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Is reaching level 25 counter-productive?

Before I begin, I think I should clarify that I'm talking about reaching level 25 after immersion was removed. Because that provided new material and negated the point I want to make here.

As you might see from my flags, the highest level I have reached in any language is level 20, in German. Despite it being my primary learning language, I do not plan to go any further along with it. My reason is very simple. Duolingo has taught me everything it will ever teach me.

All learning courses have their limits. Duolingo is no exception, especially given its limited vocabulary (~2500 words, not a lot when most of those are conjugations or plurals of the same word). Duolingo's practice feature is essential to learning and memorizing the language, but it has limited words, and limited sentences. There comes a point where you're not practicing the language anymore and are just spitting out the answers to Duolingo phrases. Level 25 requires you to do 3,000 lessons. In one of the longest trees (German), if you finished the tree, and did 2 practices before every single lesson, you would still have to do over 1,600 more lessons to reach level 25. Equivelant to re-doing the entire tree three and a half times. And keep in mind, German is one of the long trees. So I think, with that amount of repetition, could the effort required to pull that off be better spent elsewhere? Like using other language courses (Memrise gets more advanced), writing in your learning language, or even just talking to people. Maybe try translating articles you find on the internet. Once you have a firm base in a language you learn much more by going into the real world with it, and I believe you get a firm base in the language long before level 25.

This isn't meant to criticize those who have reached 25, even multiple times. I have nothing but respect for the amount of discipline that takes. If you have counter-arguments or if you have reached level 25 and believe it has helped you, let me know. This is a discussion, let's discuss things.

January 3, 2018



In isolation I think you are right. DL won’t get you past B1.

I like it for practice though. It’s like doing crunches at the gym. Is it as fun as reading Italian novels or watching TV? No. Does it give me the added vocabulary and exposure to complex ideas those do? No. But it forces me to do stuff I hate - like the subjunctive imperfect.


^This sums up why I use Duolingo.

Also, when speaking in my target language, other people usually don't correct my mistakes if the errors are minor enough that they can still understand me. I can pick up bad habits because of that, but Duolingo tells me when I get something wrong every time.


A wonderful point. Dramatically underappreciated, I think. It's easy to be fluent in a language, even live in a country where the language is spoken, but still make lots and lots of errors.


This is something that's been making the French from German tree very useful for me. It is very picky about both French and German grammar, and a lot of my mistakes are from issues with German, rather than misunderstanding the French. And you've got a very good point there about not being corrected in speech. The only person who has actively corrected my speech is a German Professor, and that was only when I was struggling to put basic sentences together.


I don't disagree with what you are saying, however I think it's really a matter of personal preference. I have reached level 25 on the Spanish tree as well as on the reverse tree. I also have experimented with several other languages including trying other languages as a Spanish speaker just to have practice in both. I have also used a plethora of other resources on top of those. I enjoy the challenge of trying to get to level 25 as well as keeping the streak. It allows me to consistently practice. Now that I'm over level 25, I still do a couple exercises a day in Spanish while doing other languages to keep it up. A couple of points (or counter points) to your post.

(1) You are correct that once you reach a certain level, there is no more vocabulary, however just like you've got years of practice with your native language, repetition with the same phrases helps to burn sentence structure into your memory. Things start sounding right or wrong when you try to speak.

(2) I agree with you that spending time elsewhere (especially conversation practice) is much more useful than merely trying to reach 25, however when you're waiting for your food to come, why not break out duolingo. It won't be long until you've reached level 25 and don't even realize it. I've also done podcasts, Spanish Radio, Verbling, iTalki, youtube, books, you name it. It's all fun to me.

(3) I've beaten the boredom by doing various things in Duolingo. The reverse tree is great for additional vocabulary or phrases (but not hearing the daily Spanish is almost counter productive.) But it is different and I'd be happy to share my thoughts in a separate post. I also, try to listen to the Spanish and type the English without READING the Spanish. This helps with listening practice. Turning on the mic on the iphone and speaking the Spanish and letting it type is also very useful for speaking.

And lastly, Duolingo, for me, has become a habit so that I'm consistently doing SOMETHING in Spanish (or another language) everyday. Even when I don't really feel like it, it's just a few minutes and it keeps me engaged. If the practice is a chore or feels like a job, don't do it. Go to something else. But whatever you choose, if you learn to love the practice, then it helps you reach your goals without much pain and suffering. Best of luck to you on accomplishing your goals!


Those are some very good points. Especially your second point. An approach like that has been recommended by Benny Lewis actually. One of the great things about Duolingo is it makes practice very easy to do, so there isn't much excuse not to. As long as it's there, you don't need a long study session to maintain fluency.


