Duolingo German: Can the Duolingos Harm Your German?

Before you start reading

When we get older, some of us become wiser and gentler 😉 Therefore I have rewritten my review about Duolingo German & Co. as quite a few readers have perceived the old version below as a bit too harsh. I and therefore sG strive for constant self-improvement and we have become much more stable and confident over the last 2.5 years. While a certain aggressive energy was and still is important to get your company to its feet and to keep it there in a highly competitive market, this aggression shouldn’t be reflected in our work. I leave this article here so that you can see my development and striving for a more peaceful communication with German learners and those who love the Duolingos for their own good reasons. You will realize though, that my conclusion of my analysis is still the same. It might now simply be a bit easier to digest.
Inspired by a few commenters, I would like to clarify a few things beforehand.

  1. As for now, I do not offer a product or service similar to Duolingo or any other language learning platform. My videos solely focus on German grammar and my tuition costs 3.500€ or more. So my videos are rather a supplement to any other German course or software out there and it is highly unlikely that a Duolingo user switches to my services. I personally don’t have any benefit from criticizing other people’s hard work. Everybody is free to evaluate my material under the same standards and I welcome any constructive criticism as it helps to improve my material and my work. And I hope that is also the attitude of other producers.
  2. Therefore it should also be clear that I do not compare my products or services to those mentioned in the article.
  3. As for the intention to raise attention, sure, I would love you to check out my material, yet I sincerely figure that those programs do more harm than good. Yet, it is still up to you to use whatever program you like. After having read this article you can make a more educated decision.
  4. All my claims follow solid reasoning. Should you have a better and proven argument, I have no problem, updating mine, as that is what improves my work. So far I have not come across better arguments. The challenge is still on.

Language Learning Softwares like Duolingo German claim to help you learn German

While in the following I will refer to Duolingo, much of the criticism applies to any other language learning software out there. I would like to call them duolingos as they all kind of have or better cause the same problem. But let me make one thing very clear at the beginning: The idea behind Duolingo is remarkable and absolute worth being further developed and supported. Watch this entertaining and impressive TED-talk by duolingo’s CEO Luis von Ahn  to find out what it actually is all about. The following article wants to show that even in 2014, learning languages via any software is not living up to its promises. Duolingo is next to Rosetta Stone one of the most popular ones and serves as an example.

In my opinion no software should be used by anyone who is serious about learning proper (i.e. least faulty) German. Not even as an add-on. If you don’t have access to better resources or simply can’t afford it, then yes, you might want to play around with duolingo, Busuu, memrise, babbel, verbling, livemocha etc. and you might even like it. But please be aware that they all suffer from similar flaws that I will describe in the following minutes. Let’s get started then, shall we?

Exercises? What am I Exercising Exactly?

Duolingo is a nicely programmed and optically well designed platform to learn a few languages. I am mostly concerned about German so I took a closer look this weekend and here is what I found:


At the very beginning, one is asked to select the translation of e.g. ‚the woman‘ and three images with a woman, a man and a girl are shown. Below these images there are the German terms for the person on the picture (I blurred these out of © reasons but you can still recognize what I am talking about).

I wondered and still do what this exercise is about. There is nothing achieved by performing this task as you could still successfully solve this task even if you wrote anything in marsian below the photos. You will come across such introductions every once in a while and they are pretty common among such programs. Rosetta Stone e.g. uses four pictures with solely the German term written below each photo so you associate the German word directly with the image. I can find some sense in that although it still lacks depth. But more about that later.

This is also a good example for the shallowness of many of the exercises that I have found in Duolingo. Often there are only three options given as a possible answer. Which then can simply be guessed. A 33% chance is far to high to let anyone be sure about her or his achievements. Even four or five possibilities wouldn’t do the job properly as besides still being pretty easy to guess, they require no thinking but are mere acts of visual recognizing. And that’s the easiest task to perform. Your mind is a recognizing machine. You can recognize a man or a woman from pretty far away solely by certain clues that you have been trained or born to see. Recognizing visual clues is necessary to understand but it is a very weak form of learning. After all you want to be able to understand and use language and not only recognize it visually, right?

Lost in Translation 

But I have to say that there are much more challenging exercises in duolingo that make up for this a bit. Although these have their own flaws. Take a look at this screenshot here:


Again, the execution of the exercises is lovely. I especially like the ‚almost correct‘ and that they take it easy on the capitalization in the beginning while mentioning it. But as soon as there is more than one kind of mistake, duolingo goes down on its knees. Do you see the ‚is‘ in the German translation? This even more serious mistake is overlooked by the machine and can as easily be overlooked by the man or woman in front of the screen even though the correct transcription is given in the green field.

Don’t add More Randomness than There Already Is

Another problem I have with these translations is that they are random. There is no context at all, except maybe a grammatical one later on, that could help to make sense of things. But although the supposedly trained grammar is mentioned in the name of later exercises, it doesn’t get clear in the exercise itself. Anyhow, our mind loves context, sense, logic. It simply hates to learn random things that seem to have no deeper purpose. That’s why motivation is
one of the most important factors when it comes to fast German learning.

The duolingo team had some university execute a study about the efficiency of their program and they mainly came to the same conclusion: motivation is crucial. But more about that study later.

To give you an impression of what I am talking about here a few examples. The following sentences were taken from consecutive exercises:

  • Meine Freundin macht Internet-Seiten >> Darum sehen wir einen blauen Himmel. >> Ich spreche mit meinem Freund am Computer >> Ich habe keinen Hunger gehabt.
  • My friend creates webpages. >> That’s why we have a blue sky. >> I speak with my friend at the computer. >> I wasn’t hungry.

These are just random sentences even though the CEO claimed in his very interesting TED-talk that the examples in duolingo would be ‚real content‘. He can only have meant the exercises in which pretty advanced learners are confronted with translating real life articles into the chosen language. But until you get there you will have spent plenty of hours with the kind of information mentioned above.

Reden ist Silber…

All in all, duolingo offers all necessary kinds of exercises. There’s reading, writing, listening and even speaking. But the latter still seems to be in its beta phase as I wasn’t able to get the computer to understand what I was saying (just to remind you: I am a native German testing their German learning program) nor was I able to replay what was obviously recorded. I tried it on a fully functional 2012 Macbook Air with the newest OS, so that might be a specific issue with my machine. But I also tried it on a new iPad Air where it understood my speaking but I also could have said just anything and it would have been accepted as correct. So, when I was asked to repeat: ‚Ja‘ I would say ‚Nein‘ and get away with it, meaning the machine accepted it as ‚correct‘. I tried that several times with the same results.

And simply getting one’s utterances through the voice-recognition is not yet proof of correct speech as they usually have a quite high level of tolerance. Rosetta Stone seems to be a nice exception and also offers two modes of strictness.  Then in duolingo one just has to repeat what was spoken by the computer a few seconds ago. That’s not really thrilling nor efficient as you still are not using the language but merely copying what you hear. You don’t get corrected and that’s bad. No software is yet capable of correcting your pronunciation or sentence melody and that’s often crucial to be understood properly.

Listen Well

I am a big fan of dictations. Duolingo offers mini-dictations that also give the learner the opportunity  to slow the pace of the spoken sentence. But whyever, they have chosen to let a computer read the sentences that you are about to type. While often that sounds surprisingly good, often individual words are mispronounced and what’s worse lack a natural sentence melody. That is simply a no go. Here just one sample. Try to understand first before you read the transcription at the end of this article.

[/audio m4a="https://smartergerman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/duolingo-sound-sample-eine-ente-frisst.m4a"][/audio]

Discuss with the Right People

Democracy is surely a nice concept but I am not a big fan of it, when it comes German teaching. Often in duolinguo you have the opportunity to discuss the translation of a sentence or even a word. You click on ‚discuss sentence‘ and there you can find users that ask questions or help others with their answers. You can rate each answer like in Reddit by voting it up or down. So far so good. This is a great idea for upper intermediate or advanced learners but for beginners that’s simply too confusing. It might simply be too overwhelming and you can not really be sure about the quality of an answer as you don’t know who has given it. Even the best German learner might have a few blind spots here and there that they then transmit to others. And this leads me to my dearest point: the lack of grammar explanations and learning aids.

Grammar: The Ugly Stepchild 

I won’t discuss the necessity and usefulness of solid knowledge about German grammar here. I told you, Democracy… But joking aside: I found some grammatical explanations while browsing through my learning tree but wouldn’t be able to find them again nor were there too many of them.  Duolingo introduces tiny bits in little speech bubbles as you can see in the second screenshot ‚all nouns are capitalized‘ which is a very nice idea but I can nowhere search for grammatical explanations except in the Discussion-forums which besides being rather risky also is exhausting and time-consuming as I would have to search through whole threads until I find what I am looking for although the search function is very nice.

No Instruction on how to Learn Anything Whatsoever

None. I haven’t come across any instruction on how to learn things quicker except of course in the main forum and even there rather not too precise which is easy to understand as those are not too wide spread which in the end is to my advantage but to any learner’s disadvantage. In German such a behavior is called ‘Unterlassene Hilfeleistung’ and is punishable.

How to (not) proof Efficiency 

I understand that Duolingo heavily relies on a numerous user base and the money of VCs. Providing both interest groups with an official study that ‚proofs‘ that the program is helping people to learn languages is surely beneficial. But when it comes to numbers I am always skeptical. I have read through the description of the study and don’t want to go too deep into detail here. Just a few questions to the Duolingo team or better the researchers that haven’t been answered but are crucial to derive any (!) worthwhile information from that oeuvre.

If ~100 out of ~200 participants bailed out of the study, doesn’t that also say something about the quality of Duolingo or simply about the clientele that believes to be able to learn a language with its help?

Which elements of Duolingo are actually relevant and how are they relevant for the progress that was measured?

What does the result actually say? I mean, what do I do with that information that after working 34 hours in average with Duolingo the average of participants showed progress that is comparable of one semester in a language course at any college. How many hours of language instruction does a college student get? How important are those classes for his or her success at the college? Where do I find the control study/group that was instructed to work the same amount of time with their own or even without any (if such a thing is possible) method or help?

Isn’t the goal of most language learners to be able to speak that language? Why wasn’t the oral skill tested as well?

There were many other questions that came up while working it through but without the above questions answered any conclusion drawn from that study is merely baloney. If you claim to have scientific proof, better make sure it is scientific.


I am sorry to have taken apart such a good idea and also technically well executed product (with the exception of the audio/speaking part on my machines). But it is not Duolingo alone that doesn’t hold up to its claim to teach us the German language. All other softwares are suffering from the same basic flaws: under- or overcharging exercises, lack of greater context, lack of instruction (i.e. grammar and techniques) and an impersonal approach. These programs are made for millions of learners so they are earning their makers money  which is not wrong per se but doesn’t provide the individual with what she or he needs.

