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Taking care of casual users harms more devoted learners?

I know Duo team likes blind tests to check their new ideas. They usually take some random part of users and introduce a new feature for them without warning or asking. Then they observe and determine if the new strategy works better. Looks like a good method, right?

But the problem is what you consider a success. Seems that the team tries to develop the app (and the site) so that people would drop it less often. This also looks like a valid strategy at first.

But then, what is an average user? An average Duolingo learner is most likely a casual user who does a lesson from time to time and has neither time nor determination to learn and practice at least half an hour a day. The easier the progress is, the better. Mandatory practice? Boring and time-consuming. Skill decay? Oh no, too much time is required to practice and bring everything back to gold. (Also look at the first comment here: http://www.duolingo.com/comment/488490.)

Casual users are a majority, I believe. That is why we have the current decay algorithm that is too fast for the less devoted learners but incredibly slow for those who made Duolingo their main hobby.

Now we have been "robbed" of practice option in the iOS app. Maybe there were some researches that showed most users didn't use it anyway. But hey, the advanced learners are still here! Your decay algorithm is too slow for us, so our skills are always all-gold. We practice more than you require, and we want to practice in the app even if our skills are gold.

The funny thing is that the most devoted users don't drop Duolingo anyway. We complain, we report bugs, we beg to return or to add some features, but, in the end, we adapt and continue our studies because learning is what really matters.

Please don't think I have something against casual users. It is certainly better to spend 5-10 minutes learning a language once in a while than not to learn it at all. Nobody should be obliged to study more than they want or can. But dear team, please, don't forget about those who are really addicted to Duolingo and love spending hours with it. You don't have to make everyone study like crazy, but leave this possibility to those who want it.

December 12, 2013



It is 5:40am here. I am in bed and couldn't wait to see what people were saying about the new app so I decided to check the forum, which mostly consists of our committed users. This is how much we care about you :)

We've heard you loud and clear and today I will make sure we submit a new version of the app that has the global practice button at all times. It will be available early next week because it takes a few days to be reviewed by Apple.


Thank you Luis!!

What about individual skill practice? Could you please-please-please bring it back too? Of course I understand that this may not be possible to add back in one day, we can wait!


This will come back next week too!


Oh, thank you so much, Luis!


Thank you olimo for bringing it all to DL's attention. And thank you Luis for coming round so quickly.


Thank you for listening! Duolingo is the best app out there and restoring this feature is going to be a huge win. Thank you!


I love you! I mean, ehem … duolingo! ;)


Yes. I have an Android, and the individual skill practice vanished too. I really don't like that.


Hi Luis, thanks for listening. Bringing back the global practice is a huge relieve to me. I do second olimo in the following though: Please also bring back individual skills practice as well. I miss that feature so much.

I know part of the idea behind getting rid of it is spaced repetition, and of course there is tons of research that supports it. But here is the idea: Users like me (and I strongly suspect also olimo) do not want to get rid of spaced repetition, we simply want to make sure that at some point in time, we have a minimum amount of expertise for a skill so that the spaced repetition is actually mot effective. In order for spacing to work, a memory trace for a given word needs to decay to an ideal amount so that relearning is beneficial. The problem I and many others have is that there are always certain words we have not learned at all, or not well enough, initially (for example because we simply got the right answer in MC by means of exclusion of clearly incorrect sentences). If I have not learned a word initially, it cannot (realistically) decay (even if the algorithms thinks differently - just as a side note: the algorithms are great and I am a huge nerdy, nerdy fan of machine learning and all that stuff, but we also all know that these algorithms are never perfect, so having a bit of 'top-down control' by the users might help getting the most of what is already an incredible tool!).

So what I am saying is: once I have a feeling I know a skill (which is maybe after a few "skill practice rounds" spread over a few days after initial learning) I are more than happy to leave that skill for a while and (mostly) rely on the algorithm to tell us when it needs refreshing. I think after this initial learning, the algorithms you guys use are far superior to my own judgment of what I should be practicing everyday for the majority of skills. But there are also a few specific skills that an individual user might want to practice independent of the algorithm, because they are struggling with it, because they might get confused with other languages, because they are going abroad and think they might require this specific skill most, or whatever etc.

Anyways, sorry for the long rant and thanks again for listening. You guys are great!!!! :)


A great explanation. Thanks for supporting my point!


They actually have that "remove from practice" function in the vocabulary list page. You can remove a word you know pretty well from the practice and have it back when you need it. After seeing your comment, I went to have a check and it seems that they have removed this function from the website completely and I don't even know when! I hope that when Luis sees your comment, the team can have this function back!



