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Frustrated about not actually learning much?

I’m piggybacking off phopkins1’s thread about finishing the course without understanding much at all, which I know is also the experience of many here.

Criticisms of this course aside, the truth is Duolingo is not that great of a learning tool out of the box.

There are two very important concepts when it comes to mastering a skill, which includes learning a language: spaced repetition and deliberate practice.

Spaced repetition is the idea of constantly reviewing the material, but increasing the interval of time after every successful review to form stronger memories. You learn a new word, you review it a couple hours later, and if you remember it correctly you review it again a day later, then 3 days later, and so on and so forth. That’s how Duolingo used to work before the crown system.

Deliberate practice is practicing in a smart way, avoiding excessive repetition, building up over previously learned material, and constantly increasing the difficulty level. This is what Duolingo plans to do with the crown system, although that’s far from its current iteration.

But there’s a catch: a huge part of learning a language is listening to native speakers and repeating it back, A LOT. Writing is not how we naturally learn. Less than 3% of languages actually have a standard writing system. We learn by listening and talking. That’s where Duolingo fails. Duolingo is mostly a writing-based tool, which is good if you want to learn how to read and write, but you won’t get even close to fluency. And depending on how you use Duolingo, you might pick up some bad habits and not even learn how to form a simple sentence on your own. It’s still a lot better than flashcards (please don’t use those), because at least we’re practicing with proper sentences (most of the time), but the automated voice lacks cadence, intonation, and speed, and there’s no speaking lessons. Also, Duolingo doesn't tell you how to study, so we don't know how many lessons we should do at once, or how fast we should go through the tree, or how many crown levels we should get before moving on, or anything really.

So what can you do to actually learn something here?

1. Practice with spaced repetition

There are two ways to do this. The first is to use the practice button, since that’s based on your weakest words. But that won't level up your crowns. The second is to use duome.eu/yourusername/progress to look at your weakest skills and practice those.

Don’t just power through all the lessons to finish the tree quickly before going back to review it, it’s a waste of your time, and you won’t remember anything doing that. Focus on reviewing all the weak skills and learning just a few new ones at a time.

2. Actually type in your answers

If Duolingo’s strength lies in being a writing-based tool, then use it to write. Install a Korean keyboard, and start typing all your sentences instead of picking the right ones from the word bank. Stop hovering over a word you don’t know to get a hint. If you don’t know it, skip, look at the translation, and try it again to see if you remember. And stop using the app, since it doesn’t let you type in the answers.

It’s very easy to cheat the lessons with the word bank. You know that Korean sentences start with the subject, so you look for a word with 이/가 or 은/는, then there’s an object, so you look for something with 을/를, finally there’s a verb, so you click on anything that ends in 요 or ㅂ니다. Congratulations, you just completed the lesson and learned absolutely nothing.

3. Supplement your learning with a lot of listening and speaking

Think of Duolingo as a vocabulary building tool. You’ll learn how to write a lot of words and form some sentences, which is good if you’re like me and you feel like you need to know to write things when you hear them, but you won’t actually learn much until you start listening to people talking and start forming sentences of your own. Use TTMIK, Glossika, YouTube, dramas, anything you can get your hands on that has people talking naturally in Korean, and try to repeat as much as you can so you build muscle memory. Or just move to the country...

There’s a quote attributed to Walt Stanchfield that says you have 10,000 bad drawings inside of you, and the sooner you get them out the better. That’s how you become a good artist. Well, you also have 10,000 bad sentences inside of you, and the only way to fluency is to get them out. We learn by practice, there’s no way around it.

So whenever you get frustrated with not being able to form a sentence in Korean, ask yourself how many different sentences have you actually spoken or written before. Is it less than 10,000? Then keep practicing!

May 25, 2018



This is really helpful, thank you so jmuch.


Nice post, erudis!

  1. Practice with spaced repetition
  2. Actually type in your answers

I agree wholeheartedly with these two suggestions. I haven't made much skill progress in the past week on my French tree, because there were many concepts of which I had a faint glimmer, but couldn't remember for more than a day. It's not so much as a step forward, and two steps back, as it is just re-routing yourself when things get a little challenging. It is too easy to fall into the rut of competing against yourself, instead of letting the learning happen naturally. One thing I've never forgotten is that my own mind is the biggest brat. It won't learn if it doesn't want to!

