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By Jonathan Roseland

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Lifehacker ReviewThe King of Language Learning Apps

Among my social circle in Medellin, Colombia a common topic of discussion is the best free ways to master our 2nd (3rd, or 4th) languages. My friends with the best Spanish kept recommending Duolingo to me. I'm always skeptical about downloading a new app that's going to suck a bunch of time but I kept hearing great things about it. 
Now whenever native Spanish speakers compliment me on my Spanish fluency, I first give credit to my Spanish tutor, Diego, and then to Duolingo.

One thing that's great about Duolingo is that you don't need to waste your time with the basics if you don't need them; you can test out of the lower levels if you already know the material.

Like learning a language, Duolingo is a major commitment. I've been working on the Spanish course for about six months now, probably 10-15 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week and I'm still only about 70% done. I did eventually finish the entire Spanish course.

One thing I really like about the app is that you can talk to it; many of the exercises require you to read a sentence or phrase in Spanish and then type it in English. I use the native Android voice transcription function to just say the phrase in English to my phone. Not only does this save time but I'm associating my actual speech with the new Spanish vocabulary I'm learning.

Duolingo does a marvelous job of gamification; which makes the dry process of learning a language fun. The game features congratulatory bells, whistles, and badges as you pass courses along with progress statistics.

Recently they rolled out a spaced repetition (like SuperMemo) feature of the app which prompts you to go back and practice old vocabulary and lessons as they are fading from your memory. With this feature of the app you are never officially done with a language course, kind of like learning a language!

4 stars

A few points of criticism...

  • A lot of the training on the app is spent listening to Spanish phrases, which is great for Spanish language comprehension but there's just a single Spanish voice that speaks to you which sounds a bit robotic and accent neutral. To this day I still don't understand Argentinean or Chilean accents very well, I'm sure this would be different if Doulingo featured a variety of accents!
  • When I first used Duolingo it was free and advertisement free. They had some kind of interesting business model where they were crowdsourcing translations done by their users. But I guess they decided they wanted to make more money because now the app includes annoying ads, which can be avoided by upgrading to Duolingo Plus, which is about $10 monthly. That seems a little pricey for an app, but it's still a good value for learning languages.

After learning Spanish, I went on to try learning Russian and Ukrainian on the app. Honestly, I have a really hard time wrapping my tongue around Slavic languages and I didn't attain nearly the same level of fluency!

About Duolingo

The best free App for learning languages. Duolingo takes you through an exhaustive series of modules and courses covering vocabulary, grammar, phrases, and conjugations. It has an iPhone, Android, and web browser app.

Courses for:

  • Spanish
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Turkish
  • Dutch
  • Swedish
  • Greek
  • Irish
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew
  • Polish
  • Norwegian
  • High Valyrian
  • Hindi
  • Romanian
  • Swahili
  • Czech 
  • Vietnamese
  • Danish
  • Hungarian
  • Welsh
  • Indonesian
  • Navajo
  • Ukrainian
  • Hawaiian
  • Esperanto
  • And even Klingon (Yes, really!)


Review Title
Duolingo Lifehacker Review: The King of Language Learning Apps
Media Type
Mobile App or Website
Author or Creator
Luis von Ahn


Web Presence
Facebook page w/225K likes https://www.facebook.com/duolingo
Twitter page w/+70K followers https://twitter.com/duolingo




Duolingo: The Next Chapter in Human Computation: Luis von Ahn at TEDxCMU 2011
Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration
Duolingo: The Next Chapter in Human Computation: Luis von Ahn at TEDxCMU 2011

Editor review

1 review
The King of Language Learning Apps
(Updated: August 17, 2019)
Overall rating
Easy to Use - Intuitive Interface
#1 Reviewer 246 reviews
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