On my Vocab list, I can still remove a word from practice, but only if the word is degraded. If the word is at full bars, it cannot be removed. I guess the logic here is that if a word has full bars, it shouldn't show up in practice.


Ah, I see. All the words I learnt have full bars temporarily so that's why. Thank you! Actually the words with longest "Last practiced" time still show up in practice.



I for one absolutely appreciate a developer who listens to users and responds. Massive ups Luis. I progress quite slowly through the lessons but practice very often. The loss of this functionality would almost be a game changer for me. Thanks again.


Great to hear! But could you please tell us why such a decision 'removing the practice button' was made, if possible?


To make you translate more. Just kidding :) As I've said before our decisions are never based on that, especially in the apps, which have no translations.

Honestly we thought it was better for your learning if we encouraged you to advance instead of practicing when all your skills are at full strength.


In fact, even if your skills are at full strength, this does not mean that all the words are, too. I do lesson practice every day and every day there are words decayed to 3 bars (I prefer not to let them drop lower). But there are not enough decayed words to make whole skills decay.

The same is with words inside a newly learned skill: some words decay to 3 bars after half a day and I certainly would like to practice them, but the app won't let me do this because the total skill level is gold. That is why I'm so concerned about skill practice being brought back, too.

My favorite strategy is to learn a big skill (8-10 lessons) in a couple of days and then practice this skill for a few days to make the new words (which are up to 70!) sink in properly. I'd love to do this in the app.


I agree, even after I have learned a skill I like to let it sink in over time with practice sessions so that all the new information isn't that overwhelming.


Yes, same! All my skills are at full strength but I am still having a TERRIBLE time with German pronouns and I don't want to keep progressing until I am doing better with them.


And what about those who finished the tree? :) We still want to practice over and over again!


Thank you, Luis :) Please don't mind what I said if they are incorrect. I am really really appreciate you and your team offering us Duolingo.

As Olimo and other users, I find the strength of skills is sometimes not corespondent to their real strength in my mind. Should some contents decay faster? Or simply leave it to the users to decide which words should decay faster (It will definitely make the system far more complicated, sounds not good)? Simply opinions :)


Too fast decay may lead to mass frustration of the users who don't have much time for practice, that is why it is probably better to just leave the "Skill practice" button always available for those who feel their skills are not perfect even when they are gold.


I am sorry but too slow decay gives me the same feeling.

  • I am supposed to have remembered them, but I actually not. sigh...



Absolutely. Especially as there are in fact very few translation in the practice to your target language. For me, being able to recognize the world does not mean I consider I know the word well enough.


Luis, it takes many repetitions for me to remember unfamiliar words at will, so I do a lot of "Strengthen Skills" practice and also repeat a lot of individual lessons, sometimes several times, to allow me to remember them. Almost all of this practice is on the iOS app, so I haven't upgraded from the prior version for fear of losing those abilities. I average one or sometimes two new lessons a day (and am on track to finish my skill tree about the time I hit level 25!), and then do a lot of repeat practice to embed the new words in my head and continue remembering the older words. As hard as I practice, I just don't always have the recall that I'd like, so thank you for bringing back the global practice and please keep or bring back the individual skill/lesson practices in the app, too. Thanks for all you do.


An understandable logic, but with one major flaw. Even if I decided to change my routine to advance my tree more quickly, I would be done with the tree within a week or two. If I were using the coach, how would I get in my half hour of daily practice once my tree was complete? Thank you for hearing our pleas and returning this feature to us.


Honestly, though I have worked on "Est ce que" until I am blue in the face, I almost alway get the wrong, which is why I practice.


Hi Luis.... How about having a "completed" mode for users who have finished the tree, so the casual users and the users who have completed the tree get features. For example once a user completes the tree it seems some users want a practice mode to keep their skills up. So maybe once a user finishes the tree they could have the option to enter "tree completed mode" that had features geared towards maintaining and solidifying their knowledge and skills in the language..... Just idea I was pondering when I read this thread


You may want to check this out http://www.duolingo.com/comment/1235623 I've finished my tree and despite it being all golden, there were over 200 words that required practice. So I created this counter to help me with keeping them at 0.

  • 2726

Thank you! You have just made my day :))


Thank you for listening to the users! :)


I love this! I have my students use Duolingo for extra credit, Level 2 and Level 4 high school Spanish, and I can see that some of them still use it regularly during intervals in which I am not giving out any credit. Some of them are on my list on here, and some of them have the app on their cell phones/ipods and are not following me. I think that they would be considered casual users by monitoring their usage frequency. However, many of them are obsessed with it and are simply very, very busy with exam preparations and end of semester projects and so forth (as most students probably are) around this time of year. I like that I can go to their tree and see what skills they have not visited in a while- it helps them and me figure out what areas to refresh while working on current units/themes.


