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A simple but very effective method for learning on Duolingo

I've been doing lessons on Duolingo for a bit less than 2 years without reviewing, and that method was fine for easier languages like Scandinavian or Romance. But I had a very hard time with Turkish or Irish and didn't even make it to the end of the Hebrew tree. Now I can hardly remember a word from those languages and will have to redo them in future. I was kind of frustrated, that's why when I started a new tree — Hungarian — I began thinking about how I could do the lessons in a better way. I've made a few extremely small and simple changes but they've helped me enormously. After finishing Hungarian a few days ago, I can say this is the tree that I've learned the most from compared to any other tree I'd done before. And Hungarian is much harder than most of those languages. I found this method so helpful that now I regret I hadn't started using it earlier, and I'm thinking about redoing several of my other trees. I was very surprised by how well such simple changes worked for me, so I thought I should share them. Maybe they will be trivial or obvious for some, but I discovered it myself after my 12th tree, so I hope they will be of help for others, especially for those frustrated and close to giving up on their trees.

So, the key idea is: Don't advance until you can write the whole sentence entirely by yourself. Easy, right? This helped me remember vocabulary on Duolingo enormously. When you see a sentence to translate:

  1. Think if you can translate it entirely by yourself. If you do, it's fantastic — you've learned all those words well! You can go on to the new sentence.
  2. If you don't (because you can't remember a word or two, or the sentence contains a new word), do everything you would normally do — check the translations on hover. Try to think of a translation using those tips.
  3. Now click "Skip" or type random letters into the answer field and click Enter. Do it every time you had to check a translation, even if you didn't know just one word or you weren't sure and had to check something. Don't type the sentence to get "OK" if you have checked translations! Otherwise the sentence won't reutrn to you and you won't have a chance to remmeber those words well.
  4. Focus on the words you didn't know or forgot. Try to memorize single words, not whole sentences. It is important to keep that in mind when you get the same sentence to translate several times. Now go on to the next sentence.
  5. Write that sentence correctly when it returns to you. Click enter or "OK" only if you translated the sentence entirely by yourself. It may take a few times to get it right but don't worry. Try to remember better each time. Remember that if you skip the sentence or type random letters to mark it wrong, the sentence will always come back to you after other sentences in this lesson. Otherwise, there is a big chance you won't learn the words from that sentence.

Why does it make such a difference? I used to translate sentences with help of the hover translations for almost 2 years and 12 trees. If I had realised it earlier, I would have got much more from each one of these courses. I will probably redo a few of my trees in future and I'm certainly going to use this method in my next trees.

Another important thing: When I told my friend on Duolingo about this method, he said it seemed tiring, slow and time-consuming. But my experience with Hungarian was nothing like that! I went through the lessons much faster than when I did trees of other harder languages advancing after checking hover translations (like with Hebrew or Turkish). And I enjoyed it much more! When you remember more words, lessons are much easier, and after some time you begin to often translate many sentences entirely by yourself the first time you see them in the lesson.

Of course, above all, be reasonable. You don't have to spend half an hour over an absurdly long sentence. I usually skipped such sentences, when I had problems with them, even before I started using this method, so feel free to keep some of your habits and things like that.

Let me know what you think. Do you have any similar tips for using Duolingo? Please share them and maybe you'll spare others hundreds of hours of ineffective learning.

April 29, 2017



Fascinating. I'm all for in-depth thinking about how to use this tool of Duolingo better and do a lot of it myself. Can I ask why you don't review? (NB: I have gone through a number of trees without reviewing, but I have considered these flights of fancy or brief explorations rather than focused learning exercises)

Do you have, in common with most here, the vast majority of your sentences in lessons translated from the target language into English? Assuming that's so, you're most interested in acquiring reading ability?

I came to a similar method, in part, for Hungarian. I would just redo each lesson until I recognized all the words in it. The first time would be tough, the second time much easier, and the third time, if I did it, usually quite straightforward indeed. Given that I think we're talking about doing the lessons where you're learning new words (so you presumably don't know them), it sounds like you'd have to go through each sentence at least twice anyway: once to see the new word and then again to enter it, so our methods basically boil down to the same thing with mine I guess involving somewhat more typing.

