What Has Over One Year of Learning on Duolingo Taught Me?

Dora Fields, Freelancer

At the beginning of the pandemic, I made a promise to myself: one Spanish lesson on Duolingo a day. What started as a pandemic hobby has now become a part of my daily routine — I’m now 535 days in and counting. I didn’t intend or expect to keep the streak so long, but after one month, I just couldn’t bear to lose my momentum. That, combined with the push notifications and rewarding challenges the program offers, I kept coming back for more.

So, what have I learned?

Although Duolingo claims its users reach four semesters of language proficiency in half the time as university students, it is safe to say I have learned very few new ideas or vocabulary words from the practice.

If I got on a plane right now and headed off to Spain, I would have some sizable difficulties assimilating into the culture. (I have a considerable lack of knowledge when it comes to verb tenses, irregular verbs, and masculine and feminine denominations). If dropped suddenly into Central or Latin America, I would not be able to get through daily life easily.

Duolingo lessons act as practice sheets, giving you questions on vocabulary words or translations of sentences. These lessons do have “hints,” but they’re not the same as having someone explain the concept to you. Imagine your foreign language class being taught by a computer who could only show you a few sentences at a time. If this was the case, our foreign language classes would be far harder. Duolingo has given me a real appreciation for teachers who dedicate themselves to helping students through the tough and often frustrating processes of learning a language. 

Even though it is much harder for me to pick up new ideas on Duolingo, I find that the program is very helpful with regards to memorization and reviewing vocabulary. After doing Duolingo lessons for a few days, many of the words did in fact enter my long-term memory. 

The gaming aspect of Duolingo is also a great motivator. I’m invested in beating other people in challenges, gaining gems to buy my character costumes, and attaining my monthly badge. If I could exchange all of my Duolingo gems for real money, I would probably be a millionaire. 

Finally, my favorite feature of Duolingo is the analysis it provides you. Over my 535 days of lessons, I learned precisely 1834 Spanish words. In addition to this, I have finished 364 mini-units, and have a Duolingo proficiency score of 78. These features come with suggestions for what to learn or practice next, and I find these incredibly helpful.

What do I recommend?

If you’re interested in learning a language with Duolingo, I would tell you to go for it. A little Duolingo never hurt anyone, but, be warned, the process is not nearly as fast as one might think. I would recommend doing lessons on Duolingo in conjunction with your foreign language in school. Overall, I think the program has been helpful with regards to vocabulary retention, and the lessons I’ve completed have certainly made my current Spanish class a whole lot easier.