I'm going to go against the grain here and say that removing overwatering is probably a good idea for all in the long run. Doing the same things over and over again on the app/site does nothing compared to real world challenges of interacting in the language. People should be pushing through new lessons, doing translations, or any number of things outside with the language rather than building up points.

Don't get me wrong, I credit duolingo for bootstrapping my french learning. In three months I went from virtually 0 to 3rd semester college french and finishing up now with a solid B. Duo is worlds better than anything else I have done in the past but it still has some amazing gaps. The spoken exercises are ok, but they really are not nearly hard enough on people, almost a gimme. The treatment of the french past tense is very poor ( mixing imparfait and passe compose when they are very different ) and the listening barely scratches the surface. I spent months watching movies so I can now almost always hear, even if I don't understand, what is said.

People should be spending that time watching a movie in french, reading a novel, or trying to write. It's hard at first since it really does challenge you to put into action what you learn.


Thank you very much for listening. Users of free apps can be very demanding at times. :)


Luis, you're the man. Thank you.


Will there be an update for Android too to return these fetures?


Merci beaucoup Luis. La pratique rend parfait.


Thank you thank you! I could not believe my eyes when I started the app this morning... The update info didn't mention this 'minor detail' either.


Luis I am so happy to hear this. I have been very upset about losing the practice button, and I'm very glad you're bringing it back. Thank you!

  • 2726

Pretty much agree with all your thoughts. As someone who was never any good at languages at school, learning with Duolingo has been a revelation. I discovered the app last July, and became hooked. It was weeks before I even knew the website existed, and the app remains my learning tool of choice, it just fits in with my life really well.

I just can't understand the reasoning behind the removal of the practice button from the app. Duo wants to help me learn a language so where's the logic behind the decision to prevent me from doing general practice of vocabulary within the app?


Thank you olimo, I 100% agree :) Good that Luis took notice!


Luis - Very impressive to see how fast you responded to the user requests - especially for a free app!! Thanks for the excellent work and happy holidays to all.


It also seems like the coaching feature is based on how much time it -should- take you, rather than how much time it -does- take you. I blazed through my lesson practice on the app (I tend to not practice my skills.....oops), and it said that I was on track for the day, even though I had set my coaching to 30 minutes....I seriously don't think I went over 30 minutes practicing.


I can understand your feelings. But were you not the ones exited about the presents to come? It than is polite to thank the giver and start playing with the present, maybe there is more to it then we now for the moment. From me it is: THANK YOU DUOLINGO


Everyone is excited about presents, but losing something we valued was not what we expected.

Anyway, I posted this to discuss a general trend of prioritizing casualness over effectiveness of learning.


Ah, sorry. ^_^; To add to the discussion about casual over experienced/hardcore, I do think the coaching feature is really, reaaaaallly catered to the casual over the hardcore. I don't mind it, because I like practicing for a set time a day and this caters to that, but the deletion of the refreshing skills and the coach thing (I'm not saying it's necessarily broken--I could be interpreting how to use the program incorrectly), it makes me wonder....


I don't mind the Coach at all, and I would definitely try it if I only used the app - but I use the site more, so I'm just not sure if I will comply with the goal I set in the app. I keep my streak and usually gain 100+ points a day, but there are days when I don't use the app at all, only the site.


Yes, but that's logical. It's a pretty common marketing strategy - I mean, just look at your phone provider for instance. They probably make more efforts to attract new clients and win their loyalty; but once customers are hooked, they make no effort whatsoever to keep you happy. At least in France for years it was more interesting financially to switch providers once in a while than to stay with the same one for a decade. Because most people won't make the effort to switch.

Same goes here: those who are really hooked won't go away, unless the service really deteriorates. It's a logical and valid marketing strategy.

Another story though about the practice button removal: that doesn't attract new users and might scare away some regulars...


Oh, believe me, I know it's rude to look a gift horse in the mouth. I'm just perplexed at how they're doing this.


Hi Luis.... How about having a "completed" mode for users who have finished the tree, so the casual users and the users who have completed the tree get features. For example once a user completes the tree it seems some users want a practice mode to keep their skills up. So maybe once a user finishes the tree they could have the option to enter "tree completed mode" that had features geared towards maintaining and solidifying their knowledge and skills in the language..... Just idea I was pondering when I read this thread


thanks olimo, I really like the new app design, I was also disappointed that the one thing I use everyday which is the practice button had disappeared, it is hard to know what to practice when you finish the tree not sure if the idea is just to move on to the immersion section or what.


