Is A 1000-Day Streak on Duolingo Worth It?

Today is the day. I finally made it to a 1000-day streak on Duolingo. It definitely feels like an accomplishment, but maybe not nearly as exciting as I thought it would be.

Duolingo Congratulations Screen for a 1000-day streak
Yeah, balloons!

I have some thoughts about Duolingo, and whether reaching a 1000 day streak is even worth the effort. But before I get to that, let me get this disclaimer out of the way first: A thousand-day streak on Duolingo doesn’t mean that I’ve used Duolingo every single day for the past 1000 days. Duolingo let’s you trade gems (the in-app currency) for a “streak freeze”, so you don’t lose your streak if you skip a day.

Though I can’t be 100% sure, I think I’ve only used the streak freeze about 3 times, and the last time (according to duome.eu/kentroper) that I used it was on March 8, 2020, over a year ago.

Okay, disclaimer out of the way, on to my honest thoughts about Duolingo after 1000 days of near-perfect attendance. I’ll start off with the bad, and get to the good.

Duolingo does not make you fluent

This is most obvious to me after really putting a huge effort into learning Swedish at the end of 2020. I finished all 5 levels of the Swedish tree, learned a ton, and still struggle a lot with Swedish. When I read stuff in Swedish that was written for children, I can understand about 80% of what I read. When I watch Swedish shows on YouTube, I understand about half, or less, depending on the subject matter.

Duolingo is not the fastest way to learn a language

The past 2 months, I’ve been focusing on Icelandic. Duolingo does not teach Icelandic, so I’ve been pretty much on my own. After a slow start during the first few weeks, I feel that I am learning Icelandic much faster on my own than I would if I were relying on a Duolingo course.

I have a few thoughts why that may be. In Duolingo, there is a temptation to just power through lessons. I have a daily goal of 20 xp in Duolingo, which usually takes me around 10 or 15 minutes to accomplish. I’m learning, but it doesn’t feel like I’m doing any deep learning.

With Icelandic, I have to work harder to figure things out. While I did find a decent beginner-level book, I usually employ the ancient martial art of Google-fu to find my own answers. I do a lot more practicing with pen and paper, and that seems to help as well. I spend a lot of time on YouTube, memorizing with Anki, listening to the audio that came with my book, and writing out verb and noun declensions.

Which brings me to my next point.

Duolingo shouldn’t be used by itself

I sometimes hear other Duolingo users complain that they have been using the app for years and still don’t feel like they have a grasp on their target language.

There may be a few reasons for this. One is that many people don’t use Duolingo correctly, in my opinion. They just do the lessons. They don’t read grammar notes. (They are harder to find for some languages, unfortunately.) They don’t read the user-generated questions and comments on difficult sentences. And they are completely unaware of the user forums.

The other reason may be because they are only using Duolingo. Duolingo does not teach you enough words to be fluent. It does not teach you how to understand native speakers who don’t always use correct grammar or speak slowly and clearly.

Okay, enough of the negative; here comes the positive:

Duolingo’s streak feature is great

In my opinion, the most important thing you can do in language learning is to make it a daily habit. The fact that Duolingo keeps track of your current streak helps with that.

I’m sure Duolingo isn’t the only app that does that. (I think Memrise might do that as well, but I haven’t used it for a few years so I don’t remember for sure.) Duolingo takes it a step further. It tells your friends (assuming you are following other people on Duolingo and they are following you) about reaching new milestones on your streak. People can congratulate you on your 7-day streak, or your 20-day streak, etc.

Duolingo is great for language dabbling

I don’t think I’ll ever be a serious student of Hawaiian, Latin, Hebrew, or Irish, but I did get a fun intro into each of those from Duolingo. Of course, there are apps out there that teach more languages than Duolingo does.

You can see what new languages Duolingo is working on by checking out their incubator page. Some languages take a frustratingly long time to have their courses developed, and some disappear from the incubator page without ever being completed. (I’m pretty sure Tagalog used to be on the incubator page but I don’t see it anymore.)

Duolingo works, er, sorta

Despite what I wrote earlier about Duolingo not being the fastest way to learn a language, and that Duolingo shouldn’t be used in isolation, I do find it helps. Lately, for the past few months, I’ve been doing about 2 lessons a day in Spanish. I can see improvement. It's a slow improvement, but I am getting better at Spanish.

Duolingo is always changing

I’ve been using Duolingo since 2013. It has changed a lot. Some of those changes have been annoying. It used to be ad-free, for example. And Duolingo used to have a flash card app called TinyCards, that I found I liked better than Anki until Duolingo killed the app last year.

The hearts update, where you lose hearts every time you get an answer wrong and you have to do review lessons if you lose all five hearts has been both frustrating and beneficial. Okay, more frustrating than beneficial, but sometimes forcing me to do review lessons is a little helpful.

Other improvements have been great. The addition of stories, for example, has given the app a new, fun feature. There have been loads of improvements to the Spanish and French courses. Duolingo is always playing with new features, and actively tries to improve their app. I haven’t seen that level of product improvement efforts with any other language learning platform.

So, was it worth it?

Um, yeah, I guess. I’m a fan of Duolingo, but maybe not as enthusiastic as I once was. I intend to keep my streak going. (I will have to use streak freeze in June when I go on a 3-day camping trip this summer.) But I don’t think Duolingo will ever be my main method for learning any particular language in the future.

I would still recommend Duolingo to others. It’s a great learning tool, it’s fun to use. Some of the sentences are hilarious. It’s always improving.

It just shouldn’t be your only method of learning another language.

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