When you decide to embark on learning a language for the first time, the normal thing to do is turn to those who profess to be experts. It’s a very sensible route to take.
Duolingo came along into my life in 2014 when I had no clue how to learn French, but it promised to teach me the language, it promised to make it a fun experience by giving you points and a score and a daily streak to encourage you to keep coming back, and it got me learning from the very beginning. But being several years down the road and at about a C1 level all around the four main skill areas, I can tell you that Duolingo has some serious limitations. So I really don’t recommend it to anyone who is serious about their language learning.
And today, I want to talk to you about my two main reasons behind that, because I know a lot of you have, and perhaps still do, continue to use Duolingo. But here on my website, I like to give you nuggets of knowledge that I have gleaned from my five years of basically full-time self-study of the French language. I’ve tried so many different techniques to keep learning, keep the motivation going, keep it fun, keep it fresh. I’ve gone through stressful moments. So hear me out when I say that I don’t recommend Duolingo for serious learners for two reasons.
The fact that you’ve already landed here tells me that you’re serious about your French and you want to learn new ways to get better more efficiently.
Reason numéro un – Lack of personalisation
So these two reasons are in no particular order, and the first one is that Duolingo just doesn’t teach you relevant language. Beyond those first few weeks and months where you’re like a sponge, everything feels good, you’re learning all of it, it’s general language. Once you get past that, and especially once you are having those initial conversations, you can very easily find yourself repeating the same language over and over again. And this can be great because you need to practice what you learn.
But as you get past that and those initial conversations become easier and easier, you need to have control over what you’re learning so that you can take that stuff into your day-to-day life, into your conversations. Duolingo is very general, but at the same time, it does teach you specific language, just not necessarily in a niche subject that you care about. You really need to be learning stuff that is going on in your day-to-day life.
The brain is a muscle. It needs to be trained. So why don’t we give it vocabulary, give it grammar that we’re actually going to use? Don’t give it stuff that it’s not going to get the chance to practice through your speaking, through your writing. The stuff you’re most commonly going to practice is the stuff that is relevant to your life. When you go to language exchanges, you talk about you, you talk about your family, you talk about your job, you talk about your hobbies. Duolingo doesn’t know that about you. It doesn’t tailor-make the material for you.
So if you’re getting serious about your French and you want to keep improving, but you’re at this plateau with Duolingo or perhaps with something else, you need to take control of your learning. And by that, I mean find a way to curate your own material. Target the themes and the subject matter which interest you and are irrelevant to your life. Duolingo just does not do this. Sure, Duolingo allows you to go back to previous lessons and keep practicing them, so you get to practice that vocabulary, but very quickly, that becomes boring because you don’t care necessarily about talking about nephews and nieces and things in the countryside if you do not have children yourself and you spend all of your time in a city, for example.
So in order to be efficient with your learning, you need to be exposed to new vocabulary and new grammar that you’re going to be able to produce very, very soon. Where is that vocabulary and grammar found? Well, it’s in topics that relate to your daily life.
So the first point is all about Duolingo not teaching you relevant information for your interests and your day-to-day life. It’s extremely limited in this regard.
Reason numéro deux – You need to speak
Number two, or numéro deux, or is that Duolingo just does not have a feature that allows you to practice your speaking. So many of us making excuses about not having enough vocabulary to speak, not feeling ready to speak, being too busy to get speaking practice in, so we go back to Duolingo. Yes, okay, this is great as long as you’re studying something, but over the long term, if you find yourself after six months still making those excuses, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
It’s always going to be uncomfortable. It’s always going to be difficult, but unless you speak, you don’t improve your speaking.
Duolingo could be a great supplementary tool. I still wouldn’t recommend it because of point one and the material not being relevant enough to your individual situation and your life, however, if it’s just there to practice sentences, practice some grammar, then why not use it as a supplementary tool? And even as a supplementary tool, Duolingo really isn’t the best one. There are tons out there that could help you much more by being more relevant and also helping you curate the content you’re going to learn. I’ll drop a few links to apps and tools that I like down in the description below. So make sure to go and check those out if you’re in need of a new one, but please, please, please give enough priority in your life to speaking from as early as possible.