I spend maybe a half an hour to an hour a day ;)


an idea i have would be like a 1 to 100 bar... slide a cursor over the number you want to indicated how fast you want your own skills to decay. with each number representing a specific amount of time for duo's spaced algorithms. 1 being a significantly longer period between needing practice verses 100 which could be minutes or hours.... maybe even break that down to be able to choose what kind of decay algorithm for each lesson within a skill group...


This is probably an error. There is no real harm, and Duolingo are not going to let this error prospering. I think that everybody can relax, the staff is sufficiently serious about making a near-perfect languageS learning tool—for free.


I used to strengthen my skills on my ipad daily. Now, I no longer can use the ipad app for this. If you have an ipad you will find the using Duolingo on the website (Safari) a pain since spell check becomes a huge problem, same with changing the keyboard back and forth, as well as the sound, whether normal or slow doesn't always work properly. This morning, I get to sit at my desk instead of relaxing on the couch practicing my skills. Thank you.


I am very upset with the loss of practice. I want to make sure I understand and am proficient before going to the next level. Now if I am on the road or out of town i can't practice. What a mess. Wish I would have known - I would have never upgraded.


im not sure if this is the right place for this comment but i came here trying to figure out where to find the 'practice weak skills' option on the web version that i have on my iPhone. is this not possible or am i missing something?

the only thing that i can seem to find on my main page for spanish is 'timed practice' or something like that. furthermore i dont think i've seen the timed practice on the iOS versions.

I'm getting a bit confused so if anyone can explain this that would be great.

FYI duolingo is the only language learning app that i've really stuck with. impressive.


I disagree. I was not a casual learner, but a devoted learner who is already fluent in 2 or more languages. I have studied languages since I was young. But Duolingo started doing many frustrating things and so I quit. Today I tried to come back, and its as frustrating as ever - they are counting my correct sentences (100 % correct), as wrong! I used to love Duolingo, but not now. I was learning multiple languages successfully, and liked them so much I recommended them a lot.

I was a very die-hard, daily user that Duolingo pushed away!

Now what is your theory? And more importantly, why does Duolingo alienate its most avid users?


As a contributor and moderator, I'd like to explain a bit about how the courses are constructed. As you may know, we are all volunteers chosen based on our knowledge of the two languages involved. Duo offers some broad advice and requirements on the best way to present the target language.

From there it's all pretty much up to the contributor to make sentences in the target language and give their translations in the source language. Based on the sentences and their translations the Duobot...just a computer program... determines if what you wrote was correct. We only review your work if you ask us to and you present your sentence otherwise there is no way we can see what you have produced.

We try to include as many correct versions as possible but often...very often we simply do not think of each correct version and add it only after it has been brought to our attention by a learner.

So, it is not the contributor who rejected your answer but the Duobot based on what the contributor had written and they may not have thought of the sentence you wrote. I know I'm always happy and grateful to add another version when it is brought to our attention.

If someone presents a sentence he believes is correct but we do not agree we always try to give a full explanation as to why we do not consider it correct.


I understand the explanation and thank you for giving it - it helps. My complaint is that the answer was exactly - and I mean exactly (capitalization, exact wording, exact spelling, exact punctuation) as the version given by Duolingo. I checked it - double checked it and I am also multi-lingual myself with some pretty fair credentials - I have taught languages often. I use Duolingo either to brush up - or to learn something new. So what got to me, was that my sentences were exact - and still counted wrong.

I don't know then if it could have been a technical issue or even an issue with my own computer? I'm sorry and usually I just love Duolingo. Up to now, I recommended it whenever the subject of language learning comes up, which is often ( I am actively involved in language learning and teaching).

I will try it again soon. I was offline a while, and now starting to get back to it again. Thank you for your answer.

Oh and the only language I was having this issue with, was Hebrew. And I'm Jewish. So I know a fair amount of Hebrew already.


Maybe this is somehow just a technical glitch.


Sometimes there is a glitch that causes the right answer to be rejected.

If you can see that your answer word for word is exactly the same as what is being suggested take a screenshot and submit a bug report: https://support.duolingo.com/hc/en-us/articles/204728264-How-do-I-report-a-bug-


So true indeed about the glitch. And the screenshot is the gold standard. If someone can send a screenshot to Duo Help or bug report the issue could probably be resolved. Thank you for suggesting it.

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