And I have nothing against any of
these platforms by nature. I am looking forward to a future when we have our translator-implants and can communicate freely with any person on this planet (or others). I simply would like to make German learners aware of the fact that they can easily harm their German skills if they are not aware of the flaws of these softwares, especially by their speaking/pronunciation training.

Also, I feel as if thousands, if not millions are seduced to ‚learn‘ a language in a specific way that doesn’t even pay toll to established knowledge in learning psychology and neurology and in the end fail (‚best‘ case scenario) or -worse- get stuck with crappy German. Please forgive my lack of euphemism here.

Conclusion: Anyone serious about learning German should stay away from any software-course designed to help users learn German. Only if there’s no other alternative -as little as a good book like those of the Assimil-German with Ease series with audio, of course, would do- one might benefit from such a tool but still would need a very strong motivation to make it through all the senseless exercises that they all provide. Developers are still decades from successfully translating the process of learning a complex thing like the German language into code that will satisfy the need for proper language acquisition.

If you are serious about learning correct German, there’s no way around grammar. Have you already experienced how nice and sweet German grammar can be? But be aware: it might be addictive.

Transcription from audio above: Eine Ente frisst. A duck is feeding.

85 responses to “Duolingo German: Can the Duolingos Harm Your German?”

  1. Hi,
    After reading this post, I was surprised on what you had to say, and you made some good points, but I don’t agree with most of them.
    I agree that you can not learn a language completely with Duolingo, but I don’t think it will hurt it. If anything it is just a building block.
    I personally speak fluent French (Mind you Canadian French) and I started the French course for fun and to try to improve my grammar (I am very bad at knowing when to use/the difference between something like peux/peut or et/est), and I found that it does do its job, but you will not be fluent. Like you said, it does not do much for the speaking aspect of learning a language, but it does give you a vocabulary. So it is missing lots of things, but it does give you a foundation to go from. 😉

    And also, what version have you written this for, because your pictures don’t match up with what it is now 😉

  2. I really don’t get how your comment system works and how to reply to a specific comment. So I just drop this right here like this.

    As a German beginner I wouldn’t agree with you Michael. But as someone who recently mastered level B1 and is now in the process of learning B2 I can agree on one point: Duolingo does not teach a language! I attend a language school in Berlin (no advertisements of any schools or platforms are allowed here) and I’ve met so many people that started learning German with Duolingo prior to the course. And for none of them this has been in anyway beneficial. So with little to no knowledge of a language I highly recommend not using any language app at all. Because the thing you need to learn and the hardest part to learn, especially in German, is grammar. And at this point all apps fail. Translating word by word, because that’s all I can get from these apps (note: this is due to technical limitations not due to lack of effort), is the most simple task while learning a language. So learning a language with Duolingo with absolutely no knowledge even can do damage, as you’ve never learned how to use the words you learned to translate and begin to order them as you think they should. Effectively learning something wrong. It’s like English and Polish. Yes, the translation is easy and mostly a matter of memorizing, but putting the words in correct order and form is a whole different story. And that’s where language schools and teachers enter the game. Because despite all technological advancements, until today language is one of the most human things ever invented and one of the most difficult things for computers. So for now an app can’t replace a teacher. Period. Ewan whom’s comment I originally wanted to reply to, is the perfect proof for my point of view: His German translation of the words he wanted to use are nearly perfect BUT and that’s the crucial point: his grammar is absolutely not. Neither did he manage to transform the words in a logical way nor does he provide the correct grammar. Yes, a native speaker may still understand him, but we don’t learn another language so others still have to guess what we want to say, that’s beginners level. We learn them to be able to fully communicate and these apps just don’t provide this sort of understanding.

    I know I’m a little late to the party, but I just stumbled across this blogpost and it’s comments and couldn’t hold back, so here you got my 2 cents.

    have a nice day, bye

  3. Hi

    I appreciate the article/review. I’m learning German. I started by working through all the Michel Thomas German CDs (17 in total!). Now that I’ve finished those, I’m keeping German playing in the background (interviews mainly via YouTube), and finding and working through YouTube lessons and articles about the areas that Michel Thomas did not cover nearly enough (the declensions are my focus now!). I’m also focusing on finding German speakers to have conversation with – this part is key for me, as I learned Spanish (after working through the Michel Thomas CDs) basically only through conversation.

    I’m mentioning all of this as a way to explain that I’m using Duolingo mainly for the vocabulary, as a type of ongoing flashcard exercise and also a general exercise. I’m finding I’m learning quite a lot of vocabulary from it, but really very little grammar or structure (although I guess I’m practicing what I already know). I don’t care about the “gameified” experience or whatever. I consider that pure marketing and I’m very cynical of the whole “edutainment” sector – I think I’m correct in saying that it generally hurts learning. People now only care if it gives little pieces of instant gratification, instead of experiencing the joy of learning and discovering in and of itself. If learning is already fun, why do we have to “gameify” it?! I also don’t look at the answer options; instead I read/listen to the prompt/question/listening etc., and answer it in my mind and even say it to myself, and think it through carefully, before checking the possible answers. I hope I’m using the resource in a practical way, and it’s definitely no replacement for working hard on my own (reading, practicing, listening, thinking etc. from real life and real life materials).

    I pretty much agree with your review, but I wanted to add that I’m trying to use Duolingo practically.

  4. I started Duolingo in May of 2015 to help me with my German. BACKGROUND: I attended a year of college in Austria when I was about 20 years old. Before doing that, I’d had two years of college German. I think I may have had a semester of high school German as well. My classes in Vienna were in English except for my German classes. In my second semester I had picked up some Viennese friends who spoke a very heavy Wienerisch. I could rarely understand them. However, I could get by in my life shopping, etc. In the 45 years since then, my only exposures were on 1) a free trips back to Austria as a tourist, and 2) some Muzzy tapes I got my small daughter. Naturally before each trip I either grabbed a tourist tape or had a private lesson series with a neighbor. Naturally, I can, given enough beer, communicate with people I meet in bars. I’m sure my German is amusing to them and normally a good deal of the conversation takes place in English. MOST OF THE TIME. However, the last visit I ended up in hospital in a less touristy area. I discovered there was a lot I didn’t understand and that they didn’t understand. In fact, the best English translator turned out to be a young nurse.

    So since then, I’ve been working on my German pretty consistently, using first Duolingo, adding Memrise, until they changed the user interface, then starting Clozemaster, but doing Duolingo the whole time. Now as can be seen, I’d been taught traditionally with school books and language professors, and real life. So I had a substantial background in German, but my ability to hear and respond had always been pokey and probably funny when I screw up the cases of things. But there’s never been a hopeless problem created. Nevertheless, writing in German to Facebook friends was quite a challenge, especially if they would hit me with dialect. So, returned to class (so to speak) by starting Duolingo. I realized early in that it was probably best for someone in my positions and not a new learner. Nevertheless, I have definitely learned quite a bit. Genders are still a challenge, I’m going with my gut on them — Which sounds right? Also issues with declensions. But my word count is increasing (2807), I’ve finished the tree, and my fluency is at a Duolingo score of 67%. So, in its place it’s okay. You just need other sources of learning as well. I’m still shaky on when to use what case and the formation of plurals. Memrise was better that way, but very clunky. Clozemaster gets you access to way more vocabulary, but I’m not sure how I’m learning other than I read German pretty well, but the translation on the run and in conversations needs to get better. So, if Duolingo would add longer sentences it would be a big help. Now that they don’t do immersion anymore, I’m hoping that we can use XP to buy German cartoons or something.

  5. Umm, I learn German in Duolingo and it is pretty EFFECTIVE. You don’t have the right to talk something negative about anyone/anything. Duolingo is a great website which makes learning entertaining. Time flies when I go to Duolingo and I practice my language for 1 hour without even knowing. It also gives the correct form of learning, teaching small words and then to sentences. It also keeps revision tests in the form of strengthening a lesson. It also gives us lingots to make us feel like we accomplish something at the end of every lesson, which is great and makes the learner want to learn more. Once again, Duolingo is a great learning platform to learn languages and you have NO right to talk about it in a negative manner.

    • Liebe Kathy,
      I’m always fascinated by the amount of emotion that learners develop towards a purely technical product. First of all let me say that a) you are absolutely free to work with whatever method, app, technique or German tutor you like. My article doesn’t cut you from any of your possibilities. And b) My criticism is as reasonable as I could ever be and if you have better arguments than me, please share them with me. As we can’t really argue properly here if all you offer is an opinion. There is no sense in arguing over any opinion and I don’t put any value in the few opinions I still bother to create. My article though is not based on an opinion but on a thorough analysis which grounds in over 20 years of experience (of which 18 years are of professional nature). You don’t need to have a comparable experience to point out flaws in my logic or argumentation at all. But you at least should make the effort to find them. So far no one has come up with a good point to argue about or that made me reconsider my evaluation of DL & Co.

      DL is a nice game and that’s about it. Yes, you can learn some German with it but so could you reading a dictionary or just entering random sentences in Google translate. DL is only slightly more efficient (although admittedly a bit more fun) than that. Try both and see for yourself. 😉

      What is it that motivated you to write this comment? You seem to defend a lifeless bundle of code but how can that evoke such a strong emotion that you make the effort to write to me in such an upset way? We don’t even know each other personally so this can only be a projection towards me as you make this personal by saying that “I (=Michael) have NO right to talk about it in a negative manner.”

      By the way, the points you mentioned are indeed the plus points of DL and I have nothing to object there. But see German learning as a dish. While you might use the best ingredients, it still all depends on how you put them together and who cooks it. And in this regard, DL (and all apps out there until now – 10/2017) are worse than McDonalds.

      As I wrote initially: you are free to eat whatever and wherever you like. And I wish you Guten Appetit 😉 Enjoy your learning however you approach it instead of taking sides for a product that is subpar (or even an excellent product).

      Herzlichen Gruß aus Berlin

  6. From the article, you say: “Recognizing visual clues is necessary to understand but it is a very weak form of learning.”

    Do you have citations for the research your assertion is based on? I know nothing and would like to read more about it.

  7. You miss completely the point of Duolingo. Few can sit an read about a language all day yet Duolingo is entertainment as much as it is learning. I am learning German on duolingo and for you to downright diss duolingo with your pretentious words, is quite rude of you. Yes, you may be a professional but that hinders you also. You cannot perceive how helpful it is to beginners and what a great piece of software it is. And for you to say it harms German learning, what earth are you on? This page is merely to promote your own learning and to falsely accuse duolingo of things just because you are a fluent German speaker. Well guess what, I am fluent in English and I tried the English course and it is very well done. And don’t you dare comment about my disrespectful tone as doing that would impose hypocrisy.

