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  5. Putting some numbers on my Du…


Putting some numbers on my Duolingo experience.

I discovered Duolingo almost twenty months ago. Sometimes it is not easy to remember how difficult it was at the beginning, because time flies fast and you tend to remember only the last few weeks/months.

Making a conscious effort, I now remember that it ( to start doing Duolingo lessons, in languages that were completely new for me) was very very difficult at the beginning, my brain hurt badly, because I was not used to study languages at that time and I usually ended up very tired mentally.

But it seems that the brain adapts quickly to almost any task that you do daily (or almost daily), and some months later I had completed several trees and started many more new different languages.

Now, I can read books comfortably in French, Italian, Catalan, Portuguese, Esperanto and, making quite an effort, in German (six languages that I started here from scratch).

In all those six languages, the path has been similar (though not the learning speed, that is language-dependent ) : completing the tree, reviewing the tree completely (from start to end) several times, then completing reverse trees and laddering in general, then to start reading children books as soon as I am able, and finally, few months later, to start reading adult books.

I still cannot read books comfortably in Norwegian or Romanian, though, and today I wanted to really look at the data, at how much I have worked here on Duolingo, on each language, out of curiosity but also to see how it is related to the level I have achieved in these different languages.

So here comes the data:

XP in German as target language (that is, adding the XP of several "German trees" that I've done from different base languages) :


XP in French:


XP in Italian:


XP in Catalan:


XP in Portuguese:


XP in Esperanto:


XP in Norwegian:


XP in Romanian:


These are the eight languages that I have worked on the most here on Duolingo (English and Spanish are not included because I already spoke them when I discovered Duolingo, and I want to analyze only languages that I started here completely from scratch).

Looking at those numbers it is now clear why in Norwegian and Romanian I am still way behind (with respect to the other six languages) in reading ability (and in general).

It seems that my brain needs (the work load equivalent to) around 20000 XP to be able to read adult books comfortably in a language as "easy" as Esperanto, and of the order of 50000 to achieve the same thing in a language as "hard" as German (and the other four languages lie in between), when starting from scratch.

But this is only half of the story, because indeed I have also practiced some of these languages as "base" languages here, that is, in trees where they are the base language (when doing reverse trees and laddering).

Some more data then:

XP in German as "base" language:


XP in French as "base" language:


XP in Italian as "base" language:


XP in Portuguese as "base" language:


XP in Catalan as "base" language:

0 (there is no tree with Catalan as base language).

XP in Esperanto as "base" language:

0 (there is no tree with Esperanto as base language).

This part (XP in a language as "base" language) is probably important to improve your writing ability and your knowledge and familiarity with the language in general, some people say it is even more important than the "normal" XP in a language as target language.

So taking into account both data sets, it seems my brain needed (the working load equivalent to) 53411+19029 XP in German, 44915+29683 XP in French, 39170+18693 XP in Italian, 23655+18015 XP in Portuguese, 24304 XP in Catalan and 22180 XP in Esperanto, to get to where I am at now, to be able to read adult books comfortably (and in German it is still not that comfortable for me at all :-) ).

Actually you have to put in also all the children books that I have read in all those languages during several months, to be able to start reading adult books some months later.

So all in all, I just was curious about how much work my brain has needed to acquire this reading ability in several languages, and putting some numbers into it has been a funny way of shedding some light on it.

PS: My speaking ability in all these languages is way behind yet.

May 12, 2017


  • 2215

Very interesting analysis! If someone paid me by the minute, I don't know if I would take the time to do the same! My experience is very similar to yours (btw, this month I will reach 2 years since I first used DL.) I think your analysis lacks a couple of important points though:

  1. How would you do with Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian and Chinese (all old languages but different enough from your English/Spanish background).

  2. Your background (academic and main occupation) prior to DL. This would provide a sense of what base to expect. NOTE: (added after the initial response) For example, I am not a linguist, but I have learned so many computer languages through my career that, to some level, human languages are just another extension to my brain...




"1. How would you do with Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian and Chinese (all old languages but different enough from your English/Spanish background) ? "

I guess I would go much much slower. I suppose that learning a language with a different script and different structure, in general, takes much longer to get used to it and feel comfortable.

Even when using the same script, the structure of the language is an important factor in the easiness/difficulty of learning a new language. For example, German has taken me much longer to get used to, than Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan or Esperanto (because the structure of Italian, French, Portuguese and Catalan is very similar to Spanish, and because Esperanto grammar is very simple and regular).

"2. Your background (academic and main occupation) prior to DL"

I am a mathematician. I teach Maths and Physics.

By the way, being used to Mathematics and Physics (where I have to be totally focused and pay conscious attention to each and every detail of any reasoning to decide its correctness), that mindset was making it HARDER for me to learn a new language. At the beginning, I was trying to "deduce" every rule, to think consciously in every detail, relation, information.....when translating sentences.

That is why at the beginning it was tiring and slow for me. I was quite frustrated (the first few weeks) because I could not understand "everything" the way I wanted, or better said, I could not find "the clear logic" behind many things.

After some more weeks of frustration, I said "to hell with it, I am not going to try to "understand" it all anymore, I will just translate semi-unconsciously, period".

