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Duolingo Review: Why Does It Suck?

Okay, hear me out, I am writing this because I want you to see results in your language learning. I can’t count how many times I have heard people say “I just am not good at learning languages Ben.”

I ask them - “What methods of study do you choose?” and they reply… Duolingo

42.4 million people sign into Duolingo at least once a month to get a dopamine kick and feel like they are doing something good for themselves.

But what if I told you that the majority of them will NEVER be really bilingual? Would that make you angry? Because for me, that's a sickening thought, but it's probably the truth.

In this article, I’ll tell you some of the reasons why, I’ll give you the best Duolingo alternative, and I’ll even link you to an article with every single method that I use to study a language.

Are you ready to step out of the matrix and learn how some polyglots speak 15+ languages without ever using an app like Duolingo? Let’s talk about it, friend.

a picture of an owl pointing at the words "Why duolingo just sucks"

The Pros of Duolingo

While this article is more aimed towards the many flaws of Duolingo, it would be seemingly unfair to not mention the good things Duo has going for it.

Some of these advantages you get with Duolingo (and not every other app) are a large language selection, a gamified learning experience, and accessibility across devices.

Language accessibility and variety

It’s no surprise that Duolingo does a great job when it comes to the variety of languages offered. In total Duolingo offers 25 languages, with three extra languages currently in the “hatching phase” meaning that they are essentially in the "open beta" phase.

It seems that language variety has been the focus for Duolingo's team as they have been constantly expanding - even to the point of offering “fake languages” such as High Valyrian, and Klingon.

screenshot showing off a ton of languages that duolingos platform offers to learners

Gamified learning experience

Lots of beginner language learners are searching for a way to make studying a language less boring, this is probably why gamification has blown up the way that it has in the last few years.

Unfortunately, this gamification doesn’t lead to any additional learning, and if students only come back for the “fun” they will surely quit without having learned their target language.

As stated in the Arab World English Journal’s study on Duolingo “Results proved that being involved in the classroom reinforces the learning process effectively, in contrast to relying only on software apps. According to Ratzlaff, no matter how many online apps are available, they are still not as effective as the real classroom since language learning requires human interaction.”

To be fair though, if this type of learning is your style, there's nothing wrong with that, but you will have to use other materials if you want to truly learn your target language.

screenshot of the scoreboard in duolingo to show off their gamification methods

Accessibility across devices

This might not be important for everyone, personally, I use my computer to study languages probably 85% of the time. However, when I am tired after a long day, sometimes I’d rather pull out my phone to finish my study session wherever I find myself. This is a huge benefit knowing that anytime and anywhere we can pick up where we left off.

Review Of The Cons of Duolingo (Why it sucks)

Okay now getting into the cons (which are plentiful). We are going to discuss all of the bad and ugly, and afterward, I am going to give you the results of a real experiment that I just did on Duolingo vs. Busuu. Keep in mind, there are not a ton of studies done on what I am about to tell you, for all intents and purposes these are just opinions that I have acquired from the greatest language learners of our time, and personal experience learning languages.

Superficial language learning

Sentences like “Where’s my orange juice?” and “The cat eats the banana” really don’t do anything for us. How often do you really say “orange juice”?

Is it more or less than you say the possessive pronoun “his”?

I ask because when going back to try Duolingo before writing this, it had just introduced “his” to me after spending hours and hours on the words for fruits such as “apple” and “orange”.

The point is, that Duolingo teaches us many things that we will seldom need to say and it forces us to review these useless words and sentences for hours on end to make sure “we understand the word apple”.

It’s a bit like if I were to teach you to skateboard, but I spent hours making sure you remembered all of the skateboard terminology - even though you don’t care, and you just want to ride.

a picture of owl teaching class and he says "this is an orange" and "this is an apple"

Limited depth in grammar and vocabulary

Now I am not big on grammar studies in the beginner stages of language learning, but I think that a brief explanation is helpful for everyone as long as you’re not forced to remember it.

However, Duolingo doesn’t do a good job of explaining grammar or vocabulary. There is a tip section, however, I haven’t ever benefited from those tips, have you?

Overemphasis on memorization

Duolingo is the king of making us memorize garbage, when my father began learning with Duo, every few weeks I would ask him about his progress and he would say “Manzana” (apple in Spanish) as a joke.

It’s crazy to see that they still haven't changed this lesson structure, but for those who want to just play a memorizing game - Duo is a perfect brain game.

But I know you are reading this because you want to learn a language, so in this article, I’ll make sure you leave here knowing what to do instead of Duolingo.

As a language learning community, we have realized over the past 20-30 years that one doesn’t need to focus on memorization as much as they need to focus on the content they see.

The most effective mindset to have when learning a language is: “I am not focused on memorizing, I am focused on seeing as many words as possible in a context that I can understand, and due to this effort I will effortlessly acquire the vocabulary”

owl saying "redo this lesson until you know the words Orange and Apple"

Lack of cultural context

So this is something that baffled me about language learning - languages are heavily dependent on the cultures that speak them. When we get cultural explanations for words or grammar practices we are much more likely to remember the vocabulary or grammar mentioned.

Of course, it helps with memorizing, but cultural context also helps us understand the people that we are being taught to speak with.

For example with their Spanish course, there are no real distinctions made between which words are used only/primarily in Spain vs. Latino America.

