Duolingo is a popular language learning site and app that comes with the very good price of free, unless you don’t count time. You might be thinking of learning a new language in the new year or want to learn a few words before an international trip. There are a lot of good reasons to learn a new language and Duolingo is a good start for some of them in some ways.

Back To Basics

Duolingo has a really low barrier to entry, all you have to do is hop on their website or download the free Duolingo app, answer a few questions about the language you want to learn, your current skill level. You can start anywhere from a complete novice to advanced and also specify your language lesson concentration – it could be cultural, for travel, or just because you want to learn something new.

It’s a very easy, quick set of questions before you’re off to learning. Duolingo is based on what they call XP points. XP points are basically a weighted point system for various language lessons and you can set a daily goal, with 30 XP being roughly equivalent to about 15 minutes per day.

Gamifying Language Learning

You get notifications daily to make sure you’re practicing everyday and Duolingo keeps track of your daily streak. Expect an automated reminder email if it looks like you might miss a day. To keep track of all those stats you have to create a free account. Then you can track your daily progress and see where you’re ranked against other language learners in the same language. Even if you’re not particularly competitive, it does work to motivate you not to miss lessons.

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The layout of Duolingo’s language lessons itself are like a game. There are bright colors, buttons, and all you have to do is hit start to being. Depending on the language level your entered in the beginning, you’ll go through lessons which use a few different methods to teach.

How Duolingo Teaches

One obvious focus is vocabulary. You’re shown some words then click what they mean with audio prompts throughout. As you advance will have to pick out the correct word among a few others. The words are also read out to you, which is helpful so you’re exposed to pronunciation and accents. Duolingo doesn’t prompt you to repeat back what you’re hearing but I’ve found for me personally, repeating back those words is very effective with memorization. The way Duolingo is set up is it’s as easy or as difficult as you want to make it but that part isn’t gamified and really takes self motivation.

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When you’re given a lesson where a sentence is read to you and you have to write it back, Duolingo defaults to letting you click the words you’ve heard. It will correct any mistakes and if you keep fumbling on a certain set of words or parts of a sentence like pronouns, it will focus on those for you.

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To Be Free Or Not To Be

Duolingo’s free version shows ads in between lessons and prevents you from going back to see specific mistakes you may have made. Basically if you miss a day your streak starts over. But with Duolingo’s paid plan, called Super Duolingo, you can maintain your streak if you miss a day (in exchange for “Lingots”, which are points you accumulate with each completed lesson. Super Duolingo also lets you review past mistakes and get lessons focused on strengthening your weakest areas in a given language.

Duolingo is a good start or supplement but isn’t your one stop shop to learning a new language or even getting down some quick conversational lingo. I would suggest you pair Duolingo with some other online language service or classes because it’s short lessons are ideal for mental exercise to keep that new language fresh in your mind. Duolingo is the beginning of the journey to fluency but won’t take you all the way there.