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https://www.duolingo.com/ASBusinessMagnet

My honest opinion on Duolingo, confirmed with a 1,000 day streak

ASBusinessMagnet
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As of today, I enter the elite guild of people with a four-digit streak. The journey by which I got here no doubt has its ups and downs, and I believe a fair amount of people actually want to hear from me about my experience. It is true, of course, that not everyone could get here.

However, most of you don't actually know me. For most of you, I am just a nickname, some flags, numbers beside them, a flame and another number beside it that just happens to be a round number today. You have no reason to assume my personality and what I would say if you actually asked me about my experience. You can only guess, as those others who post about their 100 day or 365 day streaks are usually happy that Duolingo got them this far, that I would be a) an expert in the languages that I am learning and b) pretty much delighted that such a service is available to me free of charge.

I am here to break that illusion.

I am here to tell you that after 1,000 days, I honestly believe that Duolingo has actually done me more harm than good.

To begin with, let's talk about the 1,000 day achievement by itself. One would assume that this mark means extreme dedication to language learning, and in my case, that might be right. However, instead, after a few close brushes (when I was still learning two languages, and would end up practicing one and not the other) around the 300s, I resolved to develop a regime that I would strictly adhere to, and over time it ended up becoming my second nature, something I could not live without.

Would you believe that whenever I read a fictional story about some people going on a multi-day adventure, the first thing I think is "good thing that they don't have to keep up their Duolingo streaks"?

The point is, at this point Duolingo has become an unhealthy addiction for me.

Now, let's delve deeper into the sort of exercises that Duolingo offers. Those typically are majorly comprised of translation from your target language to English, and from English to your target language. As there are no real translation guidelines other than "this word translates as this other word", my translations often become literal and directly copy the sentence structure of a foreign language whenever possible.

Sure, Duolingo accepts them as legitimate, but as it turns out, real life doesn't.

Around the 100s, when I was still in high school, I noticed that my English marks had gotten lower, even though no one (including the teacher) even noticed the decline. At the time, I assumed that it was because I was writing a type of story where all the rules of English are thrown out the window, and promptly stopped for a while. However, the decline continued and more and more often I noticed that I'm not sure anymore how to write this sentence - in English, which I have been learning in some form for ten years.

Turns out, I was so accustomed to the Duolingo-esque broken French/German/Russian/Esperanto-like English that I didn't know what it was like to write in real English. Even right now as I am typing this, I am occasionally revising my sentences to change from this word to the other one, as if the rounded corners of the Duolingo interface were ever-present and as if that lower bar was ready to turn the moment I pressed "Enter".

In other words, Duolingo has harmed my knowledge of English.

Oh, and about those other languages? Sure, I got very good at this whole translation business (even though, to date, I have only completed the French tree), but I believe that learning a language requires you to think up the sentences in that language yourself, which Duolingo doesn't do. Sure, it could be modified so it's all about translating from English to the target language and it would teach a lot more, but the fundamental problem that you're still relying on English while learning remains, and once I step into the outside world, that support falls down and I'm no better than if I read and memorized a phrasebook.

Hence, Duolingo doesn't even do the job it should do, and that is a fundamental problem within the system.

Does that mean I will leave Duolingo this very moment? Unfortunately, no. I feel like you won't be able to ever forgive me for abandoning my streak (well done, Streak Hall of Fame), and even if you do, I feel like I won't be able to ever forgive myself for abandoning my streak, not to mention the goal itself of learning foreign languages other than English (as I currently have no other chance to speak them; finding friends on the Fluent in 3 Months forum has led me nowhere and most Internet communities that speak foreign languages are very national, unlike the Anglophone Internet). But does that mean I regret having to go there and translate some 200 sentences in rapid fire or a certain tick won't appear on a certain flame?

Definitely.

Hate me all you want, but this is my honest opinion.

Here's to 1,000 more days of something that I simply could not get rid of if I tried, and goodbye.

P.S. I'm not even actually at 1,000 days since I started learning on Duolingo, haha. Due to my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, 6 hours of time zones away from here, I actually ended up gaining a day due to my practice schedule being thrown off. So, I should have been making this post tomorrow, but as the website is broken beyond belief, you're getting this now. What a cruel joke.

P.P.S. Oh, and notice the lack of a Spanish flag on my profile? I actually considered learning Spanish, but as it turns out, I didn't even really leave the five-star hotel I was staying in for most of the time, and I was told that everyone would speak English here, and I am pretty sure that I heard more Russian than Spanish during my entire trip.