But beyond the lessons our approaches differ: I basically hang out in timed or untimed practice until I can do those pretty straightforwardly, and they contain many more sentences. And obviously for a language like Hungarian, just knowing the words definitely doesn't imply you can understand the sentences.

OK, so given that I can race though trees fast, really what I just said above mostly applies to the second time through (Hungarian being an exception; there I've only done 1/3 of the lessons), an advantage I think because it seems like I get more translation into target language that way. So, for example, I am now nearing the "finishing" of my second tree: Guaraní. I guess it will be at level 23 or maybe 24. By "finishing" I don't mean "get the golden owl"; that was months ago. I mean have actually spent enough time strengthening each skill that it — at the time I did it — got easy translating in both directions. Of course even at this level of finishing, there'll be a lot I've yet to truly master (the words that only showed up in one skill, which is now months in the past, etc, etc)

Thoughts? Like I said, I love this topic, and you're clearly one of the people who has publicly put forth some of the most comprehensive thought process about it, both in this post and your series on vocab memorization modalities, and we are much in your debt for it.


I don't have the option to post on anyone's stream any more. Don't you have the new version of the website? So I'll paste my answer here:

Thanks for the video. I may have mentioned that I've only finished the Duolingo tree once and have never learned Russian so I don't have any structured or organised knowledge of it (but I'm seriously planning on starting to learn Russian in some time). That's why I can understand it only sometimes and sometimes don't know a few words because I'd never seen them and they aren't similar to any in Polish. In this video, I could understand most of Russian in this video. Again, in most of the sentences I recognise every word, but there are some in which I don't know the core word and can't guess the meaning — e.g. I didn't know the Ukrainian/Belarusian word for parents and didn't get the sentence until I heard "родители". Also when it comes to the spoken language, I usually get it after the second or third time. I can also understand most of Ukrainian, although I've never learned it, since it's basically between Polish and Russian. Russian always seems easier but I think this may change after I do the Ukrainian tree on Duolingo. I have no experience with trying to understand Belarusian but I think that would be similar to other Slavic languages like Serbian. Also in those, like in Romance languages, the understanding rises drastically when I have written text and not audio. Listening comprehension is a tricky thing and you must learn the different aspects of it separately, for example to discern the words. I'm excited to see what's it like to learn a Slavic language (to a reasonable level like I've been learning French and German) and how much easier it will be if I can understand a pretty big part of the language already. Also can't wait to get to know new Slavic languages on Duolingo and compare them — I'm excited for Czech and I hope Serbian will soon be in the Incubator. Without Acticity I can't see what languages you've learned. Do you have experiences with other Slavic languages?


(for the record, this is the referenced video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wAoGzexufo)

Interesting. Cool to know that a lot of things in languages you've never studied still seem familiar. English speakers I think tend to be fascinated by this phenomenon because there's not really a language where such a thing occurs for English speakers (Scots could have filled the role had it remained as vital as it was perhaps 400 years ago). Did the site update take away the forum flags, too? I've done the Ukrainian tree, albeit extremely quickly. I'd like to get back to it and actually try to retain something rather than it just be a brief, amiable romp relying on recognition of abundant Russian cognates.


Thank you! I really appreciate your comment. Well, the main difference is that we use Duolingo pretty differently. You seem to use Duolingo as your main resource in learning languages (may I ask, do you use some other resources?) — reaching the level 25 requires huge amount of time and will and I admire that. I also understand why using the phrase finishing the tree by me in that sense (without reviewing up to the level 12) may irritate you ;) I'll try to excuse myself explaining a bit how I'm learning languages.

Right now I'm focusing on French and German as my main two target languages. I don't think I could learn a language using almost only Duolingo, so I use other resources that are more suitable for me. It's important to focus on 1 or 2 languages if you want to learn anything so I chose these. But I also simply love learning languages and that wouldn't be enough for me. So I use Duolingo. I choose a language (or two, but currently one) and finish the tree (that is, do it till I "get the golden owl" :D). This way, I spend a few weeks (or months) on usually not very fast, systematic work on the tree, independently from other things I learn. After that, I have the owl and a pretty good (usually... as I said in my post) basic knowledge of the language. I'm not doing it to have measurable results (like with those main two) but just for fun. Even though I can pretty easily read and sometimes listen to Spanish, Italian or Russian, I've never learned them outside Duolingo, so I never ennumerate those languages claiming to "speak" them and don't mention any of them. But this basic knowledge is very often helpful and useful. My goal is just to get a grasp of the language and to get familiar with it. Besides, if I particularly like some language I've done I can always learn it in future (using those other resources), already having a strong base for it (I'm planning to start learning Russian soon!). But I hope (like all of us) to learn most of them fluently someday :)

