Can You Become Fluent In A New Language Using Duolingo?
In this photo illustration the Duolingo logo seen displayed
Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Can You Become Fluent In A New Language Using Duolingo?

Maddy Burgess August 21, 2022

What is Duolingo?

Duolingo is a popular, free language learning app. The appeal is that you can do it anywhere using your phone and, before you know it, you’ve learned a new language. The bitesize lessons mean you gain points the more you learn. Sounds fun, right? You can even add your friends on the app and compete against them. 

How effective is it?

You unlock new levels as you go along, taking part in an array of writing and listening activities. While it’s definitely the most fun way to learn a language, how effective is it?

A study by Duolingo revealed that learners on the Spanish or French course improved substantially, using the app as their only learning tool and having no previous knowledge of the language.

The study tested 225 Duolingo learners from the U.S. who had reached the end of Unit 5, the beginner-level section of the course. These learners performed as well on reading and listening tests as students who had completed four semesters of university language instruction. 

This means Duolingo could even be as effective as a university course, which is crazy.

Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The disadvantages

The app also has its disadvantages and it’s not perfect. One thing I noticed is that some of the first sentences you learn are not those that you’ll need. Instead of beginning with phrases like “Where is the shop?” and “Hello, nice to meet you” I found myself being taught “The carrot is pink” and “Do you want my rice?”  which is questionable. 

For those who want a quick way to learn key phrases, Duolingo probably isn’t for you. I think it’s geared more towards people who want to learn the entire language and become fluent. So yes, the app certainly can make you fluent if you have the time and perseverance.

Kersten Cable, a language coach, wrote about Duolingo back in 2015, criticising the way it works. 

She wrote: Personally, I don’t feel that giving a language learner three lives to pass a lesson is an idea that you’d ever get away with in real life. Imagine if I carried that message into my lessons? Three errors and you’re out? Same error three times, let me start you again? If any IRL teacher did this to a student, they’d be asked to come in for a review with the pedagogy council.“

Despite the criticism, the app does work for many people. The website states:

“We believe that anyone can learn a language with Duolingo. Our free, bite-size lessons feel more like a game than a textbook, and that’s by design: Learning is easier when you’re having fun.

“But Duolingo isn’t just a game. It’s based on a methodology proven to foster long-term retention, and a curriculum aligned to an international standard.”

Why learn a second language?

Learning a second language, especially as a student, can be a great addition to your CV. According to ‘Lead with Languages’, speaking more than one language is among the eight top skills employers seek. People who speak more than one language have improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills.

Duolingo might not be the absolute best language learning option, but it’s a great way to start and a valuable tool.

Plus, we all love the Duolingo owl memes across social media. That is an icon in itself and very good marketing!

Have something to tell us about this article?
Let us know
Madison Burgess is a final year journalism student at the University of Sheffield. As well as writing for Freshered, she is the Editor-in-Chief of Liberty Belle Magazine, a student-run publication. She is currently freelancing and has written for publications such as the Sheffield Star, Reader's Digest and Pick Me Up! Magazine. She is working towards her NCTJ qualification and her favourite topics to write about are lifestyle, entertainment and fashion.