Reflections on a lost streak

So there I was, up around 330, 340 days, I can’t remember exactly. I had streak protection bought and paid for, just in case. I don’t have lesson reminders turned on because the last time I did they were borked, as a number of things on the site are. (I can’t recall the last time I could see my activity stream, for example, not that I’ve been looking very often.) I had previously had it set to send me a reminder if I hadn’t done an Italian lesson by 5pm and instead I was getting reminders about French at 4am, so I just turned it off.

Then the busiest period of the year at work hit, including working right across the weekend. I forgot about Duo on Saturday. I forgot about Duo on the Sunday. On the Monday a notification came in about a topic that I had commented on and therefore was subscribed to. A sinking feeling hit me in the stomach. Uh-oh.

Sure enough, that 300-something that I had cultivated over the past almost-a-year was now a nice, round 0.

Was I annoyed or upset? Perhaps surprisingly given the time that was put into it... after the initial “uh-oh” moment, no. I do think it’s a pity that the streak isn’t preserved SOMEWHERE so that you can see what your longest streak was (as has been suggested by a few people in the past), both as a symbol of achievement as well as to give you something to beat if you feel so inclined. And I do think that the streak is a useful tool to keep people motivated to practice regularly. But... it did set me to thinking about WHY I was not particularly disturbed by the loss. And why it was that I could go a full weekend without Duo even crossing my mind.

I think it’s this; at some point in your language learning Duo becomes counter-productive. I’m not just talking about annoyances like the inability to skip questions which are excessively weird or where the answers are just flat out WRONG despite having been reported by multiple people over the years. I’m not talking about annoyances like some people having access to some features and others not, as was the case previously with Immersion, for example. (But I swear, after my experience on Duo if I ever, EVER hear the expression “A/B Testing” again after the way the concept has been abused around here I’m going to throw a shoe at something.) I’m not even talking about things like the latest “improvement” to the Android app where you have the Owl popping up randomly every few questions to annoy the crud out of you… sorry, that should read, “to tell you what a great job you’re doing” WITH NO WAY TO TURN IT OFF. (Honestly, how much A/B testing does it take before the light bulb goes on and the test result reveals that “Pointless dialogs which add no value and need to be clicked through annoy users”?)

For absolute beginners Duo offers the chance to expand your vocabulary, without which you can’t express yourself. It offers the chance to learn verb forms, though in the later lessons of Italian at least you need to look elsewhere to understand the theory behind them since the notes are either rudimentary or absent. But eventually you learn all of those words, and with each and every word you are still stuck in the phase of translating it back to your native language or vice versa.

Speaking fluently is not about translating. The hard part of speaking a language isn’t speaking it, or even thinking in it if you know enough words, but rather flipping back and forth between one language and another. That, in its entirety, is what Duo offers. You need to do that for a while (arguably; one of my Italian teachers said that it’s better not to translate at all but to learn a language organically, but I think that most adults’ brains aren’t wired that way, unfortunately), but at some point you need to cast off the training wheels of your own language and think and speak entirely in the target one. (Especially as there are some words and concepts which do not translate directly or well.) Duo essentially stops you from moving on past that point because it is ALL about translation. You’re always being dragged back to your own language. Accordingly a streak of 1 to 200, maybe 300 days can be valuable but beyond that, I feel that it holds you back.

I’m not going to dump it entirely (especially as I’m still at beginner level in the other languages I’d eventually like to learn), but I think it will become only an occasional thing now for Italian.

The chances of another 300+ day streak are remote. Ma sai una cosa? I’m just fine with that. If you also find yourself losing a multi-hundred day streak... it may just be your language-learning subconscious doing you a favour.

March 21, 2017


I completely agree! I sometimes have my doubts about the gameification of language learning. Duolingo is a fun and motivating tool and it complements my studies but I certainly try not to take it too seriously. The focus on streaks and golden-ness can begin to feel a bit ocd after a while :)

March 22, 2017

Some great insights there. I'm also not a fan of extensive A/B testing for engagement metrics because it inevitably ends up with something that annoys some people. I think Duolingo is doing a great job for beginners and it seems like we've already gone past their target group (probably both level and age ones), hence having many ideas how to make it better... for us :D

March 22, 2017

How do you feel about the 90 days
BliuBliu challenge even is only 30 days.

This is a review:

March 22, 2017

That's a honest view about Duolingo, I wish the devs would read it. Even if they would improve the site as a hobby in their spare time, and it will still be better! What bothers me the most is that you have to learn by heart the predefined answers to some questions, otherwise you get an error even if you wrote a good answer. Now how hard can it be to improve the lessons a bit from time to time?

March 22, 2017

Memrise has those wanted badgets for the longest streak, as each course counts separately ;) It stays.
And there is no streak freeze either :(

I have to admit:
I got angry a while ago as I lost my streak for the Portuguese Basics course (woke up after midnight) by accident, but as this course is finally finished (350 words) and the course streak gets deleted on the "Memrise web version" I do not care that much anymore as reviewing words does not extend it.

Another quite weird way to handle courses on Memrise:
Learning new words gives you a streak, reviewing those words in the schedule does not once you are finished.
Once the course is finished, you can only see the course streak on the mobile version.
You sometimes see that there is a hidden course streak, as you get those Memrise Pro subscription messages because you hit xx days streak.
But you can probably only see it on the mobile phone Memrise apps (at least this is what they wrote on the Memrise community forums).
So once loosing that course streak just held me back a little bit to further enhance my global 85days streak badget and for other Memrise courses it starts back at day 1.

BTW: Isn't the max (global/visible profile) streak badget on Memrise 365 days, or can it be even more?

March 22, 2017
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