    Truly Angry,

    • Dear Ewan,
      one simple question: where does your anger come from? Do you know me personally? Have I done any harm or injustice to you? You threaten me not to oppose your disrespectful tone which thereby you even admit as then I’d out myself as a hypocrite?
      I don’t need to comment on what you have written. Quoting you speaks for itself.
      Enjoy Duolingo, many people do and I sleep calmly nevertheless.
      This is where my engagement with you ends as you self-admittedly lack the respect I’d require to go further.
      Herzlich dennoch

      • I apologise for my profound rudeness but I found it rather frustrating the times you dissed duolingo. For being free, it is a wonderful service. I suppose you are the more experienced language learner here, but you have to realise the experience duolingo provides is to set footers for language learning. I deeply am sory about my comment as it was unneeded and very rude towards you.


        • Apology accepted, Ewan. And I understand that you got angry and that it had nothing to do with me nor with being unreasonable on my side. I can assure you that I understand DL very well and also understand why you and many others love it. That doesn’t mean though, that DL is any! good from a learning / teaching point of view but rather on a psychological, motivational level. And I can without hesitation appreciate that DL is doing an excellent job on that for many users. But I have also come across many other users who got bored and even annoyed with DL very quickly. Your experience is your experience and I’m happy that you had a good one with DL. The question I would have for you is: what is it that makes you so angry when you read my article if it works for you? I’m not telling anyone NOT to use DL. I just inform them about my reflected and researched point of view. Whatever anyone decides after reading my article is completely in their responsibility.
          Herzlichen Gruß aus Berlin und
          weiterhin viel Erfolg mit Deinem Deutsch.

          • It is true, Duolingo is a good platform but is not very customisable to the learner like Memrise. I personally prefer Duo to Mem because I found it more intriguing being able to speak full sentences from the beginning. Ich mag Duo weil, es gut ist. Manchmal ist es schlecht aber, es ist normalerweiser gut. Mein Deutsch ist nicht perfekt aber, alles das Worten kommen aus Duolingo.

          • As you are experienced with languages, how would you make a perfect language?
            I would conjugate verbs with non-plural and plural, I would have gendered nouns with neuter for things that can’t possess a gender and abstract nouns. I would make adverbs and adjectives the same and would make possession easy by inflection.

  8. Thank you for the article. For me Duolingo’s trump card is the gaming experience which through addiction/repetition has helped revive my German (such that it ever was). A cold textbook may be a better teacher though what use it if it can’t be picked up during a ‘Werbung’ break and knock out a seventeen question revision exercise? A phone is always to hand.

  9. You know, I didn’t read your blog entry in entirety. It is misleading and contains examples that do not illustrate the criticisms that you try to illustrate. As a result, I would not trust you and your services, because you are simply worried about the harm to your business and profits than you are worried or care about your students.

    No, Duolingo cannot harm your German. All the examples you have given in the early part of the article deal with beginner level lessons. It is evident to me from your limited examples and your headline that:

    A: You barely used the website 10 minutes and,

    B: You are more worried about Duolingo harming your BUSINESS than harming the German of your students.

    There is no such thing as a complete language learning resource online, or even offline. However, Duolingo is structured based on machine learning. The lessons adapt to your learning style. For one, you can “test out” in order to advance quickly if you have pre-established knowledge in the target language. If you had spent the time and energy rather than slandering the website in your headline, you could have done a more thorough analysis of the resources available on Duolingo. This has enabled me to use my 3 years of university German experience to move onto something more my speed. It isn’t perfect and takes a lot of time to get to a level that isn’t too easy, but once you get there, it is fine.

    Words used out of a defined context by the way are a cornerstone of language learning including in universities, textbooks, and EVERY resource ever to teach language. I won’t address that criticism further.

    Also, it lets slide certain mistakes but not others. Typos are ignored only if they do not compromise grammar significantly. Non-capitalization of nouns gives a criticism, etc. There’s probably a few instances where you can get away with too much, but still… there is nothing perfect. I doubt that many students would learn these mistakes as if that is how German is.

    I really think you should adapt to a world in which students join your German classes with a higher level of pre-knowledge of the subject matter. The learning curve for students among all disciplines including language learning is steepening, and so will the job of a teacher. You’ll have to ADAPT. If you don’t believe in democracy, presumably you believe in revolutionary principles such as adaptation. Calling your competitors harmful to students is not adapting. I see a fish that sinks, and it’s better that you sink than float and stink.

    • Dear Josh,
      do you know me and have I personally attacked you? Otherwise it is difficult for me to understand your anger and personal attack agains my person. In what way is Duolingo a threat to my business? They offer a didactically dysfunctional tool and a head of marketing of a Duolingo competitor confirmed (rather by accident, I suppose) that users of their software stop using it after 4-6 weeks. Duolingo will be no different. You are also free to use DL as much as you like as it is your lifetime. I also say so in the article and the comments. The title is formulated as a question and to raise attention. The whole article is based on my expertise of over 20 years in the field. It is not the ultimate truth but certainly a thought through and constantly evaluated point of view. And what was your qualification exactly?
      Should you be interested in a proper discourse over this matter I suggest you pick a nicer tone without any personal judgement or emotional reaction caused by who knows what. I also recommend to invest the fifteen minutes it would take to finish my article and maybe also read the comments because otherwise all you do is to discuss the title of a blog post without any background knowledge. It’s hard to take you as a serious discussion partner if you lack basic respect for the person you are trying to convince of being in the right.
      My best wishes

      • The lack of professionalism in this reply and questioning my qualificationS is doing on your own to me EXACTLY what you accuse me of. I critiqued an article that seemed to answer it’s own rhetorical questions, I didn’t even read your name or continue reading the negatively slanted article.

        This response to me is really sickening to read, but I recognize you as a shark protecting your tank. Okay, it sucks having competitors that offer resources for free.

        However, grow up a little. I’m 30, so 20 years of qualification in teaching from the age of 10 isn’t so likely. Get over your age and your tone, because talking down to students is never going to draw more people in. And actually, people read these comments! You have my permission to delete them if you think that will make you look better. I think having a small business is hard, and that you feel threatened, but you need to relax and take criticism a little better. I have a lot of experience dealing with constructive criticism without needing to vent. I studied theatre AND languages, rejection and harsh criticism are my life blood.

        Have a nice day, and good luck with your personal business. I meant that sincerely, including both the positive and the negative comments. RELAX.

        Bye Mike

        • Your tone is still disrespectful, Josh. You did not respond to neither my article nor to my response to your first very aggressive comment. As promised I’m out at this point.

  10. Michael,
    I have recently subscribed to your weekly email which is terrific I. It’s simplicity, generally, bar this week…viz. Schamen, has been terrific and motivating to follow.
    I have been attending 2 hour weekly (term time) classes for c 3 years but due to travelling a bit miss c33% of them.
    The main reason for wanting to learn is that we have a holiday home in Austria and spend a lot of time there Winter and Summer, c1 hour south of Salzburg. Can you suggest what methods I can best use to supplement my learning ‘ on the go’? It would be great if there was somewhere local to my town there, St. Johann I’m Pongau, or even Salzburg where I could do perhaps some intense learning while there. Do you know perhaps if there are colleges, schools or tutors that facilitate that type of learning? Many thanks in anticipation of your reply. Phena

  11. […] is an updated version of my Article about Duolingo & Co. in a much gentler tone than the original article and a few modified […]

  12. First of, your page does not work well on mobile, I can’t read the comments because they go outside the view to the right and no scrolling possibility.

    Second, I think you are really underestimating the humans mind to learn patterns. The approach of duolingo is better fitted me, I have almost forgot all grammar in both Swedish and English, yet I handle both languages nativly. It’s because I have put so much time, just using the languages, the same way I first learned Swedish as my native language. Your article seems very much like lobbying your own interests here. Instead of hammering on these apps, endorse then as tools to aid language practice

  13. I don’t really know how my comment will fare, but I’m a student who has used Babbel and Memrise to learn Spanish at one point. For some, Learn a language online is still too expensive. What’s the benefit of paying even $5/lesson if one can learn the material on one’s own time on a $6/mo program? When one considers that there’s usually an abundance of free language exchange programs, and recognizing that that means one can get speaking practice and corrections for free, paying for a tutor is not a practical option. The image-word association you review on Duolingo is actually beneficial. One just needs not to cheat. Plus, imagine you’re learning a word “cold”. Are you referring to “Gee, I have the flu” cold or “Brr! I’m freezing” cold? Images are also useful in helping build memory. I suggest you look at Memrise – Learn something new every day and learn about their mnemonics. I personally believe it’s the fault of the learner to make sure their submission and the correct answer are identical. The program itself is fine. Even if Duolingo has random excerises, there’s still a lot of ~$6/mo programs that teach “real” content. I like random excerises actually. Dea est bona. Agricola fugiebat ex oppido quod Caesar et legiones oppidanos interfecerunt. I self-studied Latin in 10th grade (I’m in 11th now) and remember a great deal of it thanks to Memrise and a free public-domain Latin book. I really disliked learning Spanish, though. Hola! Me llamo Faith. Me gusta estudiar, pero realmente no me gusta Español y voy a aprender Cymraeg y Alemán siguiente. Hylo! Dw i’n hoffi canu! Haha, de América soy; mi padre puede hablar un poco Español. ¿Vivo con mi padre? No! Yo no sé donde está. I’m still a beginner at Spanish though. The point is: learning a language is entirely do-able and cheaper using methods like this.

    On a second note: You do teach German privately, right? Even if you don’t personally benefit, your industry of tutoring will if one chooses to study with a tutor instead of a website, whether or not that tutor is you. I just want novice language learners to hear an opposing view.

    • Dear Faith,
      I don’t really get your point. I love memrise and have said so in plenty of videos and articles. You are not really talking about this article which is about Duolingo & Co. And memrise is for free by the way. The premium version is not worth the money at all. The app itself would easily be worth 5€ and I’d pay that for it. But the premium version is a bunch of stats that doesn’t really do anything to anyone’s learning.

      Maybe one remark on your “point” that there are always cheaper ways to learn a language: Who buys cheap, buys twice. Sure, you can learn any language for free yet it will always cost you significantly more time to get organized and the probability that you don’t follow your plan to master it to the end is very high. A tutor can optimize this and, if he or she is any good, is worth every cent. I save my clients anything between 200 and 400 hours of lifetime plus I make learning German even possible for them as they don’t have the time to go to a class or travel to a tutor’s home at a time that suits the tutor. That is easily worth the money they invest in their German when working with me.

