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Experiment: use gamification principles from Duolingo to learn language from book

Today is my 70th day in a row of studying here. I find this interesting, because most days it was really easy to do this, while normally I find it quite hard to develop new habits. I am sure that the gamification of this site played a big role in this. I want to analyze this further and apply these principles to learn something else. So, I think that for me the most helpful gamification elements from Duolingo are:

  1. The streak. I don't want to lose it. I also like the streak saver, because it allows you to miss a day occasionally at the cost of some lingots. Only happened once.
  2. The tree design: the learning experience becomes very structured, you have a little bit of choice of what to do next, but not too much. It's nice to unlock new skills and to really see your progress.
  3. The fact that you earn lingots for making progress. I have >1000 lingots now, but still it's nice to earn them. I don't know why ;)
  4. The idea of the store is also nice, although I don't buy much there, it would be nice if there were more things for sale.

So, I write this post because I want to do a little experiment; I want to see if I can apply these gamification principles to develop another habit: learning Spanish from coursebooks. Now that I have finished my tree and that it is golden I want to work through a language learning book, called "Spaans voor Zelfstudie" (it's dutch, but I guess you can figure out what that means). I will take an A4 and hang it on my wall, with the following things written on it:

  1. A streak counter. I will start with 10 minutes per day.
  2. A skill tree based on the chapters of the book. At first it will just be a list of, but I may add other Spanish activities such as watching episodes from series or reading articles in magazines in between, so that I will have a bit more variation and it will become shaped like a tree.
  3. A point counter (based on the lingots). For every 10 days that I will extend my streak I will get my my total streak divided by 10 points for it (same as Duolingo). I also get 2 points for finishing a chapter of the book. I may work through the book several times, if I find this helpful, or get another book (with a higher level) when I am ready for it.
  4. I will make my own lingot store on another A4, where I can spend my points on rewards. Spanish magazines, music, books, et cetera. These should cost many points, it should not be too easy to get them.

I will make these A4s now and hang them on my wall, and I will start learning today. I will report back in a week or so to let you know if it works! :)

Edit: the levels also stimulate me. I will also incorporate a leveling system in my experiment, I have to think about how to do this (ideas are welcome).

March 13, 2016



I love this idea! I think I'll have to copy at least parts of it (especially the streak counter and the giving yourself rewards).

I have several course books at home, but I never seem to get around to using them, because the shiny streak or time counters and easy accessibility of Duolingo, Memrise, and Lingvist are just too inviting... I also like buying books, which I then don't always get around to reading, and with this system I would actually have to earn the right to buy books, which I might then at least be more capable of reading, and at the very least more committed to reading since I had to work hard for them.

Let us know how it's working out for you!


Thanks! Feel free to copy everything that you want, I am also just copying from Duolingo! ;)

I will report back to you! Will you try this system (or your own variation) too? If you do I am interested in hearing how it went!


I think it'll take a couple weeks until I have the chance to start this (great start, huh?), and I'll spend this time thinking about my system as well as trying to identify a couple of suitable rewards to work towards.

One minute per XP sounds good -- it'll be a challenge to actually focus during those minutes, rather than constantly checking various gadgets for all kinds of messages or otherwise distracting myself... This might turn out to be a very healthy exercise in general, not just a way of learning Russian.

I'll be lurking to check out your progress, and will let you know when I start!


Great idea and it includes what, in my opinion, is the most powerful technique for learning anything and that is to break down the project into smaller and easy to achieve tasks. I am reminded of the old adage that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Add to that the extra motivation factors that you mention and you have a great plan.


Thanks! About breaking projects into smaller parts: I couldn't agree more, it is essential. In fact, everything that I have achieved in life happened when I broke my projects in smaller parts. If I don't do that it's impossible for me to motivate myself, and if I do, it's much easier.


This is a wonderful idea! I especially like the reward angle.


I'm looking forward to your report next week!

I also have a Learn French! book that I'm willing to read/study after I have a stable level in Spanish, so I want to know if books do a better job in teaching a language than Duolingo.