Btw, is there any specific reason why you decided to learn Guaraní? It's very low on my list as I don't see many reasons to learn it. But I also know very little about it. Perhaps you would convince me a bit? What do you like about it? I had a similar problem with Irish, but made a post about it and after that, it was my next tree :)


Duolingo actually doesn't even have courses for most of the languages I have generally viewed as core (additional) objectives. My level 25's are preponderantly from Immersion, so it's a bit of a separate matter. I have worked pretty comprehensively through the Russian tree (probably learning much more from the sentence discussions than anything else) although I've only ever done a smidgen with the Portuguese one beyond quizzing out of it.

Don't worry: your use of "finishing" a tree could hardly be irritating! Here the quotation marks are for the direct quote, in my first comment, they were there to emphasize my self-consciously non-standard usage :) If anything, I intermittently adopt it because there are a number of trees I've gone through so fast, they just don't belong on the same playing field as others. Also, there are those innumerable, "I've finished the tree; now what do I do?" posts that, when it becomes clear the person's only familiarity with the language is the Duo tree, they get the golden owl at level 11 or 12, and they seem to have a focused interest in the language usually have the obvious answer, "um, review?" Granted, this viewpoint probably does reflect a more optimistic overall outlook on the utility of Duolingo than you seem to hold, although I think you're at a very different place in your overall language learning than many of those posters.

As a "methodological" matter, I think there's a big difference between the Romance/Germanic languages (well, for English native speakers at least) and other ones. I see how it's comparatively easy to get a sufficient handle on the grammar so as to allow vocab-centric work to come to the fore in pretty short order. But in a Russian (at least for those who don't already speak a Slavic language ;) or even more a Hungarian or my avocations Georgian and Guaraní just learning a bunch of words isn't really going to be of that much use for a lot longer since the systems in which they are used are much more unfamiliar. Prior posts of yours having emphasized vocab acquisition quite heavily, I wonder if, say, you were to make Hungarian a major future focus, if you wouldn't think Duolingo might have a bigger role to play since it can help with learning those structural things in a way that no mere word-level vocab work, no matter how effective, can. Perhaps it's not the quickest way to learn the abstract principles, but it strikes me as a remarkably effective way to practice them. Of course, part of my generally favorable disposition towards Duo could be that Georgian and Guaraní are far from abundant in resources, and Guaraní's already here, and one can at least imagine Georgian's turning up while hardly being able to expect the abundant learning infrastructure other languages benefit from to ever arise.

Why Guaraní? I've been to the country, made quite a trip out of it actually, so I figured I'd give the course a try. And, like Hungarian before it, I think I was basically taken in in a flash with the sound of the language and the quality of the live speaker voice. And, well, I do tend to have a bit of a flair for the path less commonly trod and the intellectual adventure. And the process of learning it certainly has its "adventurous" aspects: my first treasure trove was somehow unearthing a pdf of a 100+ year old proto-textbook literally scanned out of the Harvard library. And that was all I could find to fill in the grammar holes of the course. Now I've accumulated more resources, but, frankly, that aged text might actually be the closest to the tree here since it includes a lot of the Spanish-Guaraní mix present in the tree but that later academic tomes rather look askance at. That mix has its appeal to me as well. In its further along forms Jopará can take Spanish nouns/verbs/etc and connect them with Guaraní grammar/particles/etc, making it possible to communicate in a not-Spanish that still benefits a lot from Spanish knowledge. It doesn't necessarily yield beautiful Guaraní, but it yields something tangible and useful that a similarly small vocab stock normally wouldn't be able to deliver. The tree, unfortunately, is nowhere near coming out of beta, but it's easy enough to sidestep most of the pitfalls, all the more so as your method focuses on the sentences in the lessons, which I think are in better shape generally.