That is, I just stopped thinking. Then it all went way faster, and better. I possibly let another areas of my brain (unconscious circuits specialized in pattern recognition, language-specialized areas) to work silently, faster and better. And I think this has been really the key for me.

By the way, you have eight (almost nine) languages at level 25, that is A LOT of work (even if you used immersion).

I would like to know about your experience with language learning. Would you tell me?

  • 2215

Maybe once you let your brain go, it started using its probability/fuzzy logic based abilities as it should in real world problems! I come from a math/comp sci background myself. I did beef up my second question (before I saw your answer) regarding my background. I could go in further details but then I would have to get paid for it! DL is not interested in my story. They want users that spend years in learning 1-2 languages and stare at the ads and/or pay monthly fees to learn 1-2k words along with few grammar rules in the process. That makes business sense.

  • 2339

Great analysis, mat, and relating the time spent, as somewhat indicated by XPs and your reading ability. Thanks for taking the time to do this review. Very helpful. : )


Fascinating. Thanks so much! I have long held the belief that Duolingo gives a user the knowledge they need to go get a start on reading authentic material, at least with the "closer to home" Romance and Germanic languages. Nice to know that appears about right from another's perspective.

How much looking up of words and the like do you do as you make your way through the children's books into adult ones? Do you read on a Kindle with a linked multilingual dictionary or do you mostly just work things out from context (and if you can't perhaps not worrying about it much)?



I try to make things as gradually as possible, that is why I usually review entire trees, from start to end (lesson by lesson), several times, and then I do "reverse trees" and "laddering", and only after that I try to start reading children's books.

And still there is clearly quite a "jump", a gap (there are many new words in all these children's books that I have read, that don't appear in Duolingo), but after all this work on the Duolingo trees, when I finally start reading children's books, usually I already know about 16-19 words out of 20 words on average, so the main problem is getting used to read longer and more complex sentences, paragraphs.

But you get used to it quite fast (I would say in several weeks, several months at most). That is when I start really enjoying reading children books, because then it is much more "natural", faster, effortless,.... I really enjoy that stage.

After two, three, four months reading children's books, I may recognize easily around 5000 words (whereas after completing, for example, seven different French trees here, and reviewing them all several times, I may have recognized then easily around 3000-3500 words only).

At that point, I "jump" to adult books, and again this is quite a jump, but at that point, in most adult books, I easily recognize around 16-19 words out of 20 on average (so again the problem is not so much the abrupt increase in new vocabulary, but that the sentence and paragraph structure is usually much more complex, that is, the way adult books, their authors, use the language, which is obviously different than what you see in children's books).

So I usually need several more months to get used to it (adult books).

But as I said, I try to make things as gradually as possible, so when passing from Duolingo to children's books, as well as when passing from children's books to adult books, I do it only when I see that I can easily recognize around 16-19 words out of 20 ( on average ), so that the reading is more or less comfortable.

Most books I read are physical books and PDF, so I try to deduce the meaning of the few new words I may encounter, and sometimes I do look it up on a dictionary, but not always (the ones that appear several times, in different contexts, you can end up deducing what it is, the problem is the new words that appear very seldom, those I have to look them up).


Thanks for the detailed reply! Yours is certainly an inspiring account!

I'm curious how you use your reverse trees: do you pretty much just do the straightforward lessons or do you also do strengthening exercises? I've found the later a bit annoying, as the multiple choice questions, of which there are many, are too easy. I wonder if I am missing something. As it is I do the strengthening on the "forward" trees (I find that at a certain point I get plenty of translation into the target language, but obviously that's not the case at the outset. I'm curious if your experience on that count is similar.) but definitely benefit from the almost complete translation into my target language in the reverse tree (well, I guess technically "laddered" since up to now I've used French as the base language while my native language is English).

Do you tend to pick one or two trees to work on any given day, or do you do exercises from many?


Well done for all you hard work!



That's amazing!


This is fascinating and the amount of work you've put in is impressive. Of course once you got the foundations from Duo the practise you had reading the children's books etc is difficult to quantify and has obviously increased your efficiency. Once again, impressed!


What does (or did) your daily duolingo work look like timewise? For example, was It four hours per day finishing after midnight...?


It is kind of chaotic, it really depends on the day.

But I would say that, on average, around one hour a day.


Bien fait ! FĂ©licitations et continuez votre bon travail !


If I may ask, did you do one tree at a time? Or did you learn whatever you felt like on said day?


At the beginning I started three or four trees at the same time, but very soon I added many more trees too.

There is no order whatsoever, I just practice whatever I feel like on each day.


Actually quick question, when you would do mulitple trees at once did you maintain them all everyday? Or would you let some of they decay a bit before you went back to them?


No order whatsoever, I just wander from tree to tree depending on mood :-)

But you have to take into account that I have completed 19 trees and I am half way there in another additional 11 or 12 trees, so it would be impossible to work on all of them daily, or to try to keep them all completely gilded (five golden trees is the most I have kept simultaneously, at one point).


Ah, I see. I seem to plateau at level 6-8 before wanting to move onto another language.

Merci beaucoup!


Thanks for sharing

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