Duolingo - A guide for beginners and monolinguals
After fully completing the German duolingo tree, and starting the French tree, as well as dabbling in a handful of others, I feel that with this experience under my belt I can comfortably write a review/ guide on duolingo, and share what I have found in the ~1.5 years I have been consistently using it.
Firstly, a little background about myself. I am British, and up until early 2019, I spoke only English. I had learnt French previously at school for around 11 years, but it never interested me at the time, and I finished my French classes just before starting my GCSE's with either a B/C grade. I had also learnt Spanish for a period of time, around 2 years before my GCSE's, and whilst I started out strong, and genuinely thought I was going to carry it through to GCSE level, my progress quickly plummeted after around 1 year of learning. From between mid 2017 to early 2019, I was learning no languages, and maintained the assumption that I was probably not going to speak any other language except for English for the rest of my life, at least not to a conversational level anyway.
That changed in February 2019, where I took a trip to Germany and Austria with a handful of friends to go skiing. I will cut out the details, but effectively, during my stay in the Tirol region of Austria, I had a sudden urge and epiphany that I wanted to learn another language, and I felt that, with me being in Austria, German would be the one to start off with. I want to note that I had never learnt German before in my life, so it was absolutely fresh to me. But now, to Duolingo...
Duolingo is a great tool for beginners, and a superb tool for vocab refresh, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you use it in conjunction with other language learning tools and techniques. I should start out by being realistic with anyone reading this. Duolingo is not going to get you to fluency. Full stop. No ifs or buts. That isn't to say you should pack your things and go somewhere else to learn a language. Realistically, no online language learning app or website is going to get you to fluency. However, duolingo (and undoubtedly many other apps and websites) will get you to a good point of understanding of a language and will grant you the ability to use it conversationally providing you use external sources and techniques to facilitate your learning. Be that books, online research, immersion via skype/ discord etc, or joining an online course with a tutor. Duolingo on it's own does an ok job at explaining basic language rules, but if you are serious about learning a language, you must use external research and guidance to enhance your learning. I cannot speak for all language trees, but with the German tree at least, just a quick google search explaining a certain rule works wonders in comparison to how duolingo explains things. Duolingo is very much a repetition based platform, effectively making you remember and learn things via repetition and revision. This is great for getting rules and words to stick in your head, but not great when you don't fully understand a rule. It assumes you understand the rule, and then proceeds to bash it into your head until you can memorise it in and out. Like I say, this isn't inherently a bad thing, but if you don't understand the rule in the first place, it is going to create a lapse in that you can memorise certain words/ phrases, but not fully understand the context behind the word and how it's used, and as such this lapse will build up with time and you could get to half way down the tree before realising that the rule you thought you learnt earlier is actually incorrect. If you are unsure, google it. Ask on reddit. Make sure you fully understand the rule before moving on.
Duolingo will (providing you nail the understanding of your chosen language and proceed to revise often and regularly) get you to a decent level of language proficiency. I started learning German on duolingo not long after coming back from Austria and Germany, and I genuinely thought by the end of it, I would be fluent, and to some degree I wasn't wrong, but it is very important with duolingo to understand what I mean by fluent. Duolingo is not going to get you to C2 level of any language by the end of the tree. No way Jose! But providing you revise regularly, go over topics you don't understand as well, keep the language fresh in your mind, it will get you to a conversational level of language proficiency. For reference (and bear in mind I did a ton of research outside of duolingo whilst studying German), I went from absolute A1 in German, to B1 in around a year and three months. I can comfortably understand about 90% of everyday spoken German, and have little issue speaking it providing we aren't talking about a subject that I have little to no understanding of or about. This obviously won't pass in a school or work environment (usually C1 is required at least), but for using the language out and about on the streets of Germany/ Austria, providing you revise regularly, duolingo does a good job and giving you the tools to get to a good level of language proficiency that will serve you well day to day. It is then accurate to say that I can speak conversational German fluently; I make few errors, I don't stutter, my pronunciation is good, I can understand well, I can speak on a range of topics concisely, but actual fluency (C2) is another fish to fry. Duolingo will get you to fluent conversational, but not total fluency.