Duolingo is great for practice, really. Once you've learned every skill, there's nothing really else you can do other than practice.

So watching shows or movies, listening to music, or reading articles in other languages are really the only things you can do to expand your fluency with a language.

I wouldn't say there's no point to Duolingo, it's really great at teaching you the basics and plurals and such, as well as helping you keep what you've learned with practice. But if you want to be more fluent in German, you may want to consider other things.


I definitely think there is an argument to be made that repeating duolingo trees over and over becomes inefficient.

I have yet to master Duolingo's French at level 22, so my own experience suggests that I'm not done with the course (though I do supplement my learning elsewhere and recommend you do the same).


I think it depends very much on the person and the language. On a short tree in a language close to my own, or one in which I have a lot of previous expertise, it may well be a pointless challenge. On a tree where I started from scratch and/or that is very different to my own, it may well take that long to fully master the tree. My Hebrew level at the moment is my highest, and there are still parts of the tree where I haven't fully grasped the grammar. (Also yes, absolutely, there are other resources available, but they vary wildly from language to language. Memrise has masses of courses for common European languages, many of which are very high quality, but not that many courses for Hebrew learners, some of which aren't very high quality.)

I think the other thing to bear in mind is that part of the point of Duolingo is to spend time learning a language in lieu of wasting it. If someone is doing Duolingo for hours when they could be doing language exchange on Skype or reading a book/watching a movie in the target language, then absolutely, that could be counterproductive. If they're doing a Duolingo lesson on their commute or sitting in a waiting room or instead of playing a round of Candy Crush or Bubble whatever Saga? Then yes, that's a good use of time.

There are also many reasons people might not be able to do more productive things. Speaking for myself, when my health is bad, attempting to do a language exchange or follow a show in Hebrew is just a laughably impossible proposition. Doing a few Duolingo practices between naps? That I can manage! I may not be learning as much as if I was doing a language exchange or having a Skype lesson, but I'm learning more than if I spent that same time trying to level up on a pointless mobile game. That I count as a win :)


You seem to make the assumption that ten points a lesson is the maximum possible - you're ignoring timed practice, where you can get twenty points if you get everything correct in the time allotted.


I will say that the simple fact that getting that much XP in the first place is a feat some (myself included) would like to aspire to. I think at first sight it seems to be a value of hard work, but it means nothing if you don't try to improve yourself beyond the course. It might be useful to stop doing it so often after a certain point and then come back to it to see what you can still remember; I'm an intermediate learner but I still make a few seemingly amateurish mistakes sometimes (it doesn't help that I have slight dyslexia and I need to look up words or use auto-correct when I type). Duolingo will help a lot up to and possibly beyond level 25 but once you get to level 20, you should at least know of some resources to further help you.

Also timed practice helps a lot - you can possibly get less than 10 but if you know the content well then you can get up to 20 points, one for every correct answer. I'm using timed practice in my Spanish course a lot to help my thinking time between my process and response and improve my Spanish typing ability, and I can get to level 25 faster that way, possibly within this year if I stick to it (which I intend to do).


You need to continually challenge yourself, if you still find the lessons a challenge in the level 20 range then sure continue on. If they are very easy time to move on.


I really want to get to Level 25 on Spanish but I don't think I can because I just find it boring as I'm not learning anything new. I think I've pretty much learnt all I can on Duolingo so although I sometimes do some skills in Spanish and I really want to reach Level 25, I don't have the drive to do so and prefer doing more things outside of Duolingo.


Maybe take a break from duolingo spanish for now. Practice a different language if you want to maintain your streak. Then after a few days, come back to duolingo spanish with some timed practices. This way you can see how well you really know the language. If you stay bored with it, then maybe it is time to move on.


I think I will benefit from working to reach level 25 because:

Irish grammar system is particularly intricate, will I ever master the verbs...?

Plus it is a minority language, you rarely get corrected when attempting to speak it. Duolingo solves that issue !

There is no reverse tree for a minority language ( Everybody in Ireland speaks English...)

And of course I am a beginner. And I need accuracy.

But then, again I am only about to reach level 19...


Skill levels are coming; I think they'll be a game changer. Without them, I think much of your argument would have to be predicated on the idea that Duolingo doesn't give much translation into your target language, which makes the depth of what it can teach you (at least without recourse to a reverse tree) limited, even within the admittedly circumscribed content it aims to teach.

I must say that I once held a position very similar to yours, at least for Romance and Germanic languages. Then I started worked on the Dutch tree with the intent to learn it "well" throughout, i.e. actually retain the content, operationalized by attaining the ability to do timed practices all the way through with few hints and few misses. Although Dutch has many familiar words, I was still racking up hundreds of points per skill to meet this standard. At about 1/4 done with the tree, I was on pace to finish the tree high in level 23, if I recall correctly (I was very curious and actually did the calculation) and that, of course, was based on my time to master the easiest skills in the tree, so I could likely easily have made it to 25 with the harder content to come (and the Dutch tree even before the update was very well-constructed and did continually grow in difficulty and sentence complexity).