      Maybe your final sentence refers to my claim that I don’t benefit from criticizing those programs. But honestly, why exactly do you think I should care about my “industry” which is first of all not even an organized entity but a large group of individuals that mainly care for their own business. Even if all of my colleagues went extinct tomorrow, I’d be very fine, I promise 😉

      Opposition just for opposition’s sake is of no value. If you oppose, oppose with clear arguments that can be discussed. And if you are aiming at entering a longer fruitful discussion make sure that you study your “opponent” a bit more thoroughly. You not knowing that I love memrise simply ends the discussion here.

      Viel Erfolg mit Deinem Sprachenlernen. Du bist noch jung und Dein ganzes Leben liegt noch vor Dir. Genieße es und mach was draus.

  14. you’re simply insulting people’s intelligence…. DL is probably one of the best apps ever. I’m a language freek, speak nearly 5, and use DL to “derust” my German. for that, kicks butt.

    i wanted to test it with a language i knew nothing about. chose Swedish. incredible speed for learning and in a fun way. the only reason i’m not learning faster swedish is because i have limited time and i want to reccup german a lot more, since i need it.

    the whole article sounds like you’re trying to find a way to write your way thru the crowdsourcing… impossible task.

    Duo has issues, yes. but so many people fixing it at the same time that when you do the maths on energy/bit learned x money, using Duo is a non f$&^% brainier.

    having said that, id like ot test your product so i can give you a fair review. care for a free trial?


    • Dear Rod,
      thanks for your opinion and personal experience. I can’t find any factual point in your comment that we could argue constructively about, hence all I would like to say here is, that you certainly can purchase my material and review it from your point of view like any other person interested in doing so could do as well. I will not offer you a free trial mainly due to your aggressive demeanor. You start off by claiming that I’d be insulting people’s intelligence. I beg to differ and honestly am not appealed by such an introduction. The rest of your mail is as aggressive as that. Sorry, that’s just not the way I communicate with others nor do I reward this kind of communication by giving away my hard work for free.

      Judging from your calling DL a no-brainer, you seem to assume that your experience is representative for a vast amount of DL users, which statistically is highly unlikely as someone who speaks 5 languages is simply more gifted or at the very least way more trained than the standard language learner. You belong to a very tiny percentage (~1%) of the world’s population but I am not sure that you are aware of that. The rest is not as fortunate as you are.

      And I don’t consider DL a no-brainer mainly due to the reasons (!) that I have given in my article, not just because it is my opinion or simple personal experience.

      Best regards,

  15. I can relate to so many of the things that you have mentioned here. I read some of the comments and felt that they were unfair to label your criticism to be too harsh. I have been trying to learn German since the past few months and I must say German has lived up to its reputation of being a notoriously hard language.
    I came across Duolingo while learning French in college. It really did help me stay afloat. For someone who felt lost in class, Duolingo proved to be a lifesaver. In fact, on many occasions I even surprised my instructor with the progress that I had made. Your criticism sounds fair to me and has been echoed by many others as well. However, not everyone has the option to put aside money to learn a language. What I really liked about Duolingo was the option to make as many mistakes as I liked without feeling ashamed of myself. Also, I had the flexibility to use it whenever I wished to. I found the people on the forums to be extremely helpful; every time that I posted something that I got stuck with, someone responded with advice that I often found helpful . With that said, the flaws that you have pointed out really do exist, however, your opinion that it does more damage than good is arguable.

  16. I found Duolingo helpful in improving my German BUT sometime during the past month or so, it has been (to me) seriously dumbed down.
    Every page now has a cutesey-quaintsey cartoon……..are they trying to attract younger (i.e. grade-school-level) users?? How is a cartoon
    intended to foster my learning??? Also, it’s my impression that the drills have been simplified, and made even less accommodating to variations
    in answers — for example it wouldn’t accept ‘dislike’ in place of ‘don’t like’. And in some cases a new word is beaten to death!
    Duolingo needs reminding of the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!

  17. I’ve been using Duolingo to learn German for a couple of weeks. I have really fallen in love with it. My only other attempts at learning a language was four combined years of Spanish in high school and college. I always struggled in those classes. I think that was mostly because the method of teaching wasn’t intuitive to trying to speak a language. Essentially, most people who are learning a language are focusing on being able to converse orally. Most courses taught in schools really don’t have an end goal of conversing. The courses and their respective instructors test on the minutia to separate A students from C students.

    For whatever reason, Duolingo seems to work for me. I am by no means fluent in German but after two weeks, I feel I am as fluent in German as I was in Spanish after four grueling years. It seems like the app is geared more towards teaching conversing skills rather than drowning the student in strict rules. I don’t know, but it seems like Duolingo is attempting to mimic someone learning a language by being in a foreign country. With Duolingo, the rules are there but there isn’t a lesson saying use this form of Sie in this situation. Instead of expressing those rules, Duolingo attempts to convey those rules through repetition of the lessons, i.e. in much the same way you would learn those rules if you were living abroad.

    As for the pictures with the German words, I’m guessing that it is associating the image with the word. Typically when someone hears a word, there is some immediate association attached to it. Some people may associate an image, a color, a memory and on rare occasions, a taste or a smell. The object would seem to be that when you hear the word frau, you picture the woman and therefore can remember that frau means woman. Of course since I am doing the phone app, when I hear things like Kuh, I will picture a childlike drawing of a cartoon cow.

    I agree that Duolingo makes the answers easy to figure out. However, I try to figure out when I get something right, why a certain verb is conjugated one way but in another sentence the other way. Basically, I think if your goal is to really try and learn the language then it is a good app. If your goal is simply to get through lessons so that you can brag to a friend or tell an employer that you are 30% fluent in German then the app fails.

  18. about duolingo .. I think the only real bad point that need to be mentioned is the Speaking skill .. in fact there is no way to learn speaking well from duolingo because of the lack of a good technology to recognize the spelling.
    generally I think it is very good to learn some vocabulary , verbs , pronouns .. and a lot of skills freely instead of spending a fortune to learn from scratch.

  19. Duolingo made learning fun and motivating for me. There is no scientific studies that can change that. And saying that Duolingo is not motivating from your point of view, doesn’t mean that it isn’t motivating for others. It is just a matter of preferences!
    Please try to remember that
    1) different learning methods work for different people and
    2) people have very different type of goals.
    Comparing Duolingo to private lessons is like comparing email to face-to-face communication. I think you are completely missing the point of the whole software. I am not using Duolingo as an alternative to another type of lessons, I am using it as an alternative to solitaire. And yet, I have already noticed my skills improving. I hope my next vacation trip will be more fun because of Duolingo.

    Duolingo might claim that it can make people fluent at a language, but I seriously doubt there is even one single method, tool or teacher on this planet who can singularly teach someone a whole new language. Motivated students always use more than one method for learning (teachers, books, TV, games, immersion, comics, music etc.) So the whole point is moot. It is of course possible to evaluate how quickly someone learns certain amount of words or basic grammar, but that is really not the issue here.

    Simply complaining about other people’s products rarely accomplishes anything worthwhile. If you wanted to be helpful, you would have told us about how alternatives compare to Duolingo or at least how to fill the gaps of Duolingo’s teaching methods. In its current state, your article does not bring anything new to the table. Anyone can learn more about Duolingo by testing it for 15 minutes than by reading your article. So what exactly was the point here? Stating the obvious? I recommend putting a little bit more thought into your criticism.

    From the title, I thought that your article was about Duolingo teaching incorrect grammar or bad translations. I am happy I was wrong, because I was actually worried about that for a moment. Oh, and I sincerely doubt that Duolingo can harm my learning enough for it to matter in practice. Especially since Duolingo is the main reason why I am learning a new language in the first place!

    • Dear Niina,
      I’m happy to read that you like DL so much that you think that it is the main reason why you learn German. Unfortunately you haven’t provided me with anything else but your personal preference (“Duolingo made learning fun and motivating for me. There is no scientific studies that can change that.”), blind judgement (“And saying that Duolingo is not motivating from your point of view, doesn’t mean that it isn’t motivating for others” & “Simply complaining about other people’s products” & “If you wanted to be helpful”) and unasked for patronizing advice (“Please try to remember”) so that I have nothing really that I could discuss with you. You seem to have missed my point (“but that is really not the issue here.”)
      I never discuss personal opinions without having any underlying facts that could be analysed objectively. If you find a factual mistake in my analysis of DL, please let me know as I certainly would be interested in correcting it.

      I wonder why you put so much emotion into defending a software that doesn’t even care whether you learn German or not. And it’s also not the makers’ top priority as you would find in Louis van Ahn’s TED talk. I simply provide information that help German learners make up their mind and do not tell them what to do. An educated choice is always than a blind one.

      In diesem Sinne weiterhin viel Spaß mit Deinem Deutsch with whatever software or method you choose.

      • Duolingo being fun and motivating for her might be just her opinion, but it is not an isolated one, seeing as the ‘gamification’ concept of the site is angled exactly at that: counting day streaks, competing with friends, keeping a record of your accomplishments, losing hearts (before), gaining ‘lingots’ for good work, having a coach and daily goal, keeping the tree golden, etc. Basically, it provides a fun design for a pleasant, completely un-intimidating experience for a first-timer — which cannot be said of resources that explain a lot of things in a very compact way. Above all, I think the best point on this language program is that it is easy to jump into and it makes you want to come back to it.

        And if it does not go too in-depth with grammar and other important points of language, it has the advantage of familiarizing you with a language without that it feels like the “next challenge” would be too big. They usually don’t claim to teach you completely the language (this is why they estimate fluency at 50%, or reading capacities at such, even after having finished). If we want to compare it, I’d say it would be like watching a few good Shakespeare movie adaptations before taking a dedicated literature class: it is pleasant, painless, introduces you to key concepts without that it feels like you’re studying for an exam, and it actually makes you want to sign up for that complicated theory class that you were a bit scared of before because you heard it was really complicated and strict.

        Of course, I do not say you are wrong to say the program is lacking in many different ways (though it is constantly improving). But as someone who used it as a resource to facilitate my studies of German three years ago, I really don’t see how Duolingo could have left me worse off than before I started it. It’s an anecdotal statement, of course, but I was always good at learning languages, but German was a sworn enemy out of which I could make no sense. Duolingo tamed that for me, and now I can read novels and watch TV shows and movies in German. It was of course not all Duo; not even *mostly* Duo, but Duo was an important first step. And its popularity and accessibility have encouraged tons of people who thought they could never learn another language to try it, because why not? It’s funny and free. It’s a game. It’s good for memory and for the brain. It is not complete, and it is not perfect, but I really do not see the downside you are speaking of when you speak of how its popularity could bring on disastrous learning on massive scale.

