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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ClarkStephen

What I learned about the crown system from watching a language superstar.

I am reading a lot of criticism of the new crown system on this forum. Much of it seems to come from people who resent "having to start over". I'm not sure what that means because, it is clearly not true. You can work on any lesson that has an open circle. I've tried that, and it works.

So I suspect "having to start over" means that skills were previously completed (and perhaps golden) are colorful again (and perhaps at crown level 2). "Having to start over" therefore seems to be code for "I was done and now I'm not done." But here's the thing...

You weren't done.

and

You still won't be done when all your skills have five crowns.

How do I know this? I live with a language super-star. My wife speaks eight languages fluently and for six more languages speaks them somewhere between beginner and intermediate. I watch how she learns languages and I'm here to share the secrets.

First, a question: Why are you here at Duolingo? I'm here to learn other languages. Is that true for you? Duolingo makes language learning fun by giving us little rewards: points, lingots, gems, completed trees, golden trees, days in a streak, language circles after our names when we post on the forum ... and now crowns. Here's the secret:

They may be fun, but they don't matter in and of themselves. They only matter to the extent that they keep us practicing. They are NOT a measure of language ability.

Language proficiency takes constant practice. Completed trees and now crown level fives are misleading because they give the idea that you are done. I watch a language super-star and know that you are never done. Stop using a language - even for a day - and your skills begin to atrophy. My wife constantly works on her languages because she knows this.

It's not just my wife. My grandmother's parents emigrated to the USA from Germany. My grandmother was born here but spoke nothing but German for her first five years of life. She stopped speaking it when she went to the kindergarten and the other kids made fun of her for not knowing English. And guess what? She lost her mother tongue, the only language she had spoken for the first five years of her life. Language takes practice no matter how good you are at it.

So why are people complaining about having to practice more? Did you falsely believe that the number of points, lingots, days in your streak, and the number of languages you are studying, actually mean something about your language ability? I would suggest to you that you are confusing the incentives with the true rewards: being able to speak other languages.

I am extremely grateful to Duolingo. My wife's native tongue is Russian and mine is English. I can speak to my in-laws because of Duolingo. My soon-to-be-three-year-old son speaks Russian, English, and French and I can keep up with him thanks to Duolingo. It is not because I have a level 25 in Spanish or because my streak is more than 400 days long or because I had a golden tree (before crowns). It is because I work at my languages everyday and always will. Even if I lose my streak, which seems to be the horror of horrors for some but is something that I have done many times, I will keep moving forward as long as I keep practicing. The crowns give me another opportunity to keep doing that, so what is the big deal?

Thanks Duolingo.

April 8, 2018

35 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Muss403695

I completley agree with every word you have written. Speaking only for myself, I no longer know where I am or what to do next now that the spaced repetition is gone or diminishing gilding that everyone relied on as a pointer. I have voiced many times on here that “ you cant speak with numbers” and I have no interest in any of the little trinket rewards, its what they represent that matters, for example a golden owl at the end of a finished tree is a useless image, but it represents the fact that you have finally finished, and are now free to move around in the tree as you so wish, with a few suggested topics indicated by a change in colour. Now all gone. The overall structure has changed forcing users to be confused. For some a golden tree was the one and only motivation, some will have msintained golden trees for a very long time, maybe at the expense of something else in life, now its been a waste of time for them. I think most people are ranting because they are lost, feel cheated, and are overwhelmed by the recent changes. made worse by the inclusion of health, which is a blatant ploy to extract money, even if you have already paid for Plus. So yes you are right with your words, but it cuts much deeper.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/monkey_47

Spaced repetition is not really gone. If you use the Practice button on the right, the exercises will be focused on words that are due for repetition. As to features that are now missing, let's provide constructive feedback to DL. Applications are constantly changing in an attempt to improve them. Sometimes what's good for one, isn't for the other. Let's talk about it like adults instead of just ranting about it. Sometimes, you have to break something to make it better. This could be such an opportunity. :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Procellis

I really like the idea behind Crowns, but the spaced repetition has lost its former usefulness. The practice button is still there, but it won't level up anything. And if you don't level up, your exercises won't get more difficult. The problem is that increasing difficulty is the main (and possibly only, however huge) benefit from having Crowns. So you have to choose between Crowns and spaced repetition. If I want to stay at a certain level for a while using the practice button makes sense. But in reality that means that things are just like they used to be, but without any visual clues to whether I should review or study new things. So if I opt for spaced repetition the system really becomes less useful.

