Duolingo: thoughts after over 1,200 days

I've seen a lot of changes in Duolingo over 1,200 days using the app.

Screenshot from the Duolingo website.  Text reads "the free, fun, and effective way to learn a language!".

As regular readers will know, I started learning Welsh (Cymraeg) during the pandemic.  My reason for choosing Cymraeg was because I was watching an English / Cymraeg bilingual television programme, and everytime I looked away from the screen the characters changed language and I coudn't see the subtitles.  Most people would think "don't look away".  I thought "let's learn Welsh, that language has intrigued me for a while".  I now have an unbroken streak of over 1,200 days 😀.

Duolingo has changed a lot over those days and I'm going to talk about some of those changes here.  Partly to reminisce, and partly because some of the decisions are just weird.

I'm not going to give an in-depth explanation of how to use Duolingo in this post, so some of this might not make sense unless you've used the app.

This is a blog post from a paying customer.  Duolingo are not aware I'm writing this, and these are my opinions.  I am not receiving any benefit from Duolingo as a result of writing this post.

Duolingo is a freemium language learning tool offering courses in many real languages and a few story based ones (Klingon, High Valerian, etc.).  I spent several months using the free version, which restricts you on the number of mistakes (a mistake costs you a heart) you can make without paying gems (an in-app currency you earn by doing lessons).  Adverts are present in the free version every few lessons.  Sometimes watching an advert can be done to regain hearts.

I moved onto the paid version during my first year, just before going on holiday.  I couldn't guarantee my destination had an Internet connection, and at the time the paid version gave offline lessons (and unlimited hearts / lives).  At the time this cost £80 per year, personally I consider that money well spent.

Later, Duolingo released the family plan for their paid tier.  A bit more expensive, the family plan allows you to share your paid Duolingo plan with five friends or family members.

Now called Super Duolingo, the family plan costs £89.99 per year and provides:

  • Unlimited hearts (lives)
  • No adverts
  • Personalised mistakes review lessons
  • Unlimited legendary challenge attempts (depending on your device, see below)

Android, online, Apple

While my primary platform for Duolingo is via my Android phone, the app also works on Android tablets, in a browser, and on Apple iPhone / iPad.  Frustratingly there are a number of differences across the platforms.

I've noticed, while learning with someone using Duolingo on Apple, that Apple seems to get new features / graphical changes first.  I'm not so worried about the graphical side of things, but paid features are different too.  For example, legendary attempts are supposed to be unlimited.  When you make a unit legendary you demonstrate that you know the topic well.  On Android you can only make three mistakes before having to start again whereas on Apple you can make unlimited mistakes.  From a learning / testing perspective I don't mind that so much (I either know it or I don't), but I'd expect there to be the same features on Android and Apple if it's a paid feature.  On Android, until late July 2023 (but after moving to "the path"), you also do the legendary upgrade at the end of a unit - eight harder challenges from every unit in the module.  On Apple you test on each unit individually.  Fortunately, towards the end of July 2023 Duolingo moved Android users to testing for legendary status at the end of each unit, the same as Apple.

The web experience seems more aligned with the Android one, but having checked today some aspects of the web are now behind Android version.  Weird!

It would be great to see all features available on all platforms at the same time - especially the paid features.


Probably the biggest, and most frustrating, change was the move from the tree to the path.  When I started with Duolingo lessons were organised in a tree like in the screenshot below.  You did a unit, which had it's name shown clearly underneath, and once you'd attained at least level one in that unit it would unlock additional units.  Need to revise something?  Easy - just look at the name and go back.

Screenshot showing the "tree" course layout, with different lessons clearly titled and arranged in a pyramid.

Around November 2022 my course moved to the path format (it looks like different courses moved at different times).  Now you progress from top to bottom.  It's not easy to see what a unit contains and the modules feel longer.  When I was talking about how to get legendary before I was thinking about the path's mechanism (for the tree, legendary was just level six).  Duolingo got a lot of negative feedback from people about the change but they stuck with the path.  I've got used to it, but I found the tree easier.

Screenshot of how Duolingo now shows lessons on "the path".  Lessons no longer have titles, they're just blobs in a wiggly line.

Another change was the removal of offline lessons, which is a big problem when you want to keep your streak alive and you know you have poor signal where you're going.  When I'm away a weekend for Skully [1] I have to make sure I've walked to find signal on the Saturday or risk losing my streak [2].

Duolingo used to offer progress quizzes too so you could measure your progress in a language.  From memory the quizzes topped out at level five, and as you went through the quiz your were given exercises from anything you'd studied so far (even sometimes things you hadn't).  I don't know why these were removed, but they've been gone a while now.

An orange rosette bearing the number 4.2 above purple, blue, green and red rosettes.  The text says "you improved your score!  You scored 4.2 out of 5.0.  You improved your score by 0.1."

Another minor change was the removal of outfits that Duo, the owl, can wear.  You used to be able to buy a tracksuit, a suit, or a super hero outfit, and Duo would appear to give you your motivational message in that outfit.  That's gone now, although interestingly I've seen Duo in a suit on an iPhone where the user had set that outfit before the options were removed.  Clearly the imagery is still in the (iOS) app.

Leagues & friends

For most of my Duolingo "career" I was not able to follow anyone or join in the leagues.  I actually thought that, for some reason, leagues were not available to dysgwr Cymraeg (Welsh learners).  Turns out if you have your profile set to private (I didn't realise I had) you cannot join leagues.  You don't even see the icon, so you don't even know it's an option.  A bit of a user interface error there Duolingo!  Would be better to show the option (even just once) and if the profile is in private mode explain the changes that are needed.

After gaining league access I was able to reach the top league, diamond.  I noticed my learning changed while I was progressing through the leagues.  I was more competitive (I didn't want to drop down a league) but that meant sometimes I just raced through lessons and didn't necessarily process what I'd seen (or the corrections to mistakes I'd made).  I've started dropping down the leagues now I've completed the Welsh course as revision lessons are rewarded differently.

Being able to link with friends also adds friend challenges, where you're given a goal (e.g. get 25 perfect lessons or earn 1,200 XP) to complete together over a number of days.  You can also track your friends' progress and offer them encouragement, which is pretty cool.

Things I don't like

Besides disliking the differences between the experience, and the removal of features such as offline lessons, for the most part I'm pretty happy with Duolingo.  I'd love to see a search feature though, so if I want to get to lessons on a particular verb or topic it's easier.

Something I really don't like though is the fact that revision lessons are rewarded with half the experience points of new lessons.  To my thinking this discourages learners from revising what they've learned already and trying to develop a better command of the language.  Having completed the course, I'm essentially being told "if you want to keep up in the leagues, go learn a new language".  I appreciate that the issue here is likely my own competitiveness, but it feels like I'm being penalised for revision.

There's still more...

...but I'm going to stop here.  This post is already about 1,500 words long!  I could talk more about challenges and badges, but perhaps if that's of interest I'll write a follow up post about how I learn with Duolingo.  Let me know if that'd be of interest (I'm still on Twitter, even if it's been rebranded to X).

Banner image: Screenshot from the Duolingo website.

[1] Skully, or Skullduggery LARP, is a live action role play group that I've been heavily involved with for a long time.  I help to run the games from an administration perspective, and write their software with Adam.

[2] Yes, I could use a streak freeze but I've never used one and don't want to rely on them.