        So I think that the bone you’re picking with it — “Duolingo is not complete and serious and scientifically minded enough” — is correct, but completely ignores the main and strongest advantage of the program — the enthusiasm and response it generates. It is hard to quantify, and you would obviously not feel this yourself in just revising the German program instead of picking up a language you’ve always wanted to learn but never quite had the time/confidence/money. But as a random passerby leaving a comment rather than writing a serious review, I have no problem saying that this is an important point.

        Of course, I cannot say if your program elicits such enthusiasm and sense of confidence from your learners, or if the motivation they have is as strong — having no money to spend for it and all that — but I hope it does because, if I learned something from high school, it’s that the most complete theory is not going to be much use without motivation from the student and an interesting approach from the teacher.

        I’ve already written more than I thought I would. Sorry for that! I wish you the best of luck with your program and projects and I hope that your sensible criticism will be heard and called upon for improvements in Duolingo and all other like-minded programs. Cheers!

  20. I am having some fun trying Duolingo Italian, having in the past learnt French at school and German (at language school) in Austria. As a violin teacher I would like to point out that random exercise is now regarded as a very good way to approach learning and practising (there is research around on this). In other words you don’t repeat one exercise 20 times, you swap between exercises doing them a few times each. I think pictures are fine – how do we recognise things in the real world? (Think about how you learned the names of things as a child) Also if you think about how we learn language as children, we do not learn grammar immediately! We learn general use of words and it is corrected by our parents. There is a v good TED talk about this too. But of course you need a native (or nearly) speaker to feed you back correct pronunciation, tricky in Australia! I have also tried CDs of Immersion Italian (sim to Rosetta Stone) but found them a bit frustrating and too slow. I think the Duolingo is fun, prob not a serious replacement for a language school, but a good start and I’ll be interested to see how far I get! BTW a language teacher suggested I try it! Like teaching music, you really have to get in and do it, not learn all the theory first.

    • Dear Margaret,
      thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I agree that random exercises are a good way to perfectionize your German as soon as you are familiar ! with the matter. But never for a beginner or when seeing the material for the first time(s). Test design – as this is a test – has come a long way and Duolingo is far from being efficient in this regard. Pictures have no significant benefit over your imagination and are rather easy to misunderstand as soon as the matter becomes a bit more abstract. How goes the saying? A word says more than thousand pictures 😉 They are massively overrated from what I have read and seen over the last 20 years and I consider them a waste of time (and money as someone has to pay either with money or with time to make them). Mnemonic images though are saving time if they are well done (check: instagram.com/smartergerman). And I will never get tired to mention that it is long proven by science that adults do not learn languages like children. That myth comes from someone who hasn’t done his research and as it sounds logical to a certain degree, people nowadays still spread it. The same with the left-right brain analogy or immersion or this or that. There are so many false beliefs out there that one needs to do more research not to end up wasting her time and energy.

      Which of the TED talks about pronunciation or language learning do you consider good? I’d appreciate if you could share the link.

      Sure, DL can be fun for some and if you just take it easy and have all the time in the world, I wouldn’t argue against wasting your time with DL instead of Candy Crush. But I come from a different point of view where efficiency and quality are the most important quality to aim for. DL does not provide either.

      And sorry to argue about each and every point in your comment. But those points might be helpful for many others out there: Learning music is in my experience not comparable with learning a language. Thought there are many parallels and musicians are often excellent language learners. I know you were talking about the spirit of “just do it” but just this week realized that this is exactly what you shouldn’t do. “don’t do it” is what I suggest for the first month. Build a base. Learning is always an active process and I’m not talking about the theory here. Speaking can go wrong on so many levels and is such a complex matter that you need to build a solid listening skill first and also gather some vocab to work with. In music you wouldn’t start with twelve-tone music or Rachmaninov either, right? Basics first, then speak properly.

      Thank you for your comment, Margaret. I hope you understand where I come from and that my arguments come from practical life as well from solid theoretical knowledge.
      Ein schönes Wochenende Ihnen.

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0yGdNEWdn0 This is one I found interesting, there may be others.
        I appreciate that adults and children do not learn in the same way and I am aware of left brain/right brain myths, but I do think there are many similarities between music and language learning (the basis of the highly successful Suzuki learning and many others besides). Adults need to engage in more (‘childlike’?) exploration and everyone needs to hear the sound before the symbol. So I agree with you about listening first, but if Berg or Rachmaninoff floats your boat, why not?!

        • I don’t follow, Margaret. So you would teach music to a beginner with Rachmaninov?

          I love to be an adult and would hate ! to learn more childlike. And I’m not alone. Being explorative is not a feature reserved to children. I’m highly explorative and
          always teach my clients to explore more and more. That has nothing to do with being a child. That’s a fundamental human thing. But let’s not argue over how we name things.

          That video I have seen a few times already and consider his advice either as obvious (you need to understand in order to learn, it’s a physiological challenge but he over-emphasizes it a bit, the steered use of body language leads to weird tics at best), critical (just speak, don’t worry about correctness, comparison with kid’s learning experience), highly impractical (get a language parent). I have even read his book “The Third Ear”. And I can only encourage those with sufficient time at their hand to try what Chris Lonsdale suggests. They will find that his approach simply needs way too much energy to produce significant results. For beginners it is important NOT to have too many options as those are simply distracting and confusing. From after B1 onwards, learners can go wild and maybe can benefit from a tip or two of his. But I don’t think he’s found the holy grail of German learning.

          The problem is that highly gifted people try to explain normally gifted people how to learn a language but are usually not able to put themselves in those learners’ shoes. What these speakers suggest often leads to more frustration in “normally” gifted language learners.

          And no, not anyone can learn a language in six months. And to what degree of mastery? And certainly not on one’s own which includes the search for a language parent which costs a lot of time already.

          I could talk for hours about this topic. But I have some more work to do 😉 Thank you for engaging in this discussion, Margaret.

          Have a good evening.

  21. Exercises? What am I Exercising Exactly?

    The exercise example you provided is rare, usually an introduction to three new words. I do think there is educational value in providing three new words with three pictures, and choosing the correct one. The path is made in the mind as it matches native “woman” with the picture of the woman with the foreign word for “woman”. The thorough learning will sound the new word out in his/her mind, and also read the other words and associate the new words with their respective pictures.

    It’s a very simple introduction for idiots and children, and everyone else too.

    Lost in Translation

    What you’ve screen-captured is a bug.

    Don’t add More Randomness than There Already Is

    I prefer it. The intention of the program is not storytelling, it is to teach words and grammar. The randomness keeps me interested, and makes it impossible to predict the answer. If each consecutive exercise kept mentioning the same subject matter that would become boring. “My friend creates webpages.” Adjective, noun (subject), verb, noun (object).

    Yes, the more substantial content comes later, but that is how it should be, we can’t expect too much too soon from a student who could be any age. Are we going to start them out translating a paragraph?

    Speech is Silver…

    I agree the speech is in the beta phase, and is probably included in the app to get the valuable feedback from all different speakers. Hopefully it will improve with better voice recognition software. Even Siri gets it wrong until she learns your voice.

    Listen Well

    Mispronunciation is unacceptable, I agree on that. The melody however, can wait, as it will become natural later as the student hears people actually speaking German.

    Discuss with the Right People

    How is it too confusing for a beginner? We are all becoming more familiar with taking people’s opinions with a grain of salt. And the discussion is open to argument. With the voting option, it’s golden.

    Grammar: The Ugly Stepchild

    For some people, they should learn the rules of the language before learning words or phrases. For other people, this would be tedious and boring. This program chose to teach grammar here and there, focusing on keeping the program engaging and fun.

    No Instruction on how to Learn Anything Whatsoever

    What are you even saying here? The title says “learn anything whatsoever”, but in the text you say “how to learn things quicker”. The program introduces the student to words, phrases, and grammar. What are you looking for, tips and tricks?

    How to (not) proof Efficiency

    Here you present numerous questions, and I’m not in any position to agree, disagree, defend, or support your opinions.


    I have a few minutes here and there between duties to learn another language, Duolingo fits into my schedule throughout the day perfectly, and makes learning easy and fun. It’s almost a game. By the end of the application, I will know the language well enough to read with the help of a dictionary, and hear the language’s melody by watching movies.

  22. I tried duolingo once for about 10 minutes and immediately lost faith in it when it tried to teach me the sentence “The boy has a bee.” Absolutely useless context, that I have never ever said in my native language, much less any other of my 2nd languages. This is the problem with most language software in my opinion, just teaches you useless stuff, and this is daunting to anyone starting a language from 0, how much use will the German user of Duolingo have, if they use the software for a week prior to their first trip to Germany…will they be able to order a beer at a restaurant, no, will they be able to tell aforementioned Keller that the boy has a bee, yes. Not good.

    • If you use any method of language learning for only one week before visiting a new place, you have made a much larger error than which learning method to trust. If you only have a week and you expect to pretend as if you can speak the language then you’re best off buying a $5 tourist’s dictionary and memorizing the travel phrases in the back.

      A much better approach is not to pretend that you speak the language. Instead you should learn absolutely as much vocabulary as possible. Don’t worry about declensions, conjugations, tenses etc. Just learn the words. You’ll be able to address many more situations this way. Just muddle through experience as best you can. Most locals are happy to help you get whatever it is you are wanting.

      I’ve been through this many times myself in the military. It works. I got to be pretty expert on 3-week language crash courses. And you want to order a beer? I’ve ordered, literally, thousands of beers with no words at all. Make eye contact with the wait-staff or bartender and then point to an empty bottle or glass while smiling. Trust me. They will know what you want.

      The huge majority of language learning systems have a longer term in mind. If you can say, “The boy has a bee.”, then you can also say, “The boy has a beer.”. This is just a comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary drill. If it didn’t work, then why would we have all manner of similarly pointless books, rhymes etc. for children to learn?

      In my experience (admittedly less than the author’s), the single largest factor in acquiring new language skills is the learner’s desire.

  23. When I was first interested in learning Languages, I learned French. I started by just immersing myself in the grammar, vocabulary, etc. and It actually worked out pretty well. I’m now fluent in French. This is not the case in German. I had difficulty in German, and I was thinking of trying a different approach for German, perhaps duo lingo. I’m not sure anymore lol

    Schönen Tag noch!

