Duolingo: learning a language whenever, wherever, for free!

‘I wanted to create a way to learn languages for free’ – Luis von Ahn (CEO Duolingo)

Due to the Internet, people are becoming more and more self-educated. Do you want to learn how to play guitar? Or do you want to know how to repair your flat tyre? No problem, all information is available online through the use of search engines (e.g. Google, Bing). ‘With this technology, people are able to receive information and learn new things instantaneously; online learning has tremendous potential to empower all sections of society’ (Karadkar, 2015). While companies are already offering university courses online (e.g. Coursera), the popularity of learning a language online has increased as well.

Duolingo is one of the highest rated apps available when it comes to learning a foreign language (Ranosa, 2015). Duolingo offers a wide range of language-learning courses for people with different native languages and at the moment, they offer 10 fully developed languages (Danish, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish)(Duffy, 2015). It is a great example of a straightforward language app and its use is very simple. Each course is made up of modules; these represent different groups of skills (see picture below).


Duolingo shows you the order in which you need to complete the different modules. New modules become active only after completing the previous one.

Each lesson consists of several activities, such as translating words and sentences and matching words to foreign equivalents.
picture2picture3New vocabulary is taught with images, and grammar is explained in speech bubbles. You also have to complete listening and speaking exercises, where you need to writedown or say what you hear. Due to the progress bar (ranging from 0-100%), you will be able to check your language improvement.

Another great feature is that Duolingo offers you the option to strengthen your weakest words. The following screen will pop up after completing a module.


According to Duolingo (2015), an average of 34 hours of Duolingo are equivalent to a full university semester of language education. Around 70 million people have already signed up to Duolingo and this number is increasing daily.

Currently, Duolingo is partnering with Uber to certify drivers in English (i.e. UberEnglish) and they recently raised $45 million from Google Capital. In the past few years, Duolingo has tremendously grown and with their current movements, Duolingo might pose a serious threat to traditional language learning providers.

As I am fond of learning foreign languages, I downloaded the Duolingo app a while ago in order to maintain my language skills. However, I am wondering what you think about this online language-learning platform? Do you already use it? Would you use it? Do you think these online platforms pose a threat to traditional language-learning providers? What about the benefits and constraints?











5 responses to “Duolingo: learning a language whenever, wherever, for free!”

  1. 436750am says :

    Duolingo is certainly one of the most interesting, influential apps of our time. Personally, after using Duolingo on a regular basis for around two months, I managed to successfully take a Dutch intake test and enroll in the A2 level lessons in the training language centre.

    Nonetheless, i think that Duolingo is more suitable to help you achieve these beginner levels of knowledge. Though not yet reached later stages of Duolingo learning, I don’t think that it can help in using a language in a very high level, similar to your mother language, as many hours as you spend practicing it. Of course, this is not only Duolingo’s Problem. Other learning environments/apps have face the same problems. For example, Rosetta stone, which is a paid app, has introduced online language coaches in order to help its subscribers reach next levels.

    For me, to achieve higher levels of knowledge someone must attend classes with experienced native professors , talk and listen to them. For example, I don’t think that you can actually understand the pronunciation of a Dutch man/woman even if you hear Dutch over and over again in Duolingo, Rosetta stone or any similar app.

    To conclude , I must say that i support Duolingo as a concept and as an idea to introduce a foreign speaker to a new language. Nevertheless, i do not think that in any case it is capable to make a person grasp the full context of a specific language. After all, languages are considered to be living organisms that evolve over time and so can only be taught fully with the interaction with the people that actually evolve them, the native speakers.

  2. Rabab Laarabi says :

    I think this is a great app indeed, but I also think that it has its limitations. One of the most important exercises in my opinion when trying to master a language is to actively engage in conversations with others as often as possible. So although the app does have speaking exercises, the experience will never be the same as in traditional language providers. It may pose a threat yes, but I still think that many people would prefer the traditional language providers over this. The perks of such an app though are very attractive; being able to practise whenever you want (high flexibility) and obviously that it is free!

