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Duolingo, the best method to start with?

We all are aware - hopefully - of the fact that using Duolingo will only get you so far in a certain language: even after completing the tree, having it regilded several times and having spent time on reverse trees, you will not become fluent using only DL as your language learning method.

DL is an excellent introduction and daily crutch for practicing. But I was wondering if it is actually such a good idea to start off your learning process using this app without any prior knowledge of the language you want to learn. I myself have only such experience with Swedish: learning this tree was little more than a little experiment during the summer break and I remember very little of it now. This led me to consider if it might generally not be better to start off first with some proper lessons, so you know some basic grammar, pronunciation rules and have gotten some tools to further explore your learning. Then, you can start DL for what it does best: a daily reminder for practice and ongoing motivation to keep going. But not a proper foundation.

This is, of course, only my opinion in the matter, and I'm curious what you think.

November 15, 2017



I think you may be right. I started Spanish from scratch here and it went well, but I suspect that was because I already had decent French and some basic Italian, so rules and roots of words translated easily. I tried Danish and found it hard to start with no context, so gave up.


I think it depends on the person and their knowledge of other languages (you already covered . If you want faster learning speeds, i'm sure there are options; move to the damn country where the language is spoken. In terms of is it the best way, to say no one has to have a better option, but I don't think that should be ones focus (I think it is a little narrow). I think utilizing various amounts of ones resources to learn a language—regardless if this is the first one—is good for learning more effectively. Also, its just fun, and language learning doesn't have to be a race.

And also, I started Portuguese on here with no prior knowledge and I am now conversational. So the depends point is true.


I agree with you that everyone should use multiple resources to learn a language, as no course covers all aspects of a language.

And it's interesting to hear you became so good in Portuguese using Duolingo as starting method!


I'm with you. I just started Spanish and have no idea how the program works. If I didn't remember some of my high school Spanish from fifty years ago I would be more lost than I am. Are there any course instructions and basic language rules, conjugations, etc?


Are you using the app or PC version? For some reason the apps miss out the notes and tips which help with grammar. Been great for learning Norwegian. In some lesson groups on the tree after going in you will get tips and notes available before you choose the lesson you want to study in that group. See if that helps.


Not really. I can recommend this site: http://conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-english.html for full charts of conjugation for Spanish and other languages, it might be beneficial for you to write down some of the verb paradigms to get started. Don't abandon DL just yet, because like I said: it's a great crutch and motivational tool!


I'm using duolingo as a support to an audio program. It has REALLY helped my understanding of the audio course. I was struggling with the audio course three weeks before I tried this site, things just started to click right away.


Many if not most courses do have basic grammar intro - as long as you're using the web version. In my experience in-person language courses do an absolutely wretched job teaching pronunciation (to wit, it's barely even mentioned at all, and your teacher may well have an atrocious accent, far worse b/c downright misleading in comparison to Duolingo's TTS). Getting to level 6 months ago, I'd be surprised if you did remember anything! I find it usually takes hundreds of XP per skill to get things to begin to stick.


You're not wrong, some teachers are terrible, but I think you are painting a rather bleak picture of in-person language courses. I think it can be beneficial to have the basics explained to you by an actual human being, who can also answer any questions you or your classmates might have. Such an explanation might correct some misconceptions right at the start, while with Duolingo you might discover them only later on in the process, thus being less efficient in your language learning.

The languages courses I have had all mentioned pronunciation. I can't imagine how any teacher could avoid such a topic, as it seems crucial to move on to any other topic.

Yes, I'm not surprised the little I did in Swedish didn't stick, but it's the only experience I have of using DL without any prior knowledge of the language beforehand.


Personally, I think that both in-person courses and Duolingo (can) compliment each other quite well. However, this depends on the teacher.