Duolingo will teach you different aspects of language proficiency in stages. Do not be afraid if your speaking and listening in a language are dreadful at first. Having revitalized my French recently (out of basic necessity for future university options in Montreal), I remembered that the exact same thing happened when I was learning German over a year before. Duolingo does a great job at getting your reading and writing skills up to scratch quickly and efficiently, but the lack of speaking and listening exercises in each tree make those two aspects of language proficiency generally the toughest to pick up. This is where you should take note of my first point. Find other resources to facilitate that; be it youtube, discord/ skype etc. Duolingo doesn't do a great job at improving your speaking and listening (although the duolingo stories are ok for improving your listening skills at an early stage, further building the foundation for improved listening skills as you progress through your tree). Bottom line, you will find your reading and writing skills pick up very quickly, but listening and speaking tend to lag behind generally speaking. Do not be afraid of this. After over a year and a half of learning German, I can tell you that there comes a point where you are so good at reading and writing that speaking comes complimentary, and understanding becomes easier (although still needs practice on youtube etc). You'll find when speaking, you can practically envision the sentences in your head, and so it becomes more like reading off a script that you have in your mind (which works wonders for beginners and monolinguists). As for listening, I implore everyone to give the easylanguages series a watch (easy German, easy French, easy Russian etc). They are great little videos with subtitles in English and your chosen language that will really help with both reading and listening.
Duolingo has a pretty strange way of teaching you things from a basics to advanced perspective. What I mean by this is that it is very difficult to class where you sit on the CEFR scale by the end of the tree, because duolingo teaches rules and grammar that exist at both A1 level, and C2 level, at different stages along the tree. What this means is that you will understand very basic grammar rules, but also pretty tricky C level rules by the time you are done with your tree. The problem this creates is that it means some rules (especially in the B levels) get skipped over, and you later have to learn what are essentially very easy rules to learn after you have learned the toughest parts of the language. This again is where I stress point 1. Use external sources. It will fill the gaps (for the most part). Duolingo's learning style is scatty, I won't lie. So please use external sources to aid your learning. Duolingo doesn't do a great job at organizing your learning, so unfortunately you'll need to do that yourself.
Duolingo is a very useful tool to use for beginners and monolinguists especially. It brings fun into language learning, and makes language learning for monolinguists especially something that is new and exciting. Something that rewards users for their time spent on the platform. I really cannot stress how useful duolingo is for beginners. But I equally cannot stress how important it is to understand the points I have written above. I have seen friends go into duolingo, only to quit a week later because they feel as if they aren't making progress. Progress with any language is slow. It takes time and effort, dedication and hard work. You must revise with duolingo often to maintain a good understanding of your language. That means discipline and scheduling. If you are really invested in learning a new language, these thing won't come as a surprise anyway. If you are brand new to learning languages, duolingo is a great tool to get you started, but go in with unrealistic expectations and come out disappointed. However, with the above already mentioned, hopefully you can go in with a better idea and understanding of how duolingo works, and what you can expect to get out of it. It is a great tool, so push on and go through the tree. You'd be surprised how far you can get with it providing you have realistic expectations and stay motivated.
Edit: I HAVE JUST REMEMBERED SOMETHING! A lot of you have asked for external resources and what I used to help with my German besides duolingo, and I have responded to many comments down below, but I just want to make a quick announcement to all those that are still looking for resources: watch Der Held der Steine on Youtube. For all those who know who he is, you may chuckle quietly in the back, but seriously, the guy is superb for listening practice! He is effectively a German toy shop owner in Frankfurt who does regular reviews of things like LEGO/ Cobi, and his German isn't too hard to understand either (although pretty quick). I would recommend you have a decent level of proficiency in listening first though, as stated above, it isn't his German accent that is the issue for beginners, it's the speed at which he talks. For any Germans here, you'll know the guy is a bit of a meme in Germany and some certain German meme subs, but generally speaking his content is great, and his German is great for practice! Give him a watch!
submitted by GanzOkeyDokey