As an example the practice button is probably useful for refreshing my French, since my tree is finished (except for most of the newly added lessons) and I want to make sure that I remember things before leveling up. But it is useless for my Chinese, where I would like to reach level 5 as soon as possible. (In this case it is not a big problem, because spaced repetition would tell me to review the lessons that still smell a bit like a Beta test, and I probably want to wait at least a few weeks until I go down that road again.)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/buck72

Well said! My father spoke Hungarian in the first few years of his life and then spoke English upon going to kindergarten. Growing up, I didn't hear my father speaking much Hungarian except with the other older relatives. It wasn't until he had health issues in his 90s that he began speaking more Hungarian and how I wish that I had learned the language while growing up. Fortunately, with DL, I was able to speak a little Hungarian to my father a few weeks prior to his passing. After I spoke what little I could say, my father was in tears and peacefully passed away two weeks later. Like you have written, language learning is a constant journey. Thank you for sharing! :) Chris


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ketzal
  • 1065

While I agree with most of the points you're making, I think you're misrepresenting those you say are complaining about having to start over.

I can only speak about my personal case, having spent a lot of time to have the first version of the Dutch tree golden, to almost redo everything again when the new version of the tree was made available last December. So when I finally got my tree golden again mere days before the Crown Update I considered I was done with it.

But not done learning Dutch, but rather done with learning Dutch on Duolingo. That means only spending time to keep my tree golden, and more time on more concrete things like reading Dutch books or websites, seeing Dutch movies, ...

Now comes the Crown Update and my tree is converted to a state I think is not a fair representation of my knowledge of the language: some lvl 3 skills here and here, and lots of lvl 2. So I'm left with only two choices: I can either let my tree in its current state and continue to learn Dutch in more enjoyable ways (and I think it is important to keep language learning fun and enjoyable), or to go through the process of getting my tree golden again.

For the moment, I'm trying to give a chance to this new update, but so far I've only experienced a lot of repetition and many of the sentences I'm seeing are the same I've seen before and had no trouble to answer previously. So while I now have more to practice, it feels pretty useless if most of it is well known vocabulary. It's also very inconsistent with the concept of space repetition, which should give me more frequently sentences I struggle with, and less sentences I can easily answer.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/piguy3

So I'm left with only two choices: ...

Why not focus on the areas of the tree where you still have trouble? At least for me, I haven't tended to find that merely keeping things gold required enough attention to actually resolve my isolated trouble spots in trees where I'm quite far along.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ketzal
  • 1065

I kind of blindly follow Duolingo's spaced repetition system to tell me what to review, to be honest. So in my case it was important to keep my tree golden and see each day which skills have decayed and make them golden again.

But I'm not saying that this is the best way of doing things, and I see your point: I think that (maybe) an underappreciated feature of Duolingo is that it gives some leeway in how one can accomplish his/her goal in learning a language. So, maybe the Crown Update is so divisive because it impacts more people like me who were more reliant on Duolingo's SRS ? I don't know...

Anyway, I'm not giving up on the new Crown System, though I'll have to adapt my learning since I can't really do it the way I used to do.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Yottskry

"Why not focus on the areas of the tree where you still have trouble?"

What if those areas of the tree automatically faded, so we knew which areas still needed work? What if the areas we're good at could be one colour, say gold, and the areas that needed revising could be a different colour?

Ah, wait...


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/piguy3

The practice button is still there just as it has been, if anything possibly working better than it did before.

For me there was simply no doubt that if I had a problem area, doing a handful of sentences about it on whatever infrequent interval the SRS system would bring it up at was not going to get the problem improved in any reasonable time frame.

It was far too easy to get skills to gold. If you thought that a skill's being gold necessarily meant you were strong there, I respectfully disagree.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pv1204
  • 1100

Well said!! My thoughts exactly!!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gamekkeut

Fantastic post!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/DanBarnes6

Bravo! Well said.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RayC628481

Great post and highlights all of the important points about learning languages... I have been meaning to make a post about it myself, as I sometimes see people stress out about the streak, or about how many language courses they've "conquered" so to speak. But really... unless you have ever been good at a second, 3rd or 4th language, one can never truly appreciate the impact of practices (and the lack of them).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TimK77777

I don't see people complaining about having to practice more. People mostly complain about Doulingo being changed to an entirely different model of learning.