Take a look at what I had to say on my previous "streakversaries": http://istrige-namuose.tumblr.com/post/75373839614/compiled-list-of-my-duolingo-streakversaries

2 years ago

33 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/FrankKool
FrankKool
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To be honest, I don't think DuoLingo is the problem: it's the way you've been practicing.

From your total amount of XP, I can calculate that you earned, on average, 75XP per day. You also made no use at all of Immersion. If all you did for the last three years was repeat the same exercises over and over again, it doesn't surprise me that you still don't speak these languages.

I've always regarded DuoLingo as the springboard to new languages: it gives you a firm basis of passive understanding. As you correctly point out: a lot of it is translating the new language into your native one, which does very little for your conversational and writing skills. But all this allows you do dive into the language; using movies, radio, books, and best of all: conversations with natives. That's how I learned German and Spanish: by using the basis that DuoLingo provided to further explore the language myself.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/amaratea
amaratea
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I will never stop being amused by people who discuss how "incomplete" Duolingo is and how it misses this an that, and cannot believe that they really think that a language can be learned from one source (one textbook, one website, etc). But it appears they really do.

You can be done with any Duolingo tree within three months, or even faster if you have lots of free time/ motivation. From that moment on, take a deep dive into everything you can find. Noone promised you can be fluent in your target language by doing and redoing the same limited set of sentences.

This whole prespective reminds me of those who sue food companies/ restaurants for obesity.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrankKool
FrankKool
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While it is true that I think DuoLingo can still improve greatly (more immersion, more social interaction, and writing exercises), it is indeed rather naive of people to think that DL alone can make you fluent in a language.

The gamification of language learning is a good motivator, but the down-side is that a lot of people are just 'grinding' to increase their stats: they are more concerned with getting to the next level and finished the next lesson than they are with actually learning the language.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/amaratea
amaratea
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the way I see it, it's the neverending balance between "use", "misuse" and "abuse". Honestly, I found many points in OP really interesting, but what I totally didn't like is "It's Duolingo's failure" approach. That's why it instantly reminded me of all those ridiculous court cases: "This restaurant had very big discounts, I ate there a lot and therefore grew fat and my boyfriend dumped me". Or: "This game turned out to be addictive, I played it for several weeks and lost my job and wife because of it". Or even: "There was nothing in microwaver manual about drying pets there, so I put there my cat after bathing it and my cat died" (before anyone asks - yes, all these cases are real). What about one's own discretion, what happened to it?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MentalPinball
MentalPinball
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A year or so ago I even heard (on the news) of a dude who put his baby in the washing machine... you can imagine how that turned out, sadly. Poor little baby :(

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/amaratea
amaratea
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well there are plenty of such stories all over the world. But my point is: I would gladly read a honest post about the downsides of Duolingo and its beginning looked promising but what I found here doesn't qualify as Duo's fault at all. Unhealthy addiction is certainly one's own issue; Duo doesn't support broken word-to-word translation (in Norwegian, at least, you get a pop-up saying "this sentence sounds unnatural in English" and it is marked as mistake if you submit it); and Duo does exactly what it is intended to do - provides you a firm basis for developing your skills further, and no language website or texbook can give anything more than that, EVER. Language is brought to perfection only by reading in it, watching in it and communicating in it, not by learning tools.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dcarl1
Dcarl1
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Thanks for sharing your perspective.

As with so many things in life, it's personal and varies. I am quite a bit older than you, and my English skills are settled, refined, and truly unaffected by anything on DL. I do agree on its addictive nature, and do think this is a negative. And yes, it's weak on writing and spoken language, and for that I have at times - and will again - use a tutor.

But it's brilliant at developing reading skills, especially if you use Immersion. After 30 years of attempting to study Italian, I have finally - in the past year -gone from struggling to read short, incredibly simple and dull exercise paragraphs to being able to read complex, adult novels. This addition to my life makes me very, very happy.

So for me it has been a positive overall.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Middangeard
Middangeard
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I think you basically proved that you can't rely solely on one single method to get all you will ever need out of a language. Duo will give you great foundation, but it won't get you all of the conversational skills, regional skills, colloquial skills, etc. that comes with true immersion. At this level, I'm definitely the most confident with reading most of all using mostly Duolingo.

Just like any other language course I've ever taken, I've needed to rely on several methods/sources to teach me. One book may explain grammar in a way that actually gets through to me that my usual preferred book may not. I've found myself struggling to figure out some conjugations on here, even after reading Duo's explanation, and then I come across it in a book and it finally hits me.

Of course, this doesn't always seem to be the case. I remember a success story where a user got a promotion by learning English solely through Duolingo.

