Duolingo: awesome app for learning foreign language


I already have an intermediate mastery of Spanish from years of Spanish class — but if I’m traveling to Italy and France too, I want to at least know the basics of French and Italian. Luckily, I have about six months before my voyage and time to start practicing the fundamentals. I just need some help.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon the Duolingo app, the 2013 iPhone App of the Year. Duolingo is a language learning app offering courses in:

  • Spanish
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Portuguese
  • Italian


Duolingo uses short games and activities to efficiently allow the user to learn and practice the language. Through a series of courses that progress through different levels, you practice speaking, writing, and translating the language.

To practice, you need be somewhere where you can easily hear and be heard. The voice on the app will sometimes say a phrase aloud and you’ll need to repeat it. Or you’ll need to write it in the language. Other times, you’ll need to translate a written phrase to English, or vice versa. By covering several methods of comprehension and retention, the app equips the user with skills to understand and apply written and oral forms of the language.  For each activity, the app assess your accuracy. You start each course with a certain number of little, red hearts. Each time you make an incorrect translation or pronunciation, you lose a heart. If you lose all of them before the end of the course, you must start over. This way, you are forced to practice the areas in which you struggle most in order to master them before moving to more difficult phrases.

Right now, I am using the app to learn French. I’m only on the first level, but it’s already been an excellent tool. I’ve learned how to say “The woman is eating an apple,” (la femme mange une pomme) which, of course, will be totally useful when I’m navigating through Paris. But this app is definitive promising, and, as it was awarded the app of the year, I’m sure it’s success is an indication of its effectiveness.

I’ll track my progress on this blog and post about my language-learning results!

Image from
Image from


Duolingo’s tagline is “Free language education for the world.” The app uses crowdsourcing to compensate for the cost free utilization of its services. According to Duolingo’s website,  when a person needs to translate a webpage, that parson uploads it to Duolingo. That document gets presented to Duolingo users who translate it while practicing the language they are learning. Once the document is fully translated, Duolingo returns it to the owner.  That person then pays for the translation depending on the type of document they uploaded.

This way, Duolingo is still making a profit from the hundreds of thousands of users who download the app for free. And on top of it, they’re helping people learn new language, plus helping people translate documents.



“Duolingo has tremendous features that work surprisingly well at getting you to practice a language, and expose you to interesting content and people, and is actually fun and interesting.” (

“The translations I encountered were still very challenging, but in a good way. I liked trying to read real writing, rather than sentences that are designed based on only the words and verb tenses I know. Language-learning software in general faces this problem, but at least with Duolingo, you’re practicing with real content.” (

“Perfect to learn languages: it’s fun and efficient!” (

“Duolingo’s speaking quizzes on the app seem particularly magical considering the voice recognition tech behind it was nearly unusable just a few years ago on other software.” (

Somewhat Negative

“Duolingo is undoubtedly one of the best free tools for practicing a new language—but not necessarily learning a new one from scratch. For that, it may be slightly too challenging for a lot of learners. To fully learn a new language, I do recommend picking up dedicated software that has been tested rigorously, like either of our two Editors’ Choices—Rocket Language , Rosetta Stone—or even audio CDs from Pimsleur ($119, 3.5 stars). Pair any of those programs with Duolingo for practicing, and you’re sure to learn a lot, fast.” (

It’s a joy to use Duolingo, in part because its phone app is not only convenient to use but full of new content. But while it’s a great start, it’s not perfect. For now, its lessons are deep—I haven’t even spotted the end-mark of my French lessons—but the language selection is small. (

“I am taking Spanish in school and got this app to practice and learn new words. However, it goes WAY too fast to learn anything, and the only words that I retained were the ones that I already knew. If you want to practice language skills, fine. But this app doesn’t tell you how to conjugate verbs, barely tells you what they mean, and is overall not a good way to learn a language. I think I’ll stick to flash cards.” (


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