership for the app ? :)

  6. Leila Bredenkamp

    hi , i didnt finish reading the post as i have no time but wanted to say, the lightbulb is in the french lessons and if you practice on a laptop online you can read stories and type words instead of using blocks x

    • Hi Leila,
      Thank you for the tip! I personally prefer studying with an app that I can use on my phone when I’m out and about, but other readers may be happy to know about the stories feature on the desktop version of Duolingo.

  7. It sounds (and looks from your screencap) like you didn’t do more than the first level of each section on duolingo. If you progress through all 5 levels of each bubble, it gets progressively harder and it *does* require open ended answering, speaking your answers, listening and typing what you heard, with no multiple choice in sight. I feel like if you don’t actually max out each individual bubble, you can’t have gotten a true feel for the app. If I had moved on to the next bubble after only 4 short, multiple choice lessons, I wouldn’t have retained anything either, but so far I would say I have retained 95% of what I’ve learned and the app does a good job of cycling words back in that I haven’t practiced in a while.

    • Hi Alena,
      Ah, interesting approach! I was thinking that I should get through the first level of all the content before moving on to the next level. I never thought about maxing out the levels for each bubble one at a time. I wonder which way the creators intended for users to do it?

  8. This article seems rather biased. It’s a bit disengenuous for you to slam duolingo and then shill for a competitor company that pays you to promote their app? I’ve used duolingo for two days and have developed a really good knowledge of the fundamentals of mandarin. Clearly the app’s creators intend users to do all of the lessons and all of the sections in a bubble before progressing onto the next – in what world is it logical to progress, for example, to greetings 2 if one has not yet maxed out the levels on greetings 1? ??‍♂️ I haven’t tried the other apps you’ve suggested, but it doesn’t seem like this review is very objective. Shame, I would have expected more integrity from someone who used to work for the UN.

    • I’m glad that Duolingo is working for you! Although two days of usage is not a very strong foundation on which to make a judgment call. After more than 100 days, my own judgment was that it was not working for me, or at least it was not working as well as some other apps. So I wrote this article to let my readers know about other learning resources that I found to be more useful. It seems logical that those would be the apps I would promote, no?

      Perhaps it was clear to you that users are supposed to max out all levels before moving on, but it was not clear to me. Actually, there are many things about Duolingo that I found unclear, and my biggest complaint about the app is the lack of instructions. Although the recent addition of grammar points in some languages has gone a long way to addressing that.

      As I stated in the article, the biggest draw of Duolingo for me has always been the gamification aspect, which my brain responds to really well. I haven’t found another app that rivals Duolingo in this aspect. With this in mind, my main motivation when using it was to “conquer” a language and see my Duo mascot standing on the top of the podium. If I’m able to do this by finishing just the first level of each bubble, why on earth would I make my quest five times slower by completing five levels instead of just one?

  9. Hi Wendy,
    I tried Duolingo a while back. They have done a nice job making it seem like a game but I wonder if they haven’t gone a bit too far. Taking a page from the gaming world, they give you easy challenges to make you feel good. I learned vocabulary words from man, women, boy, girl and some sentences like “the boy eats”. But after 30 minutes, I didn’t know anything I could use on a trip to France. Then they had the gall to tell me I was 8% fluent. LOL.
    I have found some other apps for learning French that I felt more useful for conversational French here… I should mention that I am interested in preparing for a trip, not a class so I like learning phrase more than vocabulary.

    • Hi Michelle,
      Yes, I know what you mean! The phrases that Duolingo teaches are definitely not the most practical ones for travelers. I’m glad you found some other apps for French that have been helpful.

  10. Hi! Thank you for this review! I used duolingo two years ago. I wanted to learn spanish…As for me the exercises are very boring. Every day you do almost the same exercises only the words are different. Now I remember some words and phrases like el gato bebe leche and una serveza por favor =)

    • Hi Joshua,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with Duolingo. I agree that the exercises can be repetitive, and I don’t believe straight translation exercises are the best way to learn. A language learner’s goal should be to start thinking directly in the foreign language rather than constantly translating in their head. By the way, “beer” in Spanish is spelled “cerveza” ;-)

  11. Rebecca Jane Gourley

    I woul love to see a review of higher end language learning apps.

  12. Hi,

    I started using DL in Aug, 2018 and am still working regularly in it. They have added lots of stuff since then, maybe in response to reviews like this one. The biggest thing for me is the chance to hear native speakers. I’m most interested in improving my listening and speaking skills. Drill, drill, drill. And I get that in DuoLingo. Yes, it is tedious and repetitive. But short of immersion, what is the alternative?