In my experience Duolingo does a pretty good job at introducing you to grammar. Getting to use that grammar (and vocab) in person really helps to solidify that knowledge. Also, in person classes can be really helpful if you are learning a specific version of the language that is not on Duolingo (European Spanish in my case) as you have the chance to learn things not covered by Duolingo such as 'vosotros forms'. (more about Duolingo later) Also, you can ask questions to a teacher which is not (exactly) the case with Duolingo. (sure, I can ask things in the discussion, but in-perosn it is much easier.) In my experience my in-person lessons Spanish have been very helpful in learning pronuncation as I seriously thought I was mishearing things or that the TTS had a serious problem when I heard the 'v' being pronounced as 'b'. Turns out that is perfectly normal.

What you need to look out for in in person courses is grammar exercises: endless grammar exercises. They can really put a damper on your motivation. It seems to me like German teachers are kinda fond of assigning these as 'German grammar is so difficyult! You have to do 50 exercises to practice the different 'ein' endings, otherwise you will not be able to speak properly. It's really important, so just do it!' Not that there is anything inherently wrong with grammar exercises, it's just that there is more to languages than grammar.

About pronuncation: I don't know if your teacher was a native speaker of [insert language] or not, because that matters quite a bit. Non-native speakers do not always have the best pronuncation and even if they do their accent and intonation can still be misleading.

Indeed, a teacher can have absolutely terrible pronuncation, accent and intonation, that's an unfortunate truth, but you must not forget that Duolingo's TTS voices aren't always the best as well. In fact, the German and the Spanish TTS I find positively headache-inducing (not just becuse of the quality of my headphones or because I am learning European Spanish, but simply because of the voices themselves) and the previous Dutch TTS voice didn't even sound that Dutch! (the new one is much better)

Still, even for all the bad sides of in-person lessons, they can still be useful, like I said, as you can practice and see if the things you learned using Duolingo have stuck.

About Duolingo: I consider Duolingo as a tool that helps you with getting your feet wet and (if we are talking feet) encourages you to take your first step. Duolingo can help you start walking, but if you want to run you'll have to use many other resources (reading, writing, speaking and simply hearing and listening to the language for example).

About Swedish: yeah, Swedish doesn't stick easily (in my experience). It is probably the spelling ('de' is pronounced like 'dom'!)


I've done both and I think either method can work.

Having done 4 years of high school French, my foundation in French made it possible to pronouce and spell words right away (which are probably the hardest parts of French) so I could use Duo to focus on vocabulary and constructions.

However, I was able to get a solid foundation in Esperanto using Duolingo as my only learning source for months by using the website's Tips and Notes.

I'd imagine that the language itself can be a factor, as well, because incubator languages are not all made by the same people. I've heard that the degree of quality can vary.

But overall, even if Duolingo can give one a foundation, it should not be the sole source of knowledge about a language for too long. Using a language in real world contexts like reading news articles and chatting with real speakers is vitally important, but is not available from Duolingo.


It's great that you got a good foundation in Esperanto using DL, and I'm not saying otherwise; if you do not have any other resources available, you shouldn't refrain from trying out a language on DL you have never had any experience with before. And I think that is a massive advantage of this site/app, trying out different languages to feed one's linguistic, geeky interests.

The point I probably should have made clearer, is that if you are fairly determined about learning a language and know beforehand that it will be useful or interesting to you in the long run, then it might be best to take some classes first to get that grammatical foundation and human interaction. Or at least not long after starting a tree on DL. I'm making this point because I sometimes get the impression that users regard DL as just as good or even better than classes, something I don't agree with from a didactic point of view.


My learning experience in German started with Duolingo. I started enjoying it more when I went to other websites to learn more grammar, although I think the Tips and Notes sections are excellent. I finally got a grammar book and that has added to my experience. I don't think that's really necessary with web resources. What I've found really valuable is an audio resource, since I think that's Duo's weakest aspect. Even if Duo can get you to a certain place by numerous tree regildings, if you love the language and want to learn it faster you will find yourself using outside resources. I would say in my case Duolingo was a very good foundation that created a passion about the language that drew me on to further studies. Rather than a rote practice tool, I see Duolingo as a place to have fun with the language and develop a passion for it that will take you into looking for more depth, more resources to fill in the gaps.

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