Duolingo – Play A Game To Learn A Language – Interactive Learning At It’s Finest

Ever since leaving high school some 12 years ago, I have always wanted to learn another language to the point where I was fluent and competent in reading, writing and speaking but have never been able to stick at it. That all changed a month ago. I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline *as you do* when my eyes came across an automatic update posted on my Cousin’s page showing he had just completed Level 8 of Portuguese using Duolingo and immediately wanted to find out more.

Upon making the easiest decision I have made in a while to download the app and start learning another language, I have been completely hooked to the point where I’m unable to put my phone down even when I should be sleeping *covers face*

It didn’t take me long to realise that this clever little app and web based learning is RIDICULOUSLY addictive. I have had no days off learning Portuguese (despite what the streaks says!) and have very recently been learning to read, write and speak Spanish alongside it for I feel they both work well together.

Before I start rambling on about how fantastic Duolingo actually is, I will attempt and summarize how it works for those that may not be familiar.

What is Duolingo?

Duolingo is a free web based learning centre that is accompanied with a free app available to download via Google Play and the iphone Store. It offers extensive language learning lessons and tools with a gamified skill tree which users can progress through whilst having a vocabulary section where learned words can be practiced. The whole course teaches more than 2,000 words.

Languages currently available to learn if you’re first language is English are:

  • Spanish
  • German
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Italian

It also gives the option for those that are native speakers of above languages to learn English. CEO of Duolingo Luis Von Ahn has stated that rather than add additional languages slowly and over time, they plan to create the tools necessary for the community to build them in the hope that they can introduce more languages and “empower other experts and people passionate about a specific language to lead the way” (sourced from Wiki).

How Duolingo works!

Web and app based users of Duolingo are given “skill points” whilst they learn their chosen language. Up to 14 points are awarded per lesson in the early stages and 13 as the user progresses through the levels and skill trees.

To breakdown the points system further, a total of 10 points are awarded for completing a lesson with the chance to win an additional three points (four in the early stages of Duolingo)  if you are able to complete the lesson with all lives intact i.e.. no mistakes.

The user is given four lives in the form of red hearts in the early stages and is reduced to three as you progress through the levels. A life is taken from the user when a  mistake is made and will have to redo the lesson should the user make a mistake during their lesson after all lives have been lost.

Speaking from experience, I personally think it is a bit harsh to loose a life when a user spells the word incorrectly getting only one letter wrong *frustrating much* but can totally understand as they want to teach you correctly and get into goood habits.

Whilst on your journey to completing your course, the system measures which questions the users struggle with, and what sorts of mistakes they make. It then collates that data and learns from the patterns it sees. If a word has not been used in a while, Duolingo will also detect this and will incorporate words used in the latter stages to ensure it forms part of your long term memory.

My Thoughts on Duolingo

Now I mentioned the word ‘streak’ earlier, which is basically the no of continuous days you have been using the app or web to learn your chosen language, and have found their to be a slight problem around using the app and the syncing process.

Much to the annoyance and frustration *I take my language learning very seriously lol* I have lost my streak not once but twice since joining as my app failed to sync and register my activity due to being in so called ‘offline mode’ *shakes head and sighs*.

I also find that the translation is sometimes near impossible to get correct, giving you sentences to complete that makes no sense whatsoever but know this will improve over time as Duolingo are in the very early stages themselves.

Apart from that, I absolutely adore using Duolingo for many reasons but mainly LOVE the way it perfectly fits my style of learning! I am a visual’s kinda girl who also responds well to sound so being able to read or hear sentences in Portuguese and Spanish and translate them into English *visa versa* comes more naturally than actually speaking in the native language.

In fact, it has occurred to me that my speaking either language is shockingly bad in comparison to my reading and writing ability and have therefore come to the conclusion the only way to properly speak it is by actually conversing with people who are fluent in that language / native speakers. The other alternative my cousin suggested to me is to perhaps take up speech classes to aid and strengthen verbal communication in a bid to speak fluently.


Duolingo turns the fun into learning because it does not feel like you are studying at all. Despite obtaining a degree I am NOT the study type and strongly dislike learning via written textbooks with no pictures *I loose interest faaast* so when something is presented in a game like format, giving me an opportunity to compete with myself to finish the session with all lives intact is nothing sort of genius. Interactive learning is definitely the way forward and brings the meaning of productivity to a completely different level.

Since joining Duolingo a month ago, I am currently three quarters of the way through Level 8 Learning Portuguese and as of Thursday completed Level 4 Learning Spanish. So far I have learnt a total of 576 Portuguese words and 57 Spanish words whilst clocking up a combined Skills Points total of 1,668.


If I continue my streak of learning these two languages on a daily basis with no days off as I have been doing, I am hopeful to be come fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish by next May please god *this will be my Birthday present to myself*

In case you are wondering how such an amazing service can be completely FREE to all users, Duolingo currently uses a ‘crowd source’ business model which means that members of the public are invited to translate content and vote on translations. The content comes from organizations that pay Duolingo to translate it.

Documents can be added to Duolingo for translation with an upload account which must be applied for. Most Duolingo graduates go on to help translate the web after completing their course and I aspire to be one of them.

If after reading this article you are somewhat inspired and empowered to take the plunge to learn a secondary language, yourself, Duolingo can be found on-line by visiting the Duolingo website , by downloading the app via the Google Play Store and Apple Store.

Regardless of what anyone tells you, it is never too late to start learning folks.

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