For example, I understand that the "forgetting" algorithm is abandoned, so now Duolingo doesn't encourage you to strengthen "weak" words, you can't even see which ones have become weak. How is that an improvement?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ClarkStephen

Dear TimK68747,

No argument: I agree with you that the spaced-repetition system (the "forgetting" algorithm) is crucial for language learning, BUT (and I may be wrong) my understanding is that it hasn't disappeared. If you click on the practice icon (beneath your daily goal), I believe the SRS is still used to determine what to give you to practice.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/piguy3

Indeed. My first impression at least is that the exercise mix there seems harder (more translation into the target language), too, so I like that.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Yanni_M

Whenever I use the practice, it only reviews numbers and most basics which is not ideal, does anyone else have this issue? It is a good idea, but I liked seeing specifically which were fading.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Thomas_Wesley

Great points. It seems to me that there are legitimate criticisms to be made about the new system, but all of your points are valid and people should take note of them.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MyaRexa

Thank you, ClarkStephen, for your quality opinion! I completely agree with you. A lot of people focus too much on the game aspects of Duo and neglect to see the point and purpose of it - learning. Pretty colors, gold or not, and shiny appearance are just an eye candy, giving users the false feeling of accomplishment. After all, the courses never teach the languages to fluency, even when restricting that term only to vocabulary knowledge, not to mention listening and speaking comprehension, where other experiences and study methods are necessary.

I'm very curious about how your wife managed to learn so many languages to such a high level. What languages are they? How does she retain them and find time for the practice? Her language story would surely be very impressing. I'm sure if you made a post about it, many people would read it, me included. One is certain - she's brilliant, a real superstar! :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ClarkStephen

Thank you for your interest in my wife. I think she's pretty amazing (totally unbiased). Maybe I will post her story some day.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/monkey_47

Bravo. Thank you for posting this. DL is a great tool for those who really want to learn a language, whether it uses crowns or not. I had a golden tree in Dutch when I was somewhere around Level 10 or 11, but was I able to comfortably have a conversation in Dutch? Heck, no. Better than getting attached to these trappings, one should look for the opportunities provided by DL.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/isnottogive

insert gif of applause here

I speak a fair amount of languages (not at the level of your wife, ClarkStephen, but I aspire to one day.) and even with English, a language that I've spoken since I was six, there is not a day when I don't learn something new.

In the end, Duolingo is just a step in the long long journey that is language learning. A journey that is hard and requires a ton of effort, but hey, the results, as small as they might feel, tend to be super awesome.

(Though I have to admit that it feels nice to know that the trees will keep gold once they reach gold, but that is mostly my OCD tendencies talking. And I will still practice no matter if gold or in other colours.)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jennycoy1

I so agree with your post, very honest and inspirational ! The only way to learn a language is to be completely focused, and practise, practise, practise, whichever way suits you best. :))


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Yottskry

"You weren't done.

and

You still won't be done when all your skills have five crowns."

Right, so what advantage is there in the crowns, where progress is even harder to keep track of? Where it's not so obvious which skills need improving?

If language learning is continuous, as you say, then the crowns actually deter from this, as you can get to level 5 and then forget them. With the old system, all skills faded so you constantly knew what to keep working on and what to revisit.

I notice that many of the "pro crowns" posts seem to come from admin and PLUS users. I can't help but think there's some incentive for these posts. Paid shills, perhaps? Regular users seem to, on the whole, hate the new system. That can't be coincidence...


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gamekkeut

Your last paragraph: if regular (non-paying / unpaid) users hated the crowns as a whole, they would not have been pushed to every Duolingo user. Whatever the numbers are showing, people as a whole were studying longer with crowns.

What you see is the vocal minority who use Duolingo’s website, and visit the forums, and post in the forums about their disagreement. An extremely small percentage of Duolingo users.

It is unfair to say only those who pay for Duolingo (and therefore must be getting some incentive under the table besides no ads and offline lessons), and those who volunteer for Duolingo (haven’t seen any admins post except for karint’s FAQ) are the ones that enjoy the crowns. I am a ‘regular’ user, and enjoy the crowns for the additional sentence variation, and added incentive than just levels.

Different strokes for different folks, it’s not too out of the ordinary.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CarolinaViking

Your last paragraph just reeks of conspiracy and paranoia to be honest. I'm not sure you're aware that most people who are content, or even happy, with something are not going to "waste" their time posting about it.