So whenever you get frustrated with not being able to form a sentence in Korean, ask yourself how many different sentences have you actually spoken or written before. Is it less than 10,000? Then keep practicing!

This is nice advice. I've been keeping a journal for the past few weeks, and doing quick math, I am up to 66 sentences. That does make me feel more at ease, knowing that I have yet to even write 1% of what would be an acceptable point for me to write well.

[deactivated user]

    :) Wow, less than 3% of languages have a written component-thanks for adding so much knowledge. Have 3 lingots. (I'm not actually learning Korean, I am wanting to learn how to learn.)


    These are definitely good tips, and there are also some good apps out there like Lingodeer that have a little more focus on Korean. I do, however, think that the Korean course needs a renovation. With the new crown system implemented, not being able to see the words you practice for a lesson is a major problem when you have ten lessons per skill that introduce several new vocabulary words. I think the tree should be extended not by adding more content but by splitting it up into more manageable groups.

    Edit: just read that there will be an updated tree, hopefully it will follow this format to some extent.


    I feel the same way about my progress in Korean, which is one of the reasons why I temporarily stopped learning it here (besides the fact that I found Japanese more interesting). The same goes for Japanese. I definitely believe for those two courses specifically, Duolingo works as a skill enhancer, like a helping tool. For Japanese, I was learning so little that I had to learn through blogs by someone called Tae. Using Duolingo as a tool to enhance what I already knew, or for skill practice, is what worked best for me.

    For French, I didn't actively use Duolingo until I already knew the basic grammar rules of the language. Using Duolingo to practice what I had familiarity with helped a lot in my studies. And, I agree that in that case, Duolingo is a great vocab builder.

    Good post!


    There are different brain regions for understanding language (Wernicke's area) and producing language (Broca's area). Broca's area is next to different motoric areas used for producing language. While Wernicke's area is part of the temporal lobe and has connections to the visual cortex as well. According to the following study* there is a spatial separation between the mother tongue and a second as an adult acquired language in the Broca's area while there is little to no separation in Wernicke's area. I interpret the result as it being easier to learn to understand a language than producing it. And according to my own language learning experience it is by far the hardest step to start talking a language. I'm still not comfortable speaking English even if it's the language I am learning the longest besides my mother tongue.

    (* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9217156)

    [deactivated user]

      Thank you and good luck with English.


      This is very true and helpful, 고맙습니다.


      We learn by listening and talking.

      Just gonna remind folks that 1. Deaf people exist 2. They are capable of learning multiple languages.

      As a hearing person, I also benefit from listening comprehension. Though, I once hung up on people because I couldn't understand them. I started texting them and we were able to communicate that way. This was before The Stories and Podcast features were released. They help in that area for courses that have it. (Though, Duolingo isn't intended to be the only resource people use for language learning. So, definitely integrate multiple resources.) If those features (Stories and Podcast) are smash hits for those languages, hopefully we will see them expanded to include other languages like Korean. So, if you want to boost them on social media, I encourage you to do that. I definitely am.

      I personally like aspects of the Crown system. It was an improvement on something I didn't like about the previous system. (I had to do the exact same lessons over and over again whenever I wanted to review the tree. I wanted more lessons that increased in difficulty as I continued to work with the material. The current Crown system is a rough draft in moving that direction. It has some drawbacks. The reverse courses now start out at the most difficult level and become increasingly easier. Also, I can't see a menu of lessons to go back to a specific one that I've already completed.

      As the one consistent thing on Duolingo is change, I expect it won't last in its current form for more than 2 years max and that's at the long end. Maybe Probably at least some if not all of those drawbacks will be changed.

      So whenever you get frustrated with not being able to form a sentence in Korean, ask yourself how many different sentences have you actually spoken or written before. Is it less than 10,000? Then keep practicing!

      That is brilliant! Thanks for introducing it to me (and the rest of the forum). :D


      Just gonna remind folks that 1. Deaf people exist 2. They are capable of learning multiple languages.

      Thanks for the reminder. I didn't mean to exclude them, but to emphasize that writing is not the most natural or effective way to learn a language, so you shouldn't prioritize it, unless you have a specific goal in mind. That holds true even for deaf people, whose native languages (if they were born deaf) are based not on writing, but on gestures. Sign languages are part of the majority of languages that don't have a written component, and learning a written language is even more challenging for them since they might not have any previous experience with a writing system and no sign language, as far as I know, have articles, prepositions or conjunctions. That means they benefit even more than hearing people from incorporating another form of communication into their studies, be it gesturing or another type of visual language.