Since I was unaware of the cultural context of what I was learning when I used Duo years ago, I got some funny looks in Panama because I didn’t know which words that Duolingo taught me were used in Latino America or exclusively in Spain - they didn’t even mention that this occurs.

Picture of owl teaching that socks are called "calcetines" and panama flag is saying "not in our country"

Limited speaking and listening practice & no native speakers

Personally, the lack of speaking practice is excusable, some say you should and some say you shouldn’t at the earlier stages.

However, one thing that is not debated by any real language learner is the importance of hearing the language and hearing it come from the lips of native speakers.

Another story I have for you, I had been learning Spanish for 6 months with Duolingo 3 years ago, and I ran into a Puerto Rican in the supermarket.

I talked to him and mentioned that I was learning Spanish and to test me he said “De dónde eres” but what he pronounced was closer to “donere” and I didn’t understand any part of it.

My lack of hearing real speakers saying such a simple sentence made knowing that sentence completely useless. This is the problem with only listening to computer-generated voices.

owl telling people that they don't need to hear native speakers to learn a language (sarcastically)

The importance of real-life communication

Just like the experience I told you about in the last paragraph, all of my experiences of speaking with people in Spanish have led me to great improvements.

We cannot understate the importance of speaking with natives, and yet - that’s not part of the Duolingo curriculum.

This is just common sense, and for a company with such great annual revenue, I would expect that they would invest in the implementation of something important like this.

Streak addicts & dopamine rushes

There are a ton of language learning apps that are garbage, Duolingo didn’t invent the wheel, but they did do a great job at hooking people into their streak system.

Most people that I have met who have or still are actively using Duolingo carry two traits.

1 - Keeping their streak is important to them in some sort of way.

2 - They can’t produce real sentences of the language they are learning.

I get it, motivation is hard to come by and habits are hard to build, but our motivation should come from two main sources in my opinion.

1 - Our "why" we are learning the language and what we can envision ourselves doing with it.

2 - Our progress - the results that we can see after 1, 2, or 3 months of studying.

owl pointing to a streak number and saying "This number means more than your progress"

User Reviews and Feedback

In this section, we’re going to take a look at some Reddit reviews to see what other people are thinking about it. Whereas I have spoken with you up unto this point with a very subjective view, I will choose well-written positive reviews for Duolingo too, so as to not be too biased. At the end of the day, it’s you who gets to choose your materials, and Duolingo is definitely better than doing nothing.

Review #1 - Good for starting a language 👍

I swear by it as a language starter. After a month or two of using it (while doing other stuff of course) I would drop it. That’s just me, personally

Review #2 - A fine supplement 🤏

Duolingo is a perfectly fine supplement to more traditional methods. Contrary to how a lot of people on Reddit talk about it, it's not going to physically injure you if you install it on your phone and it won't hurt your language learning. It's just not the most effective tool out there.

If you like using it, then use it, but you should also be learning from other resources as well.

Review #3 - Good for some situations 🤷‍♂️

Say you're building a playground. Is a screwdriver helpful? Absolutely. Can you build a playground with just a screwdriver? Most likely not. A wrench and a hammer are going to be useful too.

Duolingo is a tool and a good one for some situations and some users. But it's one tool out of many.

Review #4 - A good app to use on the toilet 🧻

It's not effective. Don't use it as a main thing, only as a supplement while sitting on the john.

Alternative to Duolingo + Experiment Results

In this last section, I would like to back up my claims made in this article with a tiny experiment that I did before writing this article. Since most people using Duolingo aren’t making a ton of time on average for language learning, I put 20 minutes of study time into both Duolingo, and (in my opinion) their best competitor Busuu, and these were the results.

My Busuu Vs. Duolingo Experiment

After spending 20 minutes on Duolingo and 20 minutes on Busuu, these were the results. This will include - words introduced, grammar explanations, cultural context, and the sentences given to learn with.

Please note: I have completed about 25 hours of Duolingo and 10 of Busuu, so these results are not based on being further ahead in the Busuu course than the Duolingo course.


Newly Introduced Words




Son, Daughter, These, His



Work, Retir, Socialize, Friend...

Sentence Examples

Duolingo - They are happy, They are funny, They are intelligent, They are girls

Busuu - What time do you get off work today? I am going to retire next year. I have plenty of time to travel now that I have retired.

Cultural Context Given

Duolingo - N/A

Busuu - Bosser (French slang for “to work”), Resto and Pote (More French Slang)

screenshot showing how Busuu teaches cultural details to learners

Conclusion: So, Why Does It Suck?

The honest answer, Duolingo doesn’t suck, but the idea that you can learn a language from it does. Just like the majority of those reviews pointed out, you can use it while you’re on the toilet, or bored out of your mind.

But if you focus the majority of your time on Duolingo, you will never become fluent, it’s just the truth, friend. With the amount of dialectical differences including accents and slang, it will be too difficult to communicate with real people after only using Duolingo.

If you want to learn a language, you can do it! Just choose your materials wisely because they will be the difference between you being fluent in 2 years, or 8.

If you want to know more about how I acquire languages with little effort and stress, check out this article about the 13 Best Methods For Language Learning where I reveal everything I do!

I hope this article didn’t offend you, I truly just want you to see results and it kills me to see people blame themselves for “not being able to learn a language.”

You can and you will friend! Have a wonderful day/evening/night, hasta luego!

~ Ben


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