Just keep it up and try to supplement as much as possible.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JeanneGamache

HI, As a certified English teacher, I disagree with you. I think that you have gotten into a mental rut and forgotten how to think in English. What is your native language? I bet it is not English. Take the time to consider how to change your thinking. You must learn to think in a language first to become really fluent. I challenge you to do it! Here's some lingots, not that you need them. Bonne change. Jane

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/callsharon

In fact, ASBusiness Magnet has told us that s/he has been studying English for some ten years and is something like twenty years old. The English errors ("amount of people" instead of "number of people," for instance) are ones that are increasingly common among native speakers, so congratulations, Magnet, on using my native tongue well enough to have people debating whether it's yours too! And BTW, letting the Streak go by the board seems like a good idea to me, as do lots of the suggestions made here. Good luck to you!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Middangeard
Middangeard
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I will agree with foreign languages harming knowledge of English to an extent. I'm a native English speaker and there have been times when my brain has completely blanked on the English word, but I could easily think of a foreign word to say! :)

I've always been a pretty good speller, but I have had times where I start thinking of English words in their loan-word spelling rather than the correct English manner of spelling. I think "restaurant" is usually my biggest hang-up because too often I start thinking of that word in the Japanese pronunciation.

It's all just a matter of sorting it all out in your head and not getting the brains scrambled too much.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lorel90
Lorel90
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Congratulations!! 1000, even with regrets, is a great streak. You have interesting comments about DL. It seems to me that you have been playing the game more than learning a language. That is always a risk in a gamified system. Remember that studying is not equivalent to learning.

Dl is a great tool to learn a language, but you need more than DL, you need to speak, to listen, to read and to write the language. It takes a lot of time and effort. You can continue playing the game, but if you want to learn a language you have to add other resources to your DL.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Olga451165
Olga451165
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I think many people miss the point of Duolingo.. It's not about finishing as many trees in speed time.. not about day streaks and flags next to your username.

It's about wanting to learn a specific language, coming here, getting a good vocabulary which can be done in 3-6 months depending on the language, and then STARTING TO USE WHAT YOU LEARNED!! it's not candy crush that you have to play because you are addicted!

Duo should be step one in your learning journey .. many people think it's the final step and get stuck on it till they can't take it anymore.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sibhreach

As far as French goes, if you want real, practical experience - try lang-8 and lingvist.io for more vocabulary and it will force you to conjugate on the fly.

I still use DL but after doing Lingvist for a week, my French has improved and chatting with folks on lang-8, practical French is a realistic goal.

Bonne chance!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tattamin
Tattamin
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I second that suggestion. Doing French on lingvist.io is a brilliant exercise!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence
chilvence
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I don't think anyone can hate you for stating your opinion, We are all Duo forum readers but it doesn't mean we swore an oath to queen and country or anything like that. Everyone has their reservations and thoughts about how this website can improve, a lot of the things you said I can sympathise with, I even hold a lot of my own opinions on how it could be better, but I still use the site, because it just happens the be here the way it is, It didn't cost me anything, it just appeared one day, and I wouldn't know how to program something better.

For what it is worth though, whatever you may feel about how Duo as degraded your English, I think that is complete crap. Your English is perfect. The vast majority of English speakers would love to be able to express themselves in another language as well as you can in English. Hell, a lot of us would be happy to express ourselves so well in English.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/boncey
boncey
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I've just gone past 400 days on Duolingo and am having similar thoughts about having to keep my streak going etc.

The thing is, I plan to go to Cuba this year (and put my Spanish to the test!).
I doubt I'll have Internet every day over there and to be honest I don't really want to be planning my holiday around that (I had enough hassle with it in Iceland!) so I'm resolving myself to losing my streak.

I might reach a 500 day streak before I go there - if I do I'll take a screenshot. :-)

In a strange way I'm looking forward to not having to worry about it anymore.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheQueenZerelda

Thank you for posting this.

Well I'm glad I'm not alone in finding that my English has suffered a bit from Duolingo. However, when I noticed this I grabbed my grammar book off the shelf and began studying. I think it's a good idea for anyone learning a second language to re-learn how their first language works along side the second language. Whenever I learn new grammar rules for Spanish I go and review how English works (unless it's rules I'm very familiar with for English).

It's also vital to use other resources than Duolingo. You need real-world exposure to understand how a language works in the real world. Being lazy has hurt me more than any teaching method. You have to challenge yourself.

But thank you for sharing your experience. It's a good reminder that you have to be proactive and change things up and Duolingo can't do it alone. Another user recently said (i can't remember who) that, "Duolingo isn't a one-stop shop".

