I first wrote a post about my experience with the language-learning website and app Duolingo in Review of Duolingo, which I published in 2017. Since I hadn’t been to any Spanish-speaking countries in quite some time, and I didn’t feel the need to learn Portuguese other than some important words and phrases before my trip to Portugal, I hadn’t used Duolingo in a few years. However, I had a trip planned to Costa Rica and I wanted to start brushing up on my Spanish again before I went there.
Let me just say, the Duolingo that exists now is much better in my opinion than the version I used a few years ago. But first, let me give a little background info before I go any further. Duolingo launched in November of 2011 and now has 106 courses in 41 languages and has around 42 million users. Duolingo is free (with ads) but there is a premium service called Super Duolingo (previously called Duolingo Plus) which is ad-free, lets you accumulate unlimited hearts, and lets you review your mistakes for $6.99/month.
In my first review of Duolingo, I wrote that because of so many multiple choice options, I felt it was too easy and could give users a false sense of security that they were “fluent” in the language they were learning. Now, I’m not seeing nearly as many multiple choice options, although there are still some. There seems to be more speaking required now and definitely more listening options. Now, you can listen to a short story in the language you’re learning and answer questions afterwards. I don’t remember having that option before so I believe it’s relatively new.
I have the free version and it seems like there are many more ads now than before. I won’t lie, the ads are annoying. I’ve learned to just put my phone down and walk away for a minute and come back when the ad is over, although some of the ads are shorter than others. I’m not sure there was a pay version in 2017 but if not that could explain why they’re playing so many ads now, in a hope to get people to pay to skip the ads. The ads I’m seeing are mostly for gaming apps but there are plenty of others as well.
While we’re on the subject of annoying things, another annoying feature is the reminder about the daily streak. Some people might be drawn to this idea of practicing a language on Duolingo every day without missing a day but it’s just annoying to me. I feel like I’ll use the app when I have time and I don’t need reminders that I’m about to lose my daily streak. I don’t care if I’ll lose my streak, Duolingo. I did eventually learn how to turn these reminders off, so at least that’s an option.
I also don’t like how you can’t “test out” if you’re already relatively fluent at your current level, at least not at the free level. Before, you could take a proficiency test and if you passed, you could skip ahead to the next level quickly. Now, as far as I can tell, that option is only if you have the paid version. Well, supposedly. My daughter did the free trial of the paid option and said she took the test to skip to the next level and it wouldn’t let her do it even though she didn’t miss any of the questions.
Back to some of the basic features. There are many sections broken down into units. For example, unit 1 has intro, phrases, travel, restaurant, family, shopping, present tense 1, school, and people. Then there is a checkpoint before you can move on to unit 2. Unit 2 has some of the same sections as unit 1 including family, travel, and people but some new sections like emotions, preference, and describe, for example.
One area I didn’t discover until I had used the app for a while was under the profile icon. There’s an Achievements area and until I clicked on the achievements I had earned, I didn’t actually get the gems and other achievements I had earned on earlier days. You also have the option to follow other friends who also use the app in the profile section. If you’re competitive, there’s a shield icon that will show you what league you’re currently ranked in, based on points. There’s another icon that looks like a gem where you can buy gems (using real money) to be used in the app or you can bump yourself up to Duolingo Plus.
Overall, I find the Duolingo that exists now to be a useful tool for learning another language. The ads are annoying but I’m just not willing to pay for the app so I guess that falls on me; the option is always there to skip the ads if you’re willing to pay for that. I guess the real question was how well did it prepare me for my trip to Costa Rica? Pretty well! I didn’t have any trouble speaking to anyone (and more importantly getting them to understand me) and I could follow along when they spoke as long as they knew I only knew a little Spanish so they could slow down and use more basic words.
Have you used Duolingo either when it first came out the end of 2011 or more recently? If so, what do you think of the app? Do you use another learning app or tool to learn or refresh a foreign language?