    Also many DL exercises in my current language of interest (French) are NOT multiple choice and IMO these are the most effective. But the ones that are multiple choice could and should be made more challenging. Your comment about guessing is spot on.

    I agree that the lack of instruction in grammar is a bad thing. That’s why I always have a French dictionary and grammar book at hand whenever I am doing my daily lesson. I prefer a discussion that employs specific terms I already understand, like “adjective” and “direct object”. In my experience, one tool seldom suffices.

    DL provides a daily context for practicing a foreign language for free. Its being available in a phone app is also a positive.

    • Hi Marlana,
      Thanks for sharing how you use Duolingo; it’s quite insightful. I’m glad to hear that they have added lots of new features. It’s certainly not the only app that offers the chance to hear native speakers, but the important thing is that you’ve found a method that works for you, which is great. Interesting to read that you use it in conjunction with a dictionary and grammar book. I agree that a combination of different tools is likely to yield the best results.

  13. I hate it! It’s not only really discouraged me from learning the language I was trying to learn, it’s depressed me. They didn’t even finish teaching the full alphabets before they jumped into full (irrelevant) sentences with characters they never showed before, (and no background on their real meaning). When I looked it up, and translated it on many various sites, including sites which specialized in that language… Duolingos translations were WRONG… wrong to the point if you ever tried to use them you would have made a fool out of yourself in a real life situation.

    • Hi Ses, thanks for sharing your experience with Duolingo. I’m sorry to hear that it has discouraged you from learning your target language. I hope you can find another language learning tool that works better for you! I don’t know which language you are learning, but I find LingoDeer really useful, especially for Asian languages. Drops is fun to use, although it only teaches vocabulary so is best in combination with something else. Mango is not bad either, and I love the podcasts by Innovative Language. Good luck, and don’t give up!

  14. I am begginer in learning Korean. I am learning in Duolingo. In Korean it is explaining grammar by letters, of course. I think it is good way yo learn by phone or computer. In phone you also record your speaking and in computer you can see tips. I think it depends. Maybe for someone Duolingo is better and for someone not. Duolingo has harder “exercises” like when you just collect the squares to complete a sentence you can choose harder version and write with you keyboard. I have never tried lingodeer but it has good reviews but in google was than Duolingo was in top 5 best language learners. According to this I think Duolingo is better but everyone has own opinion and experience so just respect for each other about these apps. But it has not got Georgian my country’s language and maybe not lingodeer too. Thank you for your tip and I think it will help everyone.

    • Hi Nino, I’m glad to hear that Duolingo is working for you, and it’s true that each method works better for some people than for others, as we all learn differently. I do think some methods are just inherently more effective, though. It’s a shame that there aren’t many apps or programs for learning Georgian. I haven’t been to Georgia yet but would like to learn at least a few words of the language when I finally do visit. I did find this course, which looks interesting. Best of luck to you with your Korean studies!

  15. Hi Wendy, thanks for this review, definitely some useful insight in there about language learning apps. Even though I do not believe you promote or demean any specific app, I think the tone of your review (from the start to finish) make it sound biased. Hence I can relate to the Duolingo users who expressed their frustration. On the other hand, I find some of your comments and the information you give useful, especially in different stages of learning a new language. I personally started to learn spanish from scratch with Duolingo and I must admit that if you know how to make use of this app, it should take you to an advanced level. What I mean with that is that you repetitively do the exercises, stories, memorize the vocabulary regularly and support it all with podcasts that DL offers. I still think there is a need for another resource for the advance level, if you want to improve yourself further down the road.

    • Hi Tunca,
      Thanks very much for your comments. I am planning to update this review soon to include features such as stories. I actually only discovered stories fairly recently, because unfortunately, they are not available for any of the languages I’m currently learning. Which is a shame, because they are a really great learning tool! I haven’t tried the Duolingo podcasts, but I’ve heard good things about those too. So far they are only available in Spanish and French, though, and stories are only available in Spanish, French, German and Brazilian Portuguese. For people who are learning the most popular languages like Spanish, French or English as a second language, I think Duolingo is actually very useful. For other languages, I just don’t think it offers enough to stand alone as a learning method. Hopefully, the developers will continue to add features like stories, podcasts and explanatory notes for other languages.

