How does Duolingo successfully teach grammar

Experience report after one and a half years with Duolingo: In mini-mini-steps to the foreign language

The foreign language app Duolingo packages tasks and vocabulary training optimized for the smartphone in many small bites that are ideal for short breaks from everyday life. But is it really getting on with it? Our experience report after one and a half years of practical use provides the answer.

Duolingo in the test

In the spring of 2013 I decided to learn Spanish. Incidentally, in short breaks from everyday life, and without the typical demotivating effort that learning foreign languages ​​usually entails. My hopecalled himself Duolingo

The specialty of the service, apart from the fact that, unlike most other foreign language tools, it costs nothing, is its appetizer philosophy. Instead of complex tasks, long vocabulary lists and dry grammar exercises, Duolingo relies on mini-lessons on specific topics. These are done directly on the smartphone or in the browser version and each take little more than a few minutes.

Exactly this concept appealed to me. I don't feel like sitting down for an hour after a hard day and studying vocabulary and grammar rules. Instead, I wanted to turn the occasional waiting moments of everyday life into productive time in order to teach myself a language on my own and on the basis of a playful concept. Duolingo promises just that.

It takes patience


Today, a year and a half later, I can state that the principle works, but it is dragging on. At least in the rhythm that I have adjusted myself to: about one lesson of around three minutes per day. It should be clear that you neither learn to speak practically in this way, nor are you introduced to a language with the intensity that guarantees an intensive course lasting several weeks. So you have to be patient and have the necessary self-discipline to actually form and translate at least a few small Duolingo sentences every day.

But if you are not in a hurry and dream of learning a foreign language without feeling exhausted, then Duolingo is a good choice. I've gotten to the point where I can decipher 20 to 40 percent of the content in Spanish news texts. Anyone who has learned several foreign languages ​​will know the magic inherent in this moment - when suddenly a new world seems to open up that was previously hidden.

Reading works, speaking doesn't

In everyday conversations, however, the greater sense of achievement is still missing. I'm in Mexico right now and have to experience it anew every day. As far as speaking is concerned, an app simply cannot compete with conversations between people and - at least currently - it cannot create a constructive basis.

This is also due to the fact that Duolingo's example sentences do not always make sense or can be used by learners in real scenarios. This is explained by the fact that the company obtains the text material from documents that it has business customers like buzzfeed Offers translations (made by users while completing tasks).

The apparent arbitrariness and senselessness of the text material is also one of the key criticisms by Markus Witte, CEO of the Berlin-based Duolingo competitor Babbel . After talking to him, I briefly tried out the capital city's app. There, however, the individual exercises usually take ten minutes to complete. The in-between effect that I appreciate at Duolingo is lost. In addition, Babbel is too expensive for me at ten euros per month with monthly cancellation or 20 euros per quarter in view of the free alternative. Anyone who wants to or even has to learn a new language within a shorter time frame will certainly see it differently.

Conclusion on Duolingo

If you count self-discipline and continuity among your own strengths and have no problem with spreading the acquisition of the basics of a new foreign language over a period of maybe two years - but who feel far less frustration with learning - the app is suitable for you.

However, a look at the weekly leaderboard tells me that very few of my contacts at Duolingo stay with them on a long-term basis. beginning of the year the startup raised $ 20 million in fresh capital . So it shouldn't have money worries.

Still, the service has been in place since the summer also official , at some point perhaps offers tests that are accepted by schools and educational institutions, nor prove that the business model and user participation can be reconciled in such a way that at some point they can be in the black.