  24. Hi 🙂 – sorry i have to completely disagree. I learnt german at school, but left it for a while, i have just recently decided to go back to it. Whilst it isn’t perfect, it’s really helped bring back my past knowledge. I feel like it’s actually filling in the gaps that i had missed in terms of grammar, by providing an an overview for each subject, meaning that i now understand the basic logic of the grammar a lot more. Furthermore, whilst those photo and translation games don’t challenge me at all, they are great at getting the vocabulary and the article in my head, especially since a voice says the word afterwords. Plus the fact that they count the days you go on the site in a row means that i don’t slack off on my learning as i did in the past. For a free site duolingo is the holy grail

  25. > Duolingo sucks
    > Use my method to learn german in 30 days

    Your article is very, very bad. Anyone can learn a language by him/herself. Duolingo is just one of the tools around. And, by the way, grammar is grammar. Once you learn the grammatical patterns in romance languages, or slavic languages or germanic languages, you can easily learn all the other languages on the same branch – given the correct adaptations, of course.

    Paying for a language course is only useful for MAYBE the first foreign language you learn.

    • Well, Nicole. Do you know me? Is there a reason why you mock me (lol?) I’m totally fine with criticism if it is based upon facts. But I can’t find any in your comment. You just assume that I want to sell my product by degrading DL. Sure, I do want to sell my work and products. That’s why I have a blog and products to sell and offer services. But I don’t benefit in any way from criticising Duolingo. I genuinely find DL bad and give pretty logical and understandable reasons to which you haven’t objected yet.

      I see no benefit in discussing your personal preferences. I also don’t know any of your background. Are you a colleague? Do you have any theoretical or at least practical experience in language teaching? Just having learned a few languages does not mean you have an idea of how others learn a language as you claim in your second half. The patterns you speak of are invisible for many learners especially when working with tools like DL or sitting in a classroom with a monolingual approach (quite common here in Germany at least).
      So while you might be a gifted language learner -your claim leads to this assumption- the majority of learners appreciate a good guide who saves them time and frustration.

      You like DL, just use it. How could any article hinder you to do so? I assume that my readers think for themselves. But even those who might not be too quick on their feet, will certainly not be mislead if they ask themselves the questions that I ask in my article. Do you really think that someone who works with DL will stop just because she reads my review? And above all instantly decide to spend 3.614€ on a private course with me? You must live in another reality than me.

      From what you have written I assume that you feel passively aggressive towards what I have written and need to defend what is dear to you. This is usually the case if one is uncertain of one’s decision. If you were so sure about your choice to work with DL or with your theory that “everyone” can learn a language easily on her one’s own, once one has learned just the grammatical patterns of a few romance, slavic or germanic languages, why would you even feel this way towards a person that you haven’t even met yet.

      I also assume by the way that you write that you think -and most likely right so- that you are more intelligent than many other people and struggle with not being understood by many other people around you. High intelligence is a tricky gift. Being more intelligent than others doesn’t make anyone a better being than others. But it can hurt others and in the end you will hurt yourself. But it can also be a remedy for the evil in this world. In the end you will have to make a choice, which side you’d like to stand on. You don’t seem like you have decided yet, on which team you’d like to play.

      Therefore I took a few minutes to reply to your message. Whatever you make from this, Nicole. I wish you all the best and success with any language you want to learn. Embrace your life and take good care.


  26. I grew up with native German speaking grandparents. I wish I had tried to learn German then or ask them to teach me. 🙁 Now I am in my 50’s and want to connect with my roots, so to speak, and learn German. I hope one day to go to Germany to see cousins and where my grandparents grew up. (Though I understand Europa Park amusement park in Rust..well their parking lot was part of my grandmothers farm 🙁 )

    Now having said that..
    In trying Duolingo, I really do have a problem with the computer generated voices. They sound nothing like the German sounds I heard from my grandparents. The little German I did know from my grandparents, well, some of it I could not understand on Duolingo.

    Another problem is improper explanation of words. For example, if they say a word means “hard”. Ok but what meaning? Hard as in opposite of soft? Or opposite of easy? This is not explained.

    Sometimes the sentences are just silly too — the woman talks to the lion… it makes me laugh but is that practical? 🙂

    I agree about the grammar. Not explained well at all. I got completely lost when trying to learn the cases and personal pronouns, even with their tips. So I became frustrated and totally gave up.

    I also wish people would not leave you mean comments saying you are putting down Duolingo because you want to sell your own services. I am putting it down too and I have nothing to sell 🙂


    • Hi Laura,
      thank your for your emotional support. I have to admit that my review comes over a bit harsh to some and I am planning to go over it again and soften my speak, yet not my message as what I have said before unfortunately still applies. I hope you like my work as much as I do and I would like to let you know that you can watch all A1 videos here on Udemy for free: I will also slowly upload them to FB and publish them on Youtube in the coming weeks.

      I wish you a great time and
      viel Erfolg mit Deinem Deutsch

  27. Sounds like you have been using the Duolingo app rather than the website. The website offers detailed information on grammar with each module that can be reviewed as much as you want. It is concise, but enough for a beginner to understand and apply the essential concepts of German grammar featured in each module. It builds on previously taught information and caters for its application.

    • Dear Lauren,
      you can be assured that if I review something that I take a thorough look at it. While I might every now and then might oversee things, something like ignoring their desktop version is nothing I would ever oversee. In fact I mainly took a look at the desktop version. The grammar is initially presented when it matters, yet not for long and later on it becomes way more difficult to find it again. In the app, I don’t recall being confronted with it at all though it might show up here and there. I shall have another look one near day. But as so often it’s not much more than a description of the grammar than an easily comprehensible explanation and I didn’t really get the impression that it is emphasized as much as it deserves. And yet, it’s not alone the grammar that is my concern with DL, as you surely have read in the rest of my review. And the app is also part of its system and again it’s a beautiful piece of programming and provides a solid UX. That doesn’t make it efficient in regard of (German) language tuition. If you work fine with DL, there’s nothing I object to. I am not arguing on a subjective level. I look at language related things from a non-experienced language learners view to help others -beginners or not, rookies or pros- to save time and frustration. That’s all. Enjoy DL, it seems to please many.

  28. How many of your videos have been edited/reviewed by multiple language experts?
    How many of you language videos have been studied for their effectiveness.
    duolingo is the most popular language learning option right now for one simple reason: it works.

    I had no prior German experience, I can now read about 40% of written German, and I am making huge progress with the grammar. Say what you want, it is free, effective, and constantly improving.

    Duolingo’s algorithms are the result of constant fine tuning and experimentation. New technology is constantly being developed and deployed. As far as accuracy goes, the community refines the quality further and further. Not to mention the benefits of community based translation tiers and competitive accuracy.

    Duolingo is an educational system without peers.

    • As I am not comparing my work with any of those your point doesn’t contribute to the discussion. And very often ‘expert’ is a very flexibly interpreted terminus. There is experts who still consider the Berlitz method as useful or that speak against global warming despite clear scientific evidence. I never make any claim that I can not prove. So if you have specific criticism bring it on. Either you are right then I can optimize my system or you are not then you have grown intellectually. But basing judgements solely on your personal experience simply does not proof anything. I could as well claim that my Greek is significantly better now due to the fact that I drink more ouzo as one might indeed get that impression 😉 But science would quickly proof that I am mistaken whether I like it or not.

      Then you mention popularity. Well, I spare you obvious analogies where popularity has lead and still leads to sad results. Political parties make a good example.

      The so called swarm- or crowd intelligence is not necessarily better than a single persons mind. Masses of non-teachers with no experience of teaching do not make DL better. It is those (algorithms) who analyze the feedback and integrate it in the next update. The translations might get better but that has nothing to do with the quality of the teaching (approach).

      I really don’t know why you think DL is without peers. It claims to teach German. That claim can be found in various other programs. Just because it focuses on translation doesn’t make it impossible to compare to other offers having the same aim.

      What’s left is the question why you put so much effort into defending what is obviously wrong without bringing up any valid points against my observations and analysis. I habe a Professional unteres tun analytic and Diskussion all Language learning relaxed Masters and I do not have a problem with you or millions of other German learners using DL et. al. I just wanted them to have a choice and to save time. One can learn German a million ways. But only very few approaches are efficient and are guaranteeing the highest quality. Those softwares aren’t.
      I am genuinely happy for everyone who learns any language. More and more these days as I feel their struggle when studying Greek. Language learning brings us one step closer to peace and understanding. I have one of the most lovely professions and am able to make a difference. Whether DL & Co. are there or not doesn’t threaten me in any way. I just don’t want any phoney claims to mislead learners as it slows down progress and might indeed frustrate people.
      And unfortunately a human being doesn’t always apply reason when making decisions.

      In this spirit. Ich wünsche Dir weiterhin viel Erfolg mit Deinem Deutsch, gleich auf welche Weise Du es lernst.


      #learngerman #easygerman #duolingo #busuu #rosettastone #review

  29. The writer should have implemented more effort writing this article.
    Very poor research on the material, lacks in familiarizing the softwares, barely scratching the surface and really lacks of depth.

    He should just put some more energy on it and make a deeper research, not just completing the first few exercises.

    Good try though for the marketing 🙂

    • Dear Attila,
      you make your name father proud. Attacking from behind without leaving a trace. Although this is rather the way of a troll, I find your input valuable to point out a few interesting things. First of all, you haven’t read any of the discussion that followed this article of mine. Other than that you are just throwing claims at me without naming where I err or what I have missed which indicates that you yourself are not familiar with the softwares I am writing about. I reason each of my points and if someone can find a better counter-reason, I have not objections to revise my view. So far that hasn’t happened. And although I and friends and students of mine have explored DL and Rosetta Stone and Busuu and Babbel and and and much deeper than most likely most of their users, and although I don’t think that I have missed any important part of their softwares, my article shows fundamental flaws in instructional design that clearly indicate that they do not deliver what they claim they do. They are like shiny cars without a tank. So keep on pushing if you like, I am not putting anyone off from trying them but I am merely giving you an now educated choice and a tool to judge all the tools out there. I am not selling German lessons, I am empowering learners to save time and to optimize their efforts when learning a language. German is just the carrier for this training and it turns out that they go along very well. I don’t see that happening with any software at the moment.

      So thank you for your inspiration and happy learning with the software of your liking.
      Good try though for the trolling ^^

      • It was not a troll comment. You made specious claims about the software, and glossed over the shortcomings of your own product. You have completely ignored peer reviewed investigations of the effectiveness of duolingo, as well as the open source nature of its knowledge base.

        Furthermore, you didn’t really give a fair treatment of translation system.