      Erudis, I mentioned it because it's not just you and not just this post. The theme of "we must listen to learn" (as though "we" is everyone in these forums) has come up so many times in this forum. And, I know that we have a good number of d/Deaf and hard of hearing folks in our community. So, I want people (including myself) to become more/aware of audism as we are becoming of things like racism, homophobia, and sexism and such because bit by bit, all of the bits add up to have real negative impacts. So, when I say all of this it isn't with an angry tone. I am on a learning curve as well. Instead, I am just looking to put information out there in our language community to raise our awareness. I hope you will read it that way.

      1. Some sign languages have a writing system. American Sign Language has a couple different writing systems. But many d/Deaf folks are not taught those because of a variety of factors, including but not limited to: 1. they are not widely available in schools the way that English is (because of audism, in part) 2. multiple scripts are currently in competition to see which one becomes the dominant script 3. all of the other reasons I am not aware of

      2. Sign Languages are not a series of gestures. I know it is not an important distinction for many hearing people who have not experienced the level of severe abuse, discrimination, and oppression that d/Deaf folks have experienced throughout the years. People have specifically argued that sign languages aren't real they are just "gestures". (Language vs gesture was a real argument used to literally punish d/Deaf and hard of hearing folks for using sign languages and to try to extinct their languages. More recently thanks Alexander Graham Bell and his association.) Then, linguists went and proved that Sign Language is a language as opposed to a series of gestures. Gestures can be incorporated into language but on their own are not language, even though they are a part of communication.)

      3. The only thing d/Deaf people can't do that hearing people do is hear. And the flip side of that is hearing people aren't born with Deaf Gain.

      4. Sign Languages are full languages with grammar, including things like interjections, articles, prepositions, etc. I have a book called Linguistics of American Sign Language and over 14 pages it goes into great depth the parameters that linguists have used to define "languages" as opposed to "non-language" communication. In every category, American Sign Language meets the criteria.

      5. As for what d/Deaf people benefit more from outside of Sign Language itself, language access, and social inclusion, that is outside the scope of my preliminary knowledge. But, I think hearing people should be careful not to say what benefits d/Deaf unless we are specifically boosting their messages about that.

      Anyhow, I hope that this has been informative and we can keep these things in mind. Also, if I've made a mistake in the information I've presented and a d/Deaf person wants to point it out, please do! :)


      Thanks for the information and the corrections. I'm not familiar with ASL, since we have Libras here as our official sign language, so it's good to know. I think this discussion deserves a thread of its own, especially considering the huge debate in the deaf community related to cochlear implants and language acquisition, so I'll just briefly touch on point 5 which pertains to this thread.

      My point is exactly that deaf people would benefit more from using sign language in their studies of a written language, especially if they don't have any previous experience with writing. That's because speech and signing are innate abilities, while writing is a cultural invention. So when people say "we must listen to learn", it's just because it's more effective. And you can definitely expand the meaning of listen here to include signing, I suppose most people don't think of that (like I didn't) because it's not part of their daily lives, but the meaning of the sentence is simply that naturally acquired means of communication are easier to use than socially constructed means of communication. Sure, we could all do better and be more inclusive in our speech, but especially in a language forum, we should also be more aware of what people mean to say than how they are saying it.

      And I don't think any deaf person would disagree with that. They are aware of how much their hearing loss impacts their learning. They know it makes it harder for them to learn non-sign languages. And the solution is not to stop saying speech is important, or that writing is good enough for everyone. They need inclusivity, which we have for granted. They need sign language incorporated into their studies just like we have speech incorporated into ours, but Duolingo doesn't have that right now. Sure they can still use it and can still learn with it, and we as a community should embrace them and do our best to help, just like we help everyone else we can here, but there's no "learn English from ASL" course, there's no replacement for the listening and speaking exercises, there's no visual hints for when you hover over a word, the system is simply not designed for them as much as it is for someone who already knows a spoken or written language, deaf or not.


      I love this...

      I really do. I've been learning ASL with a Deaf teacher (big d deaf, meant to do that.) for 2 years now.

      BUT, I disagree with your "Sign Languages are full languages with grammar, including things like interjections, articles, prepositions, etc."

      That's not quite true. ASL is a full language, but it doesn't have articles. Articles aren't needed in a full language, lol.

      Nor do "is" and "are"

      Russian doesn't have these things.