Learning a language is hard work, but you can do it. Mix things up and keep finding new perspectives. :) Buena suerte. Trabaja duro. (I think.)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JoThelan
JoThelanPlus
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I'm sorry that you're frustrated with your experience here. I think that happens at some point or another to everybody who's been here a while. You may need to focus more of your language learning time away from here and to other sources for a bit. If it has become an addiction, then maybe stepping away for a while is the healthy thing to do.

One thing that I noticed, but see a little differently, is that you said that Duolingo specifically has damaged your English skills. Most of the people I know personally who either speak or are learning a second language agree that the simple act of learning another language will cause you to struggle in your first language. I can't tell you how many times that I've struggled with understandable sentence structure in English or drawing a blank on a word in both English and French at the same time. Learning a new language gives you a second way to do something, and trying to figure out which method is correct for the current situation can cause your brain to do funny things at times.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ckhadung
ckhadung
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"Turns out, I was so accustomed to the Duolingo-esque broken French/German/Russian/Esperanto-like English that I didn't know what it was like to write in real English. Even right now as I am typing this, I am occasionally revising my sentences to change from this word to the other one, as if the rounded corners of the Duolingo interface were ever-present and as if that lower bar was ready to turn the moment I pressed "Enter"."

Thanks for the sharing. I think I have the same problem.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/acspecht
acspecht
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Duolingo only offers a maximum in any language of maybe a year and a half's worth of curriculum you'd be taught in an actual educational language learning program. If you're implying that you were using Duolingo in lieu of completing your actual classwork, falling behind in class would have been a fairly predictable outcome.

I've used Duolingo for longer than 1,000 days in intermittent spurts, often with months-long gaps in between, for a similar reason to you: gamification is addictive. It's been too long to recall specifically, but I imagine it did interfere with my studies on numerous occasions when I was also using it as a student. However, that in itself says nothing about Duolingo; it only speaks to my lack of inhibition and self-control.

I say you should quit Duolingo, but don't be surprised when something as intangibly distracting floats by your attention. It might be better to gain control of the Wifi switch on your computer, if it has one, than on anything else when you have obligations to attend to.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lahure
Lahure
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An outstanding streak! Congratulations!! Guess we all have had different experiences here. I have made dozens of amazing friends around the world on account of Duo and we all message one another on a regular basis via What'sApp, FaceBook and Skype.

I would add that Duo has given me the ability to speak quite comfortably with the very large Portuguese community here in South Africa, albeit it only in the present tense, generally.

And reverse trees are great - especially across foreign languages. Spanish from Portuguese, for example, and vice-versa.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/matfran2001
matfran2001
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Well, I guess each one has its own experience here.

For what is worth, I am now reading Italian and French texts and I understand most of it (whereas three or four months ago I could not understand even the most simple sentences).

I agree with you though that understanding written language is a totally different thing than speaking a language.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/psifish
psifish
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My suggestion is that you post your longest streak on the Bio section of your Duolingo profile and then take some time off. I will always remember my 436 days streak. Good riddance to it.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IanEvison

First, let me commend your courage, stating your honest view without rancor or judgment of others in a forum where you can count on others disagreeing so sharply. Kind of like someone posting in an organic farming forum that they personally sometimes use chemicals.

As to the substance of it, I think you make an important point. A basic truth for me is that wisdom consists in understanding the limits of even the best tool. And, a further basic truth is that someone never really can be said to know how to use a tool well until they understand what it is good for and what not. I apply somewhat the same wisdom when I interview people for jobs. I don't really trust someone's claims regarding their strengths unless they can also manage some degree of self insight regarding their limitations. Of course the people who are really really good at detail usually are not so strong on the big picture.

For me, one strength and weakness of Duolingo is that it is addiction-prone. I presume, in fact, that it was designed with this intent. For me, this feature of the program has been most helpful to get me through the first levels of learning a language, and to keep me going at it during periods when I really did not have time for it. I find I can summon energy for Duolingo even when I am too tired and too distracted to do any other productive work (as in the airport after a long, long day with a TV blaring and flight delay announcements coming on every couple of minutes). Now that I have long ago completed my tree, my obsession with keeping it gold, ensures that on even the days that I do not do any other study of my target language (Danish), at least I do that. This, in itself, is a good thing.