Roughly at that same point, I got tired of the lack of translation into Dutch, even with all this work per skill, and began moving faster. Now there's just been a massive expansion of the Dutch tree; I'm at level 17; and I find even making it through lessons only 1/3 of the way through the tree hard going. Now I presume I would easily blow right through level 25 just trying to gain a passive knowledge of everything in the tree.

I generally like to work through trees comprehensively, attaining that easy-timed-practice standard. It takes a long time, so I haven't achieved it for many. The closest I am in a yet-to-finish tree is for Catalan, where I'm nearly to level 21 and still have 40% of the tree to go by this metric. And even at that point I certainly won't have mastered the tree. I still am routinely reminded of things when my fairly-thoroughly-completed skills degild. All this despite having been listening to Catalan podcasts for months, and with pretty good comprehension.

Having done maybe 1/4 of the Hungarian tree and 1/15 of the Chinese tree to my standard (for which languages it can be hard to do anything much short of my standard without getting quite bogged down fast), I'd say level 25s in them would be nothing short of likely, too, even apart from skill levels. Although that's probably not surprising given the above, and your argument mightn't have been directed at languages so far afield.


Oh yeah, the skill levels look great. I think providing higher level users a challenge while not scaring new users is exactly what Duolingo needs.

Also I realize that my argument heavily relies on someone being familiar with the tree's material pretty quickly after finishing it. This won't be the case for most people, because becoming fluent in a language requires a lot of practice. Especially with languages that depart significantly from your native language.


Yeah, I think it's really surprising Duolingo has gone so long without having features that better balance the needs of beginning and more advanced learners. I actually think the current system is leaving everyone in the lurch. Even after doing the first third or so of the old Dutch tree as thoroughly as I did, I still don't think I had a firm grasp on even the most basic verb conjugations. It's just really hard to master such things when you're only reading them (and, well, the pronouns kind of give it away). That's about as beginning a task as there is, but Duolingo wouldn't let me work on it directly. Dutch also has pretty different word order than English, another thing it's really hard to get down when you're only seeing it and not having to produce it. I'm guessing those kinds of things might be some of what's tripping you up with the German in the French from German tree (albeit probably harder conjugations than what I was struggling with)? I totally get getting tapped out on a "forward" tree with the way things are now when really there's content there you could benefit from if only Duolingo would actually let you access it more effectively, in particular in more challenging ways like actually having to actively recall it.

Another somewhat random point: the German tree actually teaches 2137 lexemes, as best can be figured. So that's independent words, not counting conjugations and declensions. See here.


I have been having this discussion with myself, trying to figure out if I have learned everything I can from the Duolingo French from English course. I still find myself making silly errors from time to time. Usually because I am not paying attention, but sometimes because I still don't remember the material. I am figuring when I can get all the answers correctly (like I would in English) then I know it will be time to drop Duolingo.


Disclaimer: I'm only 4/5 through my Danish tree which I keep golden, so this post is speculation.

The level should be ignored. Supposing the algorithm of Duolingo works, keeping one's tree golden should mean that one has good knowledge of at least half of the words in the course. Since the words decay slowly when one does not make mistakes, this should require less and less work all the time.

If you already know the language completely, then it should take very little work to keep the tree golden. Maybe do at least one lesson every day, regardless, to get to practice your weak words, or maybe not.


very true. From experience, it takes about 30 xp per day to keep a tree golden.


I got to probably around level 15 in Spanish when I was actually really proficient in it, able to understand 95% of spoken words, etc. and I used Immersion to get to level 25. However, since Immersion's gone, you'd have to constantly do and redo lessons thousands upon thousands of times. Which stinks if you already know all of the material. So nowadays it's less likely for people to reach level 25 because it's likely they'll already know the material Duo teaches before getting 30,000 points. Unless, of course, it's a particularly difficult language.

[deactivated user]

    I review a lot here. I like using Duolingo because to me it's a lot of fun. I wouldn't be surprised if I make it to level 25 this year in Japanese. I think I'm slightly a perfectionist so if I don't feel like I know everything in my tree I will do it over and over until I do. The repetition won't bother me too much since I'm used to it with voice lessons. Because of how much I review I can see myself getting to level 25 in German before I finish the tree. Some days I only review I spend around 10-20 minutes here. I also use Memrise and Babbel.I want to start classes soon.

    I probably will feel the same once I feel like Duo has taught me everything I need to know.

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