      I think erudis is more saying that it would be easier to learn sign language... say Korean sign language, with Korean, as it pertains to the written form. It certainly might make learning a language easier that way-- but it's certainly not impossible to learn a language through just writing.

      Also, psssssssssst, D/deaf people don't hear. It's not that they "can't" hear, it's that they don't.


      I edited this comment to increase clarity.

      I misspoke when I said articles. Articles are a type of determinant. American Sign Language does have determinants, which was what I was thinking of when I mentioned articles. https://www.handspeak.com/learn/index.php?id=30

      Can't vs Don't: Both wordings present tricky semantic situations. When someone "cannot" do something when others can, it can be taken as saying they are lacking or deficient. With that in mind, I mentioned Deaf Gain because I did not want to position hearing people as singularly abundant and whole.

      When people "do not" do something, it can indicate that they didn't engage something that they could have. (This can then have moral implications that leave doors open to negative consequences. Topics engaging in moralism give groups with dominant social power the upper hand in defining what is/is not moral in the way that they have the most power to enforce consequences.)

      How does it relate to moralism? Often, doing vs not doing is linked to "should/should not" statements. Such as, "should Deaf people get Cochlear Implants" That is a huge discussion in itself that, as a hearing person, I very much do not want to engage because I don't believe it is appropriate for me to do so.

      Both phrasings "can't" and "don't" present a problem depending on how they are received by the listener and where the discussion ends up going. So, I opted for the phrasing my Deaf friend uses when I said "Deaf people can do everything Hearing people can except hear." (aka could be interpreted as "can't hear", which I think you are commenting on.) The reason why I followed that up with mention of Deaf Gain is to balance out the socio-political power vaccuum leading to the reading of "can't" that otherwise could have been read as indicating deficiency.

      I do try to be cognizant and purposeful with the phrasing my words when approaching subjects relating to a minority group I am not part of. I try to boost their message instead of inserting my own. I certainly make mistakes. In this case, I was aware of the can't/don't quandary and intended to be purposeful with the direction I went with.

      Cochlear Implants are an incredibly charged topic among the Deaf community. So, I am not surprised that the way your instructor talked to you about them is counter to how my Deaf friends have talked to me about them. However, I am not an appropriate spokesperson to engage such a sensitive topic.

      I do want to take a moment to say, congrats on your ASL studies! I hope you will continue with them. I've sampled 14-15 different languages and ASL is by far my favorite. (In part because, though I am not deaf or hard of hearing, I have a medical condition that sometimes renders me unable to speak. So, ASL has been very helpful to me during those times. Aside from that, I love how it engages more of my body and how the culture engages my mind. I also really appreciate the people it has brought into my life. :)


      Oh yes, I agree with all this. I was just going based off of what my teacher said.

      Thank you-- congrats on yours too!

      I'm trying to start early on my language studies.


      Oh, the way my teacher explained it to me as D/deaf people not hearing,

      is it's like how hearing people can sign, just a lot of them don't. It's not like most hearing people weren't born with hands (some weren't, but most hearing people were,) it's just that some of us don't sign.

      In the same way, D/deaf people, especially now when there are things like hearing aids/cochlear implants, can hear, they just don't. It's not their priority-- and it doesn't have to be.

      I'm kind of summarizing because he said this all in sign and a mixture of some written English when I didn't understand a word.


      There still a lot of Deaf people who would not be able to hear even if they had hearing aids or cochlear implants. So, those people still can't hear, even if they did decide to make it a priority.


      Yes, similarly to how some hearing people actually cannot sign.


      I 100% agree. I started to realize that when I'm not doing my exercises, I can barely remember any of the words I've learned. At all. I was also using Memrise but I hit their paywall and I kind of felt it was going a bit fast. I might try and find an actual course to take because I can't find anything that fits what I want. When we learned French in school, we started with the basics, and there was a lot of text about how each part of the language works. With Duolingo, you just jump in to learning words and then later on they explain how it's all put together, it's not very intuitive. I'm trying to push forward so I can create a word bank that I can then turn into flash cards, but I definitely feel like I'm wasting time. At the same time, I hate breaking my streak so I keep practising every day like a dummy even though I'm not absorbing much. However, I can read Hangul really well now (though I learned that before trying to use Duolingo for Korean).


      How do you type with the word bank questions. I didn't think that was allowed. I've tried before it my keyboard never pops up

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