        • Then where exactly is that peer reviewed investigation of the effectiveness of DL? You mean the study they have published? I mentioned the significant shortcomings of that paper and your comment does not bring any new insights nor facts that would make me revoke my analysis. Nowhere in that article do I “gloss over” my own product as DL & Co. are softwares and I am flesh and blood and my videos are focussed on Grammar with me teaching it. My app-project is on ice as I have found something that works for now but if I ever do a language learning app, it will not make the same mistakes as those.

          What would “a fair treatment of translation system” mean exactly? The translation method should never be overused and also provide more context than DL does in the beginning. It is used randomly and saying so I do not see anything “unfair”. Please precise your claim.

          • I have to say that denkmuskel did not try to prompt his service in the post. Why people get offended by objective evaluation if the evaluation is not all positive?

            Learning a language is to be able to think in that language, translation exercise does not help that! It may hinder learning a language in some context.

            Just because a piece of software is free does not mean it has no flaws. It may simply mean it’s better than nothing, or better than expensive substitute.

  30. Hi

    Nice article.

    Have you evaluated SuperMemo? I have used it for a few years after emigrating to UK and found it incredibly effective.

    I’ve just tried DuoLingo (English / Polish) as I really liked the idea but I believe it will do more harm than good and should not be used at all.

    Most of the sentences are never used in UK and are very shallow.

    Most of the examples are: I sleep. I eat. I walk. I’m no expert in English but I wonder if the sentences would be correct if someone tried to apply this new skill and say “I walk to the station now”.

    Take care

    • Hi Emil,
      I have known about SuperMemo since the very beginning and it did not appeal to me. Mainly because there is only a PC version of it and what I could get a glimpse of, completely turned me off esthetically and seemed to require more input than it promised output. And after having taken another look at the sole description of the software for German (Extremes Deutsch) and the screenshots, I see that they focus on a monolingual approach which in my experience is by far less efficient than a bilingual one. I might take a closer look into their stuff around the end of this year as I will start a series of software reviews, but I do not expect to be surprised positively alone from the looks of the whole presentation and marketing. I am rather interested in promoting tools that are easily usable and do not require learners to figure things out quickly before they can make good use of it. SuperMemo does not look like it and still has esthetic potential. One would need to be highly motivated to work one’s way through that software, I fear.

      Stay tuned, if I find the time, I might even check it earlier due to your comment.

      You also take care and enjoy your learning.

      #learngerman #supermemo

  31. I enjoy Duolingo and find I’m learning a lot; but my mother tongue is Afrikaans so a lot of the grammar rules and words I can read and comprehend using that. But I also do effort to read books / poems / comics and like to write out the words/ phrases I’m learning.
    I put off the speaking and listening exercises as these were not helping me.
    Also there are immersion exercises that allows users to translate articles.

    All in all I think that with the right mindset and enough practice this can be a tool to help beginners to comprehend enough words to understand a language/ comprehensively read a language.

    I have my doubt about building sentences and speaking it but it could also be because I already understand a lot of the German to begin with because of language similarities.

    Perhaps if I set out to learn a language that I have no understanding of, I’ll be able to see if you’re article rings true.

  32. Hello, just went through your article. I also visited your page and see no free education program. Do you have something for free? Or what was the sense for you to compare your program with free products available in the market?
    I found only that you have 2 programs available (one for 3500EUR and second for 6000EUR), but I’m lack of money and looking for something free.

    • Dear Vladimir,
      where in my review do I compare Duolingo with my material or services, that are fundamentally different? If all you look for was something free and do not care about outcome nor quality, you would have no trouble to find plenty of offers with a simple search of the internet. Among others: Duolingo.
      Best regards

  33. Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is important and everything.
    Nevertheless think of if you added some great photos or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!
    Your content is excellent but with pics and videos,
    this blog could certainly be one of the best in its field.
    Superb blog!

    • Hi Marie,
      I will certainly produce more videos from now as things have changed for the better lately. What do you mean by “could be one of the best”. Which one do you consider better? 😉 Danke Dir für Dein tolles Feedback. Gute Nacht. Michael

  34. Thanks for the interesting review. I have been looking at duolingo over the past few days after my dad told me he was using it to learn Spanish. I already speak Spanish and have been urging my parents to learn (because they spend most of their time in Spain) for many years. I learned Spanish over many years using countless different methods. The best single method is by far, learning through total immersion in the country that that language is spoken and to have lessons and feedback from a native speaker. However, that is not always possible, is expensive and time consuming. As a beginner who is serious about learning a language, from my own experience, you use a number of different tools to learn. There are many resources on the internet all of which have their own qualities and flaws but I have to say that Duolingo stands out as the best free resource i have seen and i have seen many! I have looked at the Spanish course that my dad is doing, and yes there are flaws but on the whole i think it is excellent. I agree with probably all of your comments above but also believe that the positives of duolingo far outweigh the problems. I agree that grammar is not properly explained but then, how many native speakers who are not linguists truly think about the grammatical rules of their own language? They just speak and write automatically. Duolingo allows the learner to work the rules out for themselves which to me is actually a good way of learning. I also very much agree with your point about the comments threads which can be entertaining but not necessarily helpful in

    I would not recommend anyone to solely rely on Duolingo to learn a language but it is a very good tool and in conjunction with, for example grammatical reference books, dictionaries, other websites and of course speaking with native speakers and getting feedback, then I believe it can accelerate the learning process significantly and have seen this with the progress that my father is making. So I would urge you not to put people off this programme as I think it is a very valuable tool that i wish was available when I first started learning.

    • Total immersion is of no benefit per se
      I agree that it often at times is easier to learn a language in the country of its origin. But be careful with the term total immersion. First of all to what degree is the language learner able to immerse into the new culture and second immersion per se does provide no benefit if not accompanied by a learning culture and structure. The best example are migrants in any country that live there for decades not being able to produce many proper sentences.

      So you think Duolingo is an excellent tool?
      If you claim that DL is excellent please explain what principles or observations you base your claim on. Until then you are simply expressing the interpretation of an emotional experience that is highly subjective and might not apply to many other learners out there. I can not argue against your impression nor emotion but I can question your assumptions that might have led to that impression.

      Native Speakers don’t need Grammar
      Native speakers usually undergo quite some education in their own grammar and language. At one point they just master it to a sufficient degree and are no more in need of using this crutch and therefore also are not able to explain certain phenomena to other learners.
      Grammar knowledge is crucial for non-native (and I would also argue for native) German learners as it provides them with a monitoring tool with which they can recognize and then correct any mistake on their own. It also helps them to create new sentences on their own without having to learn everything in detail.
      Native speakers have already invested decades of training and learned so well because it was a matter of survival or progress in society for them. A second language learner is usually in a less crucial learning situation.

      Why would you reinvent the wheel?
      Why would you prefer to figure quite complex things out on your own instead of having them explained neatly in a few minutes and then be totally clear about it instead of being in doubt whether you have understood things right? What do you base your statement „it’s actually a good way of learning“ on? In my experience with thousands of students this is the least efficient way of getting fluent in German or any other language. It works, sure, but certainly significantly slower, with a higher risk to mess up your structures and also with a high level of uncertainty involved. I do not see any benefit nor have I found studies that prove such a superiority.

      You are responsible for your own learning
      I am not putting anyone off any programme. I am informing you and all other learners about the flaws and the few things I like about it from a professional point of view. It is up to you to make up your mind how you would like to learn German. And by telling me not to put off people from using DL, what do you suggest I should rather do? Ignore all flaws and recommend it? Not improving the way people can learn languages?

      I know you meant no evil nor provocation. I actually perceived your comment as very gentle. Yet I cannot let mere subjective experiences stand alone without questioning them. Let me emphasize once again that this article you refer to is not just any opinion, it is a thorough analysis of the product and the claim in comparison with my professional experience and knowledge. I am a strong proponent of critical thinking and everything I do underlies the same criteria that I applied to DL. It is not personal nor do I think bad of the creators of DL or even those who use it and (think they) benefit from it.

      That being said, thank you for engaging me in a vivid discussion and in questioning my work. Only through these I can grow and develop myself continuously. I wish your parents (mainly your father right?) a lot of success with their Spanish, with or without DL. 😉

      Have a good time

  35. From the first word to the last, I feel the purpose of this article was simply to generate attention as it very successfully has. Given my youthful age of 17, I must admit I’m at a great advantage, but the amount of progress I’ve made in learning Spanish in just a matter of a few days borders on remarkable. For a young lad like me, who can easily excuse the few seemingly serious but minor flaws of Duolingo by researching about the language on the internet, this is just about the perfect tool to learn languages.
    A year ago I sought a tutor for learning Spanish but found it awfully boring to sit all those lectures beginning with grammar – about the worst aspect of language. Few weeks into it, I asked myself if I could really muster up a proper sentence – I couldn’t. But look now, three days into Duolingo I can greet and communicate basic sentiments to people – isn’t very bad, is it?
    While the course may not be the perfect stand-alone tool for learning languages, it’s probably better than many of the personal teaching classes out there, not to mention it asks you to translate real articles after you’ve finished the course and very much involves your voice in it.

    • Dear Matt, I can assure you that your feeling misleads you as I by sheer coincidence know the author in person and he assured me that his deepest desire next to becoming one of the richest persons on this planet is to help humans to learn German. But joking aside: while you have this feeling for good reasons as there is very few people in the internet that speak truly from the heart and simply diss what is in their way, my criticism is thorough and based on things you can easily prove wrong by doing some research. And I can just invite you to do so as then I can optimize my teaching. If a software is doing a good job, I have no reason to take it apart as I did with DL. Memrise for example is a lovely tool but unfortunately only focussing on vocabulary and also allowing “bad” mems to be created. Yet I highly praise it. And as you have read the article thoroughly you might have noticed that I took DL as an example for all other software / web-based language courses.
      Your assumption that I wrote that article solely for the purpose of attention -which it indeed got due to the lovely sharing of those who agree with me- is like looking at a big heap of trash that is attracting a lot of rats (no, I’m not comparing my readers with rats nor is my article trashy, but this analogy really makes a good point) and assuming that the people put it there to attract the rats. Those are there because they find food that keeps them alive. If someone can translate this analogy to something less messy, please speak up, I’ll give you all the credits. Nevertheless, you hopefully get my point.

      Then there is the problem of personal experience. What we experience is highly subjective. So is your experience. I absolutely understand your frustration with your Spanish tutor. How many of those have you tried? My assumption -based on those 100 that I have met and seen in action and also based on reports of many of my students- is that there are very few good language tutors, no matter what language we are talking about. And I understand why this is so as I have been a quite lousy tutor myself for quite some time according to my high standards today. But I won’t go there now.