Reviews, complaints, and so on are almost always made up of dissatisfied people be it here or other sites. Duolingo has said MANY times that the numbers of people who use this site are a tiny, tiny minority of the people who use the app overall. It's a small percentage that have ever even visited the forums.

Add to that the people who are paid members are likely more involved in the process and as such vested in the product, of course they're going to be more common and visible.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/piguy3

so what advantage is there in the crowns

You won't be done, but you'll be substantially further along. The gains are all the more important for a language like Welsh where there's no reverse tree. You'll have much more ability to practice translation into Welsh.

I've seen plenty of PLUS users against the crowns. A couple of mods are strongly for it. One I saw was apoplectic against it. One responded to Luis saying he wouldn't use it voluntarily unless some quite implausible technical change was made. One was neutral. Another liked it but was nowhere near as vocal as the first two.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/stripedkitty

I am going to chime in in answer to your eloquently expressed post. I agree with you.

That said, I do not like the crowns. Not at all. Not because of lost gold, as I have already adjusted for that by deciding to ignore the tree above a certain level. Certainly I will adjust but I admittedly feel less enthused.

First, I didn't have a problem with rushing through my trees and not retaining what I had learned. I work them slowly and review often when on Duolingo. Now to review a particular unit, I am no longer allowed to review that unit, but instead would have to go through seemingly endless sentences waiting to get to that part I was looking for. It feels like the index has just been removed from my text book. So far, I have not wanted to engage in this tedious task that last week was a simple and pleasurable activity.

Second, our word lists within the tree itself served the secondary function of permitting review themselves, even without doing the exercises. A quick glance would let you know if you should review that unit.

Third, I am no longer made aware of those times I miss or have an incorrectly-placed accent mark. What a loss! I see this as a serious defect in the program now. Duo used to be generous in providing full verb conjugations when hovering and I was disappointed to see that go and still miss that inspired feature. But it was admittedly 'extra'. Accent marks cannot be viewed as extra.

For these reasons, I feel not a gain, but a loss of features I appreciated and did not take for granted. I will use the program a bit for now for my newest language, though, based on the way I studied before, slowly and methodically, I did not need the technique forced upon me to the exclusion of what I found beneficial.

I plan to continue, but I don't like crowns. I do wonder how Duo, though saying it will have longer user time, will attract the many language learners who already have familiarity with a language. I cannot imagine anyone other that an absolute beginner tolerating the requirements to advance under this new system.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TimSpainFromEng

I agree with much of your sentiments. My Spanish learning converted to about 80% 1 Crown and 20% 2 Crowns.

Post Crowns, I initially focused on getting 2 Crowns on all skills, but found myself repeating FAR TO MANY well known skills, only occasionally running into skills that need work.

What to do? I adjusted, now spending 80% of the time on my English tree for Spanish speakers. This tree requires MUCH more typing in Spanish, and so it is much more challenging than just focusing on getting two crowns everywhere on my Spanish tree for English speakers.

This strategy has restored my motivation to my pre-Crown level! As I get bored on one Tree, I jump back to the other to mix things up.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Procellis

They really did release crowns prematurely. It was supposed to render the tradition of doing the reverse tree obsolete, but you have to do the reverse tree as a workaround to deal with crowns.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ClarkStephen

Dear stripedkitty, I totally agree that being corrected about a missing or incorrectly-placed accent mark is extremely important. So after I read your post, I went to my Spanish page and tried both: putting an accent where it didn't belong, and leaving out an accent. Both times Duolingo corrected me, so my experience is not the same as yours. I was doing it on the web, not a phone. You?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/dlhgl

I have the same problem as stripedkitty (on the web). And not only for missing or wrong accent marks but also for other typos.

There are already several posts about this and I think it started with the crowns. So far I had this problem only for lower crown levels and only for translating into the target language (type what you hear or translating single words with a picture were not affected so far).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CarolinaViking

Bug report the typos. I'm doing the Swedish tree and it most certainly still corrects me for typos, mistakes, and leaving the accents off. If it's a single mistake and doesn't make up a new word, they'll mark it as important but let the skill continue with no loss. If it's a "new" word I've used by accident (ie two words spelled the same but one with accents and one without) it'll tell me I've used the wrong one.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/xMira_

Amazing post. :)

(There are a couple things I disagree with, but oh well xD)

Have a lingot!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/FrancisFrankie

Honestly, I feel like the crown system helps new learners a lot more than its predecessor. Especially since it takes a lot more repetition to get gold for the skill.

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