It’s always going to be uncomfortable. It’s always going to be difficult, but unless you speak, you don’t improve your speaking. Simple as that. Get into a language exchange where everyone is learning. It’s a more comfortable environment. But however you do it, get yourself speaking. We have a tendency to sort of hide away in our bubble of our apps because it gives us a nice little score, a nice level, tell us how much of an expert we are in French, tells us after a number of months that we’re able to translate 75% or something of all French texts. I think that is completely ridiculous. And the main reason most of us learned French is to be able to communicate with other people in another language because that feels awesome when they understand you, and then later on, where you start being able to use very specific French expressions that aren’t necessarily the same in English or in your native language.
I see a lot of learners in different communities online who proclaim their high score on Duolingo, or perhaps you end up on the Duolingo forum where people are having discussions about the language and they’ve got all these high scores next to flags on their profile, but so many people can’t string a few sentences together. And that is just the reality. Most language learners can’t actually use the language.
Now for some people, that’s fine, but you guys are here to learn how to improve your French and learn more efficiently, and I want nothing more for you than that, but Duolingo doesn’t. And even if it does implement some sort of speaking feature in the future, I have no idea how the heck it can replace real conversations with real people.
So that’s my two cents. I hope it wasn’t too ranty, but basically, number one is that Duolingo does not give you relevant information, relevant vocabulary to your situation. You, as a serious French learner, as someone who has fallen in love with the language but perhaps has hit a plateau, you need to keep finding ways to break through that. And one of the best ways is to learn new material that you’re going to be able to speak about, you’re going to be able to use. Be creative, be imaginative. There’s tons of resources out there. And of course, I will be creating more and more content about how you can learn more efficiently and how you can keep it fun and fresh.
And the second thing is that Duolingo is not a tool to help you speak, and speaking is perhaps the thing you need to do as early as possible. Even if you’re introverted, you need to go out and have conversations. It improves your listening, which is the one of the four skills which took me the longest to improve. But it improves your listening and it improves your speaking. And it makes you a stronger person because you know you’re facing something difficult and uncomfortable, but you’re doing it to become a better version of yourself in the future.
Don’t hide behind a screen and stay stuck in the Duolingo world. Break free and go and speak to French people because that’s why you’re learning.
Voila, c’est fini. Do you agree with me or disagree with me about my opinions on Duolingo? I have a feeling this might be a bit of a controversial subject. So please do let me know what you think down in the comments below.
You can check out the YouTube video that was the source of this blog article here.
You have absolutely hit the nail on the head. I stumbled upon Duolingo a couple of years ago, after a friend told me how he had become proficient enough on it in Italian to take a bunch of mates there for 4 weeks on a grand tour for an extended 50th birthday party. I was impressed to say the least. My husband and I always wanted to buy a house in France, (we are Australians living in Sydney) and we finally did! Then Covid hit and we haven’t been able to go back. But I digress. Despite diligently using Duolingo daily for more than two years, I’m just languishing at an upper intermediate level. Yes, the lack of opportunity to actually speak, and think on your toes, is a real problem. I think it’s OK to give you the basics, but is so far from real life to be of limited use. I try and watch/listen to/read as much as I can in French, for a semi immersive experience, but I have limited opportunities to actually have a conversation. I don’t know if it does more harm than good, but it certainly has its limitations. BTW, I’ve only just discovered you on YouTube. I have found everything I’ve watched informative and entertaining. Merci Beaucoup.
Thank you so much Tracie. I can’t wait for you to be able to get back to your home in France so you can have all the opportunities to speak that you crave. It’s so tough at times but it feels great to be able to speak in another language.
Of course, I couldn’t speak about everything in Duolingo in a short article/video but you have added some very valuable points.
Everything has limitations. When I took on this topic I had seen a lot of people using it as their sole resource and I wanted to shine a light on the importance of diversifying so as not to feel completely stuck when they get to the point it is no longer taking them forward.