(edited to include more comments on Jopará)


Just two notes,
First, your mention of Guaraní having a natural voice got me interested, and I tried the course. The language is very enchanting! As much as I'm neutral about Spanish, I liked Guaraní! And the speaker's voice as well, I also like how it's echoed! I still love the Irish lady's voice better though.
Then, good job on all that typing, power to your fingers!


I agree with your points on learning vocabulary. But for me, this is the reason why I love Duolingo so much. It wouldn't be possible for me to start Russian or Hungarian with learning vocabulary that way if I hadn't done Duolingo in these langauges before. It gives you great familiarity with the language, its structure and grammar. WIthout Duolingo I would have problems starting to learn any new language. For example, I'd love to learn Arabic but never started it because I would only start with Duolingo. Also I feel a huge need to learn Latin. Recently I even tried learning starting with lessons in the posts on Duolingo and a grammar textbook (I actually despise grammar textbooks! But I told myself that a language like Latin may be an exception). It was nothing like Duolingo though and I guess I won't spend much time any more learning this way and just wait for the course here.


Ah, gotcha! Now I see how your new, improved method for Hungarian fits fully into the schema: one trip through the tree actually yielded you the base of knowledge on which you feel you can build, despite Hungarian's being much more unfamiliar. Can't say I'm not still impressed by getting even a more-or-less reading ability in Spanish and Italian just based on one journey through the Duolingo tree! Even being a pretty fluent Spanish speaker, I got myself bogged down in the Catalan tree: a situation easily enough sorted out with a bit of backtracking, but you've done it it sounds like only seeing things once.

I'm curious where you seek Greek falling on this scale, incidentally. I found it to be quite difficult to retain much of, although its grammar is obviously more familiar. If anything, I'd think I had a better grasp of Turkish as I went along (common - and more phonetic - alphabet advantages I suppose).

Did you try the "CarpeLanam's Duolingo Latin - Sentences" Memrise course originating out of the lessons you mentioned? It basically teaches Latin like a Duolingo course would.

Oh, and could you give the link for your posts on vocab learning? I'd like to have another look.


Actually I would lie if I said I could read or listen to any Spanish or Italian after finishing the tree! I think it's because of my enormous love for Romance languages, having studied French for about 1.5 years and a great interest in linguistics (I'm dying to finally learn Latin on Duolingo!). Also they're extremely easy and simple compared to other languages (at least for me), but the most beautiful at the same time. I don't have a similar effect with Germanic languages despite being fluent in English and having studied German similarily. I mentioned Russian there because Slavic languages are generally fantastic — I've once easily read a whole discussion in Serbian, despite never having learned any Serbian, only thanks to my Polish and basic Russian. Same thing with Czech, and probably other if I'd try (even non-language-learners also can read other Slavic languages sometimes). Out of curiosity, how good is your Russian? I mean, did you notice this effect with other Slavic languages, having learned Russian? (I'm not sure what your native language is, but not a Slavic one?)

I enjoyed Greek and didn't have serious problems with the tree, but it's almost the same as with Irish. My approach to the tree wasn't good and I didn't remember much vocabulary. But I find it pretty difficult, too. As to Catalan, I didn't finish the tree. I needed a break because I didn't have time for Duolingo for a while and after that I only had time for one tree, and I chose Hungarian. I'm going to start Catalan again from the beginning after I finish Romanian and I hope it won't be seeing things once this time. Incidentally, it's really fun to be doing trees in Spanish without really knowing Spanish :D Like I said, I never claim to "speak" Spanish since I've never learned it except for that one rush through the tree. But it doesn't seem to be a problem and I really learn a lot with this laddering.

I've gone through the Carpelanam's lessons but didn't use the Memrise course. I don't like Memrise (I'm not saying it's not good though!) — I talked about my main reasons for that in those vocabulary posts, comparing it with Anki.

Here you go :) I actually reread them again about a week ago and added a few more thoughts.


Also, thanks for the suggestion about that note on the top. I wanted it to be there just for a while anyway. This was supposed to have a different purpose from the one at the beginning of the vocabulary posts (I'll keep the one there). I don't want to make people read the post twice as long :) I didn't and won't, however, report such things to moderators. I don't think it would help much. The main problem with these downvotes, as I said in the vocabulary post, is that fewer people read the posts because of this number (it disappears with -5 or more people skip it on the forum if it has few upvotes).


I have my own learning method in which i can memorize single words as well, thanks for the advise!