(I will make my own lingot store on another A4, where I can spend my points on rewards. Spanish magazines, music, books, et cetera; I LOVE this idea!)


Thanks, I will report back to you! ;)

Great that you like the ideas. Let me know if you have nice ideas for rewards!


If you're looking to gamify your self studying, check out habitica.com. It's really great for incentivizing new habits.


I have used habitica for a while, it was nice, but their gamification element and style didn't really click for me. I may return there later, but for this experiment I try to do it on paper to see how that works for me, and with Duolingo, which has proven itself as an effective motivator.


Have fun!

> levels

Set up an arbitrary number of levels, say 25, and decide how many XPs will be needed to traverse each level, increasing these numbers as the levels increase, until at the top of the scale many thousands of XPs are required for level.


Thanks! I decided to give myself 1 xp per minute that I spend studying (first this book, then others) and I use the same levels as on Duolingo (described here).


I XP per minute is a good idea. Yes, what I described was basically Duo's method (did you notice?).


FYI, the streak and lingots (with the store) are surface level gamification. Some of the deeper gamification features are just as important.

You already pointed out the tree design. In addition to keeping your choices limited so you don't get overwhelmed like you mentioned, it also works to present you with challenges that are at roughly the right level - not too easy and not too hard. The test out feature to skip parts that are too easy would be good to learn some lessons from. For example, you might find yourself getting bored if you work all of the book exercises on a section that you've already learned on Duolingo. Let yourself make the decision to skip over those and move onto more challenging material, rather than continuing to plow through them because you feel like you should complete everything.

Another important gamification principle that Duolingo uses is giving you instant, clear feedback. Video games will typically provide that feedback with animations and sound. Duolingo will too, but if you got the exercise wrong, you usually are told what you did wrong and what it should have been. That might be a lot harder to mimic when studying from books, but perhaps you can come up with something.

Another principle, that is probably pretty obvious, is the repetition of material until you master it. You don't repeat it all right away of course, but a lot of the vocabulary and grammar is reused in later levels, and then Duolingo encourages you to come back and review the earlier levels a few days later. A lot of textbooks are also good at the first part, but they don't typically handle the second part. You have to figure out how to schedule that on your own.

The funny and weird sentences are part of it, too. They help to surprise you and keep you engaged, waiting to see what the next level will hold.

There's undoubtably a lot more waiting to be uncovered as well.

[deactivated user]

    My favourite learners' community (and the best of them all! :-) ) has got the 6 week challenge several times a year. The point is spending time on a language (under B1 at the beginning). And many of us use it as an opportunity to and motivation boost for coursebook learning. We use a twitter bot for counting.

    Another option: HabitRPG or a similar app. Gamification of various tasks can be used for learning as well.

    But your idea is definitely appealing, even though I don't have enough patience for trying it out :-)


    This is great! For me, having people see my streak and level is also a huge motivating factor. That may be shallow, but it works. Consider keeping us or a different social media account updated with your "level" and lingot count. It may help! Good luck!


    Awesome idea! It is good you know how to manage time with Duolingo.


    How do you have 1000 lingots? I am level 20 after 65 days in French and only have 179. Is there something I do not know? Or is it because you are doing so many lauguages at the same time? If so how can you do it as I have more than enough trying to do French for English speakers and English for French speakers. Rwyf hefyd yn siarad Cymraeg yn rhugl ac rwy'n falch o weld rhywun yn dysgu - iaith anodd.


    At no point have I been doing Duolingo just to earn lingots, I like the idea of getting some kind of reward, even though they are not very useful. Doing multiple languages certainly helps, as you get 2 lingots for every skill you finish. You used to get a lingot if you finished a lesson without making mistakes, that was an easy way to get a lot of them. I use the double or nothing item from the shop every week and I get more and more from streaks. I think that's it. I must say that lingots motivated me more when I had less than 1000, now that I have more it's much less interesting. Good luck!


    Has anyone successfully used Anki to keep going, once they finished the DuoLingo tree? More information is available at http://fluent-forever.com or by reading ¨Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It" by Gabriel Wyner.

    Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.