  16. Hi Wendy, as a avid world traveler and language learning hobbyist, I really enjoyed your article. I was unaware of the beeliguapp… thanks. Also as there are always apps coming out… another beginner app with 33 languages is Mondly. It is fun and has a daily free lesson with limited other features without a membership, but you can change between all of the languages for the same daily lesson. With languages that have non Roman letters, you can toggle between native scripts and romanized scripts including Hindi, Russian, Chinese, Farsi Etc. You will not achieve fluency but it is good for beginners and repeats vocabulary on a somewhat frequent basis. Without a membership you need signal/wifi to download the current lesson but good for starting to recognize different scripts and pronunciation. Also gives basic conjugation list of verbs and definitions of vocabulary words by clicking on the underlined word

    • Hi Phil,
      Thanks for the recommendation! I hadn’t heard about Mondly before. Just took a look at their website, and I’m downloading the app right now. They offer some less popular languages that not many other apps do, and they also have both Brazilian and European versions of Portuguese, which is really hard to find. I live in Portugal and know quite a few people here studying European Portuguese, so it’s good to have something I can recommend to them.

  17. Hi Wendy – thanks for the article. I’m a nutritionist, but now during lockdown I finally have time to dust off my languages and relearn a few. I used to speak German, Arabic, French and Spanish pretty well, with a tiny smattering of Mandarin, so like you, I’m a bit of a foreign language geek. I’ve been revisiting German on Duolingo (going well), but I was absolutely appalled at their Arabic lessons. I’ve completed all five levels of Duolingos four … sections? of the alphabet but have only been taught TWELVE letters out of TWENTY EIGHT in the Arabic alphabet. I thought ‘this must be wrong,’ so googled about it and found your article!
    Have not done anything else in Arabic so far, as only learning 12 letters severely restricts vocabulary, and I’m not sure I want to go along for that ride with this app. Do you know anything about why they do this? Or is it just a horribly written program? All the best, Nuri

    • Hi Nuri,
      Thanks for your comment! Your experience with German vs. Arabic on Duolingo is very much in line with my own experience. Namely, that Duolingo is a useful tool for learning a handful of very popular languages (mainly English, Spanish, French and German) but is very disappointing when it comes to less popular languages. Particularly languages that use a script other than the Latin alphabet. The company obviously has limited resources, so it’s understandable that they would focus on the languages that most people are learning. Still, it’s frustrating that they don’t provide the same level of quality for all language learners.

      Currently, I still occasionally use Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish, French and Portuguese (mainly through the Stories feature, which I love), while I use LingoDeer to study Russian, Japanese and Mandarin. Since LingoDeer doesn’t offer Arabic, I’d suggest trying the Mango Languages app. I’ve also used this app in the past and was pretty happy with it. And they offer FOUR different types of Arabic: Egyptian Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Levantine Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic. Good luck with your studies!

  18. I have started using Duolingo to learn basic Spanish and find the life system annoying and demotivating. Several times I have been told by the app that what I put in was wrong (and losing a life for the privilege) just for it to tell me the correct wording which is EXACTLY what I put in. It also requests you translate something where gender could be either and it marks you as incorrect (and yes, yet another life gone) despite not giving any indication as to which gender they are referring to, eg The app asks you to translate ‘the boss needs ..,, ‘ where the answer can be el jefe necesito or el jefa necesita but put the former and it marks you incorrect. I am disillusioned and demotivated by this app as i feel the app is set to treat you like a naughty child and to punish you for very minor mistakes. I have raised this with Duolingo but they have ignored it.

    • That does sound really annoying, and I definitely understand how it would be demotivating. I think you are referring to the hearts system? Fortunately (for me), I do not have this feature on my account, though I have heard about it from other users. From what I understand, users whose accounts already existed before this feature was added got grandfathered out of it. From what I’ve heard about it, it sounds like a terrible feature that will just discourage people from learning. We shouldn’t be punished for making mistakes, as making mistakes is how we learn.

  19. Hola Wendy! Quisiera que por favor me recomiendes una aplicación para aprender Inglés. A mí Duolingo no me funciona, tuve 3 meses seguidos estudiando con ellos y no siento que aprenda lo suficiente.

    • Hola Alexa! Entiendo por completo tu situación. Hay una app que se llama Busuu que estoy utilizando últimamente para aprender japonés. En mi opinión, es la mejor de todas las apps que he usado hasta ahora para aprender idiomas. Luego voy a actualizar este artículo para poner más información aquí sobre Busuu y otras herramientas que encontré después de escribirlo.

      Hay una versión gratuita de Busuu, pero es bastante limitada. Con la versión “premium”, hay más ejercicios y explicaciónes gramáticas, y también puedes enviar tus ejercicios a hablantes nativos para ser corregidos. Dejo aquí un enlace con el cual puedes conseguir una prueba sin cargo por 30 días. Espero que te ayude!

  20. muy buena informacion

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