I use a milder variation of your method. Basically, I always try to write the whole sentence without hovering, and then I hover only when I am not confident about a word I have already typed. Even if I think I don't remember anything about the word, I still give it my best guess without a hover. Usually I find that I can remember at least portion of the word --- maybe just the first letter or the first few syllables. The hover shows me where there are gaps in my memory, and the next time I see the word, I will usually get it right without a hover --- or at least I will get a lot closer to getting it right.


Isn't Duo supposed to know when you hover for a definition and factor that into the strength of the word in question, anyway?

Still, I like the idea—and if you kept it up doing the Hungarian course, you deserve a medal: some of the sentences in there are ridiculously long and convoluted.


It is. Maybe I didn't make it clear enough. See my answer under the _Help's comment. Duolingo is effective in general because it uses the SRS and other clever algorithms. I'm just sharing my experiences and, most importantly, problems with learning this way, hoping someone will like this particular method as much as I did.

Also you're completely right about those long sentences. I'll include it in the post. Thanks for the remark!


I'm not sure about this. Hovering over a word tells Duo you didn't know it, so it will still come back quicker. If you deliberately fail the whole sentence by writing random letters it won't know which word you didn't know - all the words in that sentence will be treated as unknown, resetting words that you actually do know. I can't see why that would be particularly helpful in the long run.

Your language flag levels suggest you haven't done much reviewing in any of your trees. In my experience it takes roughly up to about level 12 to finish a tree if you just go straight through without keeping the older skills gold. I think that's what is really the problem with why you can't remember stuff you did before - you didn't review it enough. I never move forward in a tree until all the old skills are gold. If that means I don't have time to move forward every day, fine. I trust the Duo algorithm (more or less) to tell me whether or not I'm ready to move on, and if I have loads to review then I'm probably not ready. I'm now redoing the Norwegian tree because they added loads of new stuff in the second version, and I still remember loads even though I finished it over a year ago.

I would be very interested to know whether you still feel your method was useful in a few months, or whether you will find that you have actually forgotten a lot of Hungarian by then (assuming you don't go back and review). If so, I recommend actually taking some time over your next tree and making the effort to review thoroughly as you go.


As I said in my previous answer, I think you're misjudging my methods a bit. You think my style of learning is wrong because I don't review on Duolingo and don't have levels 25. But you must realise that I've spent much more time on learning French and German using other resources and use Duolingo mostly for fun. It would take too much time to learn all those languages thoroughly and comprehesively so I'm not trying to do it (though I hope I'll learn most of them someday). I focused on two, soon I'll try to start another one. But still I try to remember as much as I can using the style I'm using. Once again, please read this comment.


I'm not trying to knock your language learning experience or skills, and my comment is not related to your French or German learning, but to the languages you mentioned in your original post. I understand that levels are no indication of real life knowledge or ability and that there are lots of other resources people use - Duo is not my only or even primary learning method either.

But in your first post you specifically said you were frustrated by the fact that after completing a tree in Turkish or Irish with no review, you were unable to retain the information. You also said in a different post that this was due to 'problems with Duolingo's SRS'. It's not. It's because you're not using the SRS. If you don't want to review because you're just doing it for fun, obviously that's totally fine, everyone has their own goals etc. But I'm just trying to point out why it's not surprising that your original attempts didn't work, and why I suspect your revised method won't be that successful long term either. It seems like you're trying to have your cake and eat it - treating it as a fun hobby on the one hand, and then being surprised when you don't get good results, on the other.

I'd be delighted to be proved wrong - for one thing it would make life a lot easier if you could learn a language by just concentrating really hard the first time you saw everything - but unfortunately the human brain has a horrible tendency to forget things that haven't been drilled in over and over again!


You're right about my SRS remarks. I'll remove them from the post since they aren't formulated very well. But I think you oversimplify things — learning a language is building on what you've already learn, and the sentences, grammar or words, but most importantly subtle patterns and structures, come back to you throughout the course, even if you don't do reviews. I said in my post that I could write sentences in new lessons much more easily because of the skills I've acquired drilling things in previous lessons. Even if I've forgotten a few less significant words introduced somewhere before, I've learned most of the core vocabulary (and those other things like grammar, structures, patterns etc.) that I needed to build new sentences all along.