However, my main work now is on my intermediate level meeting weekly with a tutor via Skype. Here, I find you are quite correct about the limitations of Duolingo. For me at least Duolingo seems to work best at the level where languages can be learned as short very snippets of one-to-one equivalencies between the two languages: which is to say the beginning and low intermediate levels. In fact this is rather the same limitation with wonderfully useful tools like Google Translate. Additionally, there is the limitation with Danish Duolingo that it has not been very helpful to me with pronunciation and that pronunciation of Danish tends to be one of the most difficult features. Using only Duolingo I developed for myself a dialect of Danish understandable only to myself and I became a little lazy regarding just cramming Danish vocabulary and grammar into a basically Anglophone way of expressing myself. The main work with my tutor in the first months was correcting those issues.

This said, I am a big fan of Duolingo as a tool that does what it does uniquely well. At the beginning level it is like a perfectly patient teacher, who is willing to work personally with me at any time of day or night to correct for the 100th or 1000th time the simplest of errors. And to do this in a way that uses every dumb trick in the book to keep going that addictive quality. Plus, it is pretty darn good at doing it with a sense of humor and by creatively adding some social supports. And, I can hardly believe this. It is free. Really the whole thing is free not just some chopped down introductory version. Wow!

In my view, Duolingo completely changed the game regarding computer assisted language instruction for the beginning level. It was a massive improvement on other options like Rosetta Stone or Primsler. What I am personally hoping is that there is some entrepreneur out there who see the revolution created by Duolingo, and sees all the people who need something beyond the present Duolingo, and who says to themselves "I can create that!". To that person I personally promise my entire supply of 384 lingots!

Thanks all.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lisa4duolingo
lisa4duolingo
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You write well. I enjoyed reading your post.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TheHockeyist

A three-year streak! Well done, and I'm sorry that Duolingo hasn't been great for you.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Thucnv
Thucnv
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Congrats! I only have about 800 streak days to reach 1000 streaks.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lelieblad

It's good to hear people say this!

I purposefully ended my Dutch streak after 60 days because I knew I risked getting addicted/wasting more time on Duolingo, time I could be spending to increase my reading and listening to native material and talking/writing to native speakers.

Duolingo is great for getting a sample of a language to see how you like it and to learn a bit. The problem is, people spend far too much time on Duolingo and aren't willing to give it up when it's time to move on.

Also, it encourages people to learn many languages at once, even though it's really difficult to take on multiple languages unless you're past the beginner level in one before starting another. Lots of people think that when they've finished a tree, they're past the beginner level and can add another language. You can--to each their own--but I think it's much better to be comfortable reading native material in one language before adding another, and even then I'd rather learn Dutch for a few years before learning say, German, as well.

Good luck on breaking your streak, haha, if you want to. :) And good luck learning!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/gammalsvenska

You provide basically three conclusions about Duolingo here. While they are definitely correct, they seem to miss the point sometimes.

"The point is, at this point Duolingo has become an unhealthy addiction for me." - I agree. The whole point of gamification is to create an addiction in order to make people stay. The Streak feature is simply about creating an addition and making people brag about it. A few decades ago, cigarettes held the same appeal. On the other hand, it is well known that some people are more vulnerable to addictions than others. This might be a lesson to you, and to anyone else reading your post.

"In other words, Duolingo has harmed my knowledge of English." - This is what learning a new language does to your brain. I have once learned Swedish by doing a high-school exchange (and avoided using English as much as possible), i.e. full immersion. After some nine months, I had traded all of my English for some semi-fluent broken Swedish. When I came back to school, I could still understand most English, but I could not speak it anymore. Gone, completely. - BUT: After some months of practice, it all came back; and I retained my Swedish. Essentially, this is what counts. - TL;DR here: Learning one language sufficiently intensive will hurt any other languages you might know, including your native one. But this is not permanent and a fundamental consequence of how your brain works.

"Hence, Duolingo doesn't even do the job it should do, and that is a fundamental problem within the system." - While Duolingo courses are done by humans, the system itself is just a computer system. It cannot provide a contextual, useful evaluation of your skills. You would need a human to do that. Given a few decades and this might change (though I am not sure whether to be happy or frightened about this idea). - That said, Duolingo provides something humans can do only at great cost: The repetitive, boring, simple exercises. They don't make up a language, but they are a necessary evil. Conventional language courses at universities require a huge amount of self-study, which you can get here for free. But they always put things in context, which Duolingo can't (or doesn't want to) do.

As a last comment: Congratulations to your 1000 (now 1002) day streak. Maybe you should take off a few months or a year, and come back in 2017 - and aim for another 1000 then. ;-)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Espeonage24

Just wondering, how many lingots do you have? ;)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ASBusinessMagnet
ASBusinessMagnet
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6385.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lisa4duolingo
lisa4duolingo
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Thank you for writing such a provocative post. I enjoyed reading it and the discussion that followed.

2 years ago