      What I would like to point out is, that just because you have had one or two or even five bad tutors that were even worse than DL, that does not make DL a good app from a professional’s point of view. Better than bad is not necessarily good. It may entertain you and you might be able to say a few sentences. Maybe it even get’s you started and you find the courage to get out there and practice your language with real human beings. Great. How could I object to such a result. But I fear you misattribute your personal achievement to a tool that has most likely not contributed much to your success.

      I can assure you that whenever there is an app or webpage or system that actually works fine I will be the first to learn from it and to integrate the success factors into my teaching and I will try to optimize them. I do not need to make DL look bad to make my work look good. You can watch a third of my videos for free and judge for yourself. You can take a free trial lesson with me and at any time in our cooperation quit working with me and I will always pay you back any overpaid money.

      I feast on your success and not on other people’s failures.

      Then there will be Yippiy, my own approach to German teaching via a webpage. It will fail in many points, I am sure and learners like you will let me know. And I will be eternally thankful for the free contribution to Yippiy’s improvement. An app or webpage is never finished and there will always be bugs and things to optimize. But DL does not provide what it implicitly(!) promises: a standalone functional German learning course.

      Having said that, I thank you for your comment and invite you to find the weak spots in my argumentation so that I can eliminate them. Further than that viel Erfolg with your Spanish and I will leave the decision what tool to use totally with you as you now will have even more sound reasons for that decision.

      Have a great time

      #duolingo #memrise #learngerman #learngermanfast #smartergerman

  36. While reading your review, I saw some strong points, some questionable points and some points that were just plain wrong.

    But the ending explained everything – this review (“critical” in name only) is merely an attempt to market your own (expensive!) course and indiegogo campaign. While I think this is a cool marketing move, I strongly disagree with the idea of criticizing a free product to attract attention.

    • Dear Filip,
      I understand how you come to your assumption. While of course I sell my services for by the way half the price the Goethe-Institute here in Germany would charge you, that does not mean that I am insincere in my blogging. If as you say things I have found criticizable in Duolingo are wrong I would highly appreciate if you could point them out so that I can review them and change them in case you are right. I am not sharing an opinion here. Everything I do is backed by science and practical experience of over 10.000hrs of teaching. Yet that does not mean I can not err and am happy to learn where I made a false claim or interpretation.

      Have a good evening.

      • Thank you for your reponse – I will gladly point out what I had in mind in my previous post.

        Exercises? What am I Exercising Exactly?
        You have a strong point here – I’m not sure what the purpose of that exercise is. It may or may not work on subconcious level, as Rosetta Stone people often claim, but one thing you neglected to mention here is how rare these exercises are. I haven’t seen a single one for a very long time and I’m fairly certain at this point that they are only present in the first couple of lessons, where the software assumes you don’t know a single word of German (again, whether learning the first words this way is valid or not, I can’t say).
        Instead, this is how these exercises look in most of the lessons:
        The point of these is much more clear – it’s great to learn both gender and spelling of a word.

        Lost in Translation
        This one is also mostly incorrect – Duolingo does not assume “is” is not an error. There are (to my knowledge) three types of “minor” errors that pass as “almost correct” – nouns not beginning with capital letter, lack of umlaut and typos. Typing “ist” as “is” counts as a typo and Duolingo reports it as such, with “almost correct”, as seen in the screenshot.
        Is this OK? Are these errors truly “minor”? Not really – and Duolingo treats them as regular errors, it marks them the same way it marks errors, it plays the error sound and the only real difference is that you don’t lose a heart (losing three forces you to start over). This is OK in my opinion – on many occasions I really did make a typo and Duolingo let it slide. If it didn’t, it would be frustrating to start over since I knew the correct answer, just mistyped it. Students shouldn’t be scolded for every error they make, but every error needs to be pointed out – which is exactly what Duolingo does.
        That said, what you displayed in that screenshot appears to be a bug, since it failed to report all the minor errors (also, should three minor errors really pass as “almost correct”? I think not). As seen in the screenshot I supplied, it does not consider “is” instead of “ist” to be correct, but it lets it slide since it’s only off by one letter (BTW typo detection is way more strict than “off by one letter” – on many occasions I supplied the wrong answer which was only off by one letter, yet Duolingo did not report it as a typo).

        Randomness than There Already Is
        I agree with this one – there is very little context and I understand it would be easier to learn if there were a “story” of sorts, as language learning books usually make it. Still, many of the sentences make sense and Duolingo is highly tolerant if your translation is correct, but in completely different context than expected (using “woman” instead of “wife” as translation for Frau, for example) – simply because it’s aware no context is provided. I cannot say the same for many teachers I had (unpleasant) experience to learn from – they would often scold you if you missed the context, despite the fact the textbook wasn’t clear enough on what the context is.

        Reden ist Silber…
        I agree with this one as well. I had to disable voice recognition as it simply didn’t work for me.

        Listen Well
        I’m not a native speaker so I can’t actually comment on this one. However, I feel the need to point out you neglected to mention that every exercise like this also has the “turtle” option which reads it to you slowly which makes it quite easy to get in 99% cases. Therefore, I actually like the “fast” computer generated words – they make it more difficult and listening to native language speakers often feels like this to someone who learned the language from teachers who purposely pronounce words very clearly to make it easier for students.

        Discuss with the Right People
        This is a good point – very difficult to know whose advice to follow. Would be nice if Duolingo made some way of distinguishing between native speakers who can offer good advice and people who only *think* they can.

        Grammar: The Ugly Stepchild
        No Instruction on how to Learn Anything Whatsoever
        This is just plain incorrect – almost all lessons have explanations, and yes, grammar rules are explained and can easily be revised even when you complete the lessons.
        See screenshot.

        How to (not) proof Efficiency
        I don’t agree with you completely, but I feel you made a strong point here (see below).

        Finally, my oppinion is not that Duolingo is perfect – it can never replace real life teachers and classes, not should it attempt to. It’s, however, a good product that actually can teach people the foundations of a new language they want to learn. From that point onwards, it will be easier for them to continue learning or, at the very least, have basic understanding of the language. It’s also very good at this – it learned me a lot and it’s, in my opinion, the best of its kind – so far. Looking forward to Yippiy though – and wishing you the best of luck. Even if I don’t end up using your product, having an alternative to Duolingo is great.

        • Hi Filip, it took me a while as I had a lot on my plate but here finally my reply to your thorough feedback to my duolingo-review. As it is a bit longer than usual I decided to publish it as a separate but linked article. I am looking forward to your response. Have a great week. Cheers, Michael

  37. Thanks for this insightful look at online learning

    I am 69 years old and have tried other methods of “learning” German and found Duolingo the best for me so far. I haven’t dropped by the way and am still encouraged to keep going. I have “understood” more German in the 3 months that I have been using Duo than before – the grammar is still a struggle but I research it for myself as well. What I like about the programme is the encouragement to move on to the next level – Only after having achieved each stage. My aim is to reach the end of Duolingo and move onto more advanced courses with some idea of the grammar and the confidence to use it . I teach English to migrants in Australia so am very aware that learning a language online is less than perfect but it sure is helping me.

    • Dear Elly, thank you for sharing your story with me and I can only agree as for the benefits that you describe. That nevertheless rather lets me question the methods and materials you have used prior to Duolingo than it changes my view regarding it. Also your claim to have “understood” more with DL than without is a highly subjective information that is to be seen very critically as it is more than vague. I am sorry to be so precise and exact. I can’t leave my skin. But my respect for learning German on your own with 69. And however you might be studying German, that’s in the end your decision, wünsche ich Dir viel Erfolg.

    • I am fifty-something years old and have tried many, many times to learn German using everything from Berlitz books to various computer programs. So far, my experience with Duolingo is congruent with Elly’s: I’ve learned more German with Duolingo than I have other methods. A close second to Duolingo is Busuu. And somewhat similar to Elly, I do not expect to become fluent or, even, conversational with Duolingo. I am using it as a platform to build from when I move to the next level.

      • Dear redynstruc,
        I have nothing to object to your personal, subjective experience as that is something only you know for certain. You have to understand that I come from a completely different point of view, hence we have nothing to discuss about it seems. Something better than something bad doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. In my experience that really just tells me something about how bad the other stuff really is.
        But that’s just my way of approaching things. Enjoy your language learning, if that is what counts for you and if time doesn’t matter. If you are looking for fast and high quality results – which is what my approach is mainly about – those programs are not the way to go for the reasons I have laid out thoroughly in my article. I am open for any argument that proves (!) any of mine wrong as that would simply mean that I can improve my knowledge. So far I haven’t gotten any, hence my points still stand unwavering. Subjective experience unfortunately does not count as prove. Have a lovely time and viel Erfolg mit Deinem Deutsch weiterhin. Michael #learngermanfast #learngerman #easygerman #learngermangrammar #duolingo #busuu #rosettastone

  38. I’m sorry, but I disagree with you. Nobody should ever expect a single textbook or an application to teach a language properly but have pity on the poor student! Any assistance available should be sought and appreciated.
    I am an adult german learner – a lesson a week for five years- and i found Duolingo to be an excellent revision and recall-drill tool, especially for pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and the like.
    I think you have to approach it with a sense of humour and realize that you’re dealing with a computer and it can never be close to perfect, but neither is your own English: It’s full of the little errors that betray a non-native speaker.

    • Well George, from my experience especially a total beginner puts high hopes into whatever school, tool or teacher she/he comes across and often at times the reasonable approach that you have is not the status quo. Besides that Duolingo claims to teach a language and that claim is simply raising false hopes. Whereas I can allow my English to be a bit faulty as I do not claim to teach English but German, which is the language that I speak perfectly. In my eyes Duolingo teaches no German. You use it as a review tool and as that it might serve good enough. But there are far better tools for that purpose like memrise or anki that you can steer way better and therefore optimize your learning.

      And I disagree that any assistance should be sought and appreciated. We have a saying: Well meant often is the opposite of good. Gut gemeint ist oft das Gegenteil von gut. Bad assistance can do more harm than no assistance. And I do certainly not appreciate such help. Of course the good will behind the effort is something I would always appreciate but to do that I do not have to make use of the bad advice.

      And to wrap it up. I agree with your approach to things and wished that this was the approach of any language learner. But reality has shown me a different picture over the last three decades.

      Have a good day.

    • Hi Laura, I have read your article and the other one you have linked to. Nice work and thanks for reaching out. Have a good time. Michael

  39. “(I blurred these out of © reasons but you can still recognize what I am talking about).”

    IANAL, but you’re showing an image of part of a product you are reviewing, which pretty clearly falls under fair use and therefore you don’t need to blur it out or anything.

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