I love your advice! Thank you :)


Thanks for the advice :)

However, I have found that Duolingo does give you the sentence again, I'm not sure if thats just me though.


It does, sometimes. Also it gives you again some words you didn't remember or checked a couple of lessons before. After all, it uses the SRS so it's pretty clever. Or you may get the same sentence to translate it the other way around. But generally the sentences in which you checked translations don't come back (unless you are a part of some A/B test). That's why it's good to be sure that you'll be able to translate each one perfectly after a few times.


Ahh okay, thanks for telling me :)


Thanks for sharing. I will try it.


I've been doing this for quite a while now since my first tree.


I just never check the tips. I check them after having a wrong answer and try to remember for next time.


What do you do if you simply have no idea? Personally, I am averse to random guessing in this scenario for fear of connecting an incorrect guess with the word in my brain and thereby creating more work for myself to undue it.


I mostly just leave everything blank and immediately accept that and look for the correct answer. But of course sometimes I guess and sometimes I'm correct. I never thought like that. I feel more like, I can guess, try and see and eventually I'll come closer. The general tip of, stop looking for perfection and learn through mistakes has seemed to work well for me. The discipline of never checking those tips has forced me to learn It for next time. If I've answered incorrectly, then I have a look at the tips thing.


I've been doing that since I joined Duolingo and the only problem is that I'm level 17 and not even halfway done with the tree (Almost there). But, I have been able to impress my family with all I can remember and they're proud of me despite them wishing I did something "useful in the real world". I love Duolingo and Swahili!


these are wonderful tips, and I clearly coming from experience! Thank you so much!!! Maybe now I can finally make some real progress in Russian!


But if you do that, you are spamming the server, that is considered an abuse. If millions of Duolingo users would do that, the site would probably crash. No wonder they added that health bar which punishes mistakes!

The real solution is to take a break if you got a sentence wrong, study the comments, ask questions if you are not sure and practice it outside Duolingo (write it in a notebook or on a flashcard, or you can even use Duolingo's Tinycards to make your own deck).

I hope you understand what I am saying and don't take this the wrong way, cheers!


I don't think answers really go to the server; try this on the web version: Load a practice session, let a sentence be presented to you, then disconnect from the internet and give a right answer. It accepts and proceeds.
(Edit: See garpike's reply for a correction to my statements here) My guess is, the whole question and correct and incorrect answers are loaded together, once for each sentence on a session, and at the first of the session.(Audio and peek windows are loaded per question) So no matter how many mistakes a person makes, every session will load the server with the same amount of data. (Assuming they don't open the discussion or report a problem) I think the health system is to prevent people from going too fast, and/or with the method presented here.
Still, it's just a guess based on my experience.

(edit to provide more relevant info about whether the session proceeds without internet or not)
(edit to point out garpike's comment)


From what I have been able to determine: the default correct answer is loaded with the session; if you enter an alternative correct answer, however, the browser or app needs to connect to the server to verify it.


Yes, I notice there's a small delay when you enter an alternative answer.(I'll edit my comment to point yours out, thank you)
Still, the method Gerardd88 has presented doesn't spam the server, so that part of my comment remains relevant.


I think you are right! The sentences seem to be corrected without internet, although eventually my practice got stuck in the middle so I guess it's ok, but spamming text until you get what you want still looks like an artificial solution to me...


This is likely because of the reason garpike pointed out; you had entered an alternative answer.
I agree with disagreeing with this method!


Random question: do you know how to get links for any arbitrary comment, or do you have that one because it came in the e-mail notification?


The userscript "DuoDirectLinks" developed by FireyCat can be found at Userscripts page. It adds a small button beside usernames that leads to specific comments. It also added the button for activity events, may the Activity rest in peace!

Note: If you have trouble with installing a userscript, tell me and I'll help you, I should know your browser's name, and you must be on a computer.


Thank you for all your comments. They are very helpful!


I don't understand you people who think you can just climb down the DUOLINGO language tree and then what? You would just have the language memorized after that? You have to practice daily. Plus in order for what you learn on DL to become real fluency you have to be able to have realtime conversations. While I stand by Duolingo and think it's amazing its platform can only get you so far. You have to listen to real spanish speakers in real time. Duolingo is slowed way down for the purpose of teaching.


I think it's a good method if you are only new to a course.

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