  3. nielsuiterwaal says :

    I just finished my own daily Duolingo session and I have to agree that it does teach the basics. In my opinion it is a great app but lacks a more generalizable approach to learning languages, meaning that they fail to teach general rules and sentences structures.

    On a business side of things I think it will be interesting to see how they will start to make money. So far it seems that most content was crowdsourced and revenues came from donations. From a little research I did, I understand that they will offer language certificates that you can buy for 20 USD in the future. I am quite excited to see where this will go because I think Duolingo is a great tool to introduce people to learning new languages and I hope they can set up a sustainable revenue model so that more people across the world be able to submerge themselves with this great content.

  4. gflorianne says :

    Because of globalisation, learning new languages is becoming more and more important as well as popular. Online language courses have existed for years which means that Duolingo is not as revolutionary in terms of its underlying purpose. However, the fact that the language course is given on a mobile application really changes the way the language is learnt. People who want to learn new language skills are probably travelling a lot or get in touch with these languages once in a while. For example, a business woman might want to take a Spanish course because she has to travel to Spain a lot for her work and aims to communicate more effectively with her co-workers. Thus, the mobile function of Duolingo offers, for the first time and in contrast with traditional online language courses, the opportunity to learn a new language while simultaneously engaging in the environment.

    I have moved from the Netherlands to Luxembourg to South Africa and had to switch from my mother tongue, Dutch, to German and French and finally, to English. Though I had never taken any language courses, I was forced to speak the language to communicate, which made the adoption much easier. I think that the little extra help of Duolingo would have been very useful and this is, most likely, the case for many expat families. Though ‘living’ the language is the most effective manner to learn it, apps like Duolingo can be a great introduction and preparation for kids who would otherwise be thrown into the deep.

    I think that Duolingo has taken one step into the right direction by making language courses mobile and thus easier to ‘take with you’ abroad to the countries where they actually speak it, because it should be seen as a complementary tool. Nonetheless, the company should quickly anticipate new opportunities in order to speed up the learning process. For example, instead of typing in a password to unlock your screen, they could ‘force’ you to say a sentence in the language you would like to learn. Such aspects of actually speaking and hearing can be of great value to the competitive advantage of Duolingo.

  5. 367347hl says :

    According to the statistics provided by the app, until now there are more than 1.25 million people using Duolingo to learn Dutch. I’m personally using Duolingo to learn Dutch and English; I would say it is truly an awesome app!

    From my own leaning experience, Duolingo has three features that impressed me a lot. Firstly, it has very comprehensive learning patterns which include listening, speaking, spelling and translating. When you doing the sentence arrange exercise, you need to pick up the right words and arrange them into the right order. There is one small detail from this kind of exercise, which I think is very attentively: when you click the word, it will be pronounced. By doing so, I’m not only learning the sentence ordering, but also cement the word pronunciation in my mind. Secondly, the XPs and Leaderboard are two very good incentive mechanisms. XPs are settled by your leaning goal and it can track your daily performance; you are competing with yourself by fulfilling everyday task. Leaderboard shows you and your friends’ performance, this actually motivates me a lot to keep leaning in order to get a high ranking among all my friends. Last but not least, this app is free and available on different platforms, which allows me to lean language anytime and anywhere.

    There are two drawbacks that I can think of. I would not say Duolingo could replace the traditional language-learning provider especially in the aspect of speaking part. From my point of view, to be able to communicate with other people is the main goal for leaning a language; speaking is the most important way for people to communicate with each other. Duolingo may help you to check if your pronunciation is right, however, it is not able to build a real conversational dialogue. The other one is the language nature issue. It is convenient for people to learn a new language with similar language background. For instance, Dutch speakers can learn German easily since the two languages are from same language branch. However, I’ve read many complaints from Chinese or Japanese users: Duolingo is very difficult to use because they got mistakes even they are typing correct answers. It is more about the language natures, an English word can be expressed into different Chinese words which stand for the same meaning. For example, there are more than three ways to express the English word “breakfast”, the system only treat one of them as the correct answer. It can be seen that there still exist a huge improvement space for Duolingo to tackle with the translating issues.

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