Duolingo—a double-edged sword

Weighing the pros and cons of Duolingo, where learning languages is made easy and accessible.


When attempting to start learning a new language, many youngsters tend to look toward Duolingo. For the uninitiated, Duolingo is an online language learning service available through its website in addition to its mobile app. Though not exactly a new product, its popularity has certainly skyrocketed in the past few years. What is so great about it then? Are there any faults?

Like many apps nowadays, Duolingo operates on a freemium model, meaning that a basic free version coexists with an optional paid package. For the sake of students’ accessibility, all features discussed here will be referring to the free version only. Thankfully, the free version already serves its purpose effectively enough.

Duolingo currently offers 106 different language courses in 40 languages. Among them include Japanese, Spanish, German, Korean alongside many more. Rest assured that you’ll find the mainstream languages you wish to learn.

Unlike the seemingly overwhelming traditional methods such as textbooks, Duolingo sets itself apart by teaching using simple short exercises that take up only a few minutes at a time, allowing users to conveniently absorb information in between busy day-to-day activities such as studying or doing homework. Moreover, by sending out push notifications frequently, Duolingo can make sure that even the most scatterbrained users remember to practice regularly. To provide extra incentive, Duolingo’s daily streak and leaderboard system also reward users with a sense of accomplishment, keeping them coming back for more each time.

Teaching method & content
Through listening and textual translation exercises, Duolingo mainly focuses on teaching pronunciation, basic vocabulary and sentence structure. This can be both beneficial and detrimental in different ways to the target audience—beginners. On one hand, this makes it a resourceful tool for practicing basic phrases and words; on the other hand, it tends to train pattern recognition rather than a nuanced understanding of grammar. Here are where most of Duolingo’s downfalls lie. For example, in its Japanese courses, little to no explanation is given regarding the conjugation of verbs into their various forms, no doubt causing confusion for newbies, whereas almost every single grammar book teaches these rules early on. However, credit where credit is due, Duolingo does do a good job at teaching pronunciation. Yet again taking the same example of Japanese, the repetition of hearing the same voice lines over and over again as you complete your exercises does indeed ingrain the concept of correct pitch accent into a beginner’s mind, something a textbook could never hope to accomplish.

In a nutshell, whether or not you should use Duolingo depends on what you plan on using it for. Simply put, Duolingo is more of a supplementary practice tool to be used simultaneously with other traditional forms of language learning than something meant to be used alone to completely learn a language from scratch. Nevertheless, it is worth considering as long as you are willing to put in the extra effort to study beyond what Duolingo itself covers.