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Failing a long lesson multiple times is discouraging (suggestion inside)

Hello Duolingo!

After I failed (lost all my hearts) the same lessons three times in a row after 18 or 19 questions I am to some degree discouraged to give it another try. I made only 4 mistakes (at least one is always a typo) in 19 questions, which - in my opinion - is a very good success rate in this case and still I get nothing. No points, no progress. Sure, I know I still learnt something, but it leaves me with a feeling of wasted time, because nothing resulted from me knowing the correct answer to 15 questions (or if you consider the three times fail: I answered around 45 questions correct and got nothing). Apparently, not even some words get strengthened.

Compare this slightly frustrating experience to Memrise: There is no restriction on how many times you can give wrong answers (because that will always happen, duh!). You get immediate rewards for every single correct answer. You don't get points for a wrong answer and your word strength for that item decreases. I think that Duolingo really would benefit from a similar approach.

Suggestion: First, test on all the 20 items in every lesson. Reward correct answers immediately. When you lose all hearts it's over, but when you try the lesson again you are only confronted with unanswered or wrongly aswered questions, so you don't have to sit through 20 questions again. Thus, even though you failed the test, you still have made visible progress.

(An easier way to fix this would either be to increase the number of hearts or decrease the number of questions in a lesson, but I'm not sure if that wouldn't make things too easy.)

What do you think about this?

April 12, 2013



I prefer lessons as they are, but I have to admit it is really a very rare occasion that I should fail a lesson three times in a row.

I'll share some of my experience and workarounds. Maybe some of them will help. Please pardon my wordiness.

I can divide all my mistakes into a few categories:

  • Tricky or idiomatic sentences that I have no chance to get from the first try. At the best case, these are the only ones that cause my lose of hearts. These are to be understood and memorized, or written down if very hard to remember.

  • Giving a translation that is not in the database. This is to be reported and the accepted translation is to be memorized (or written down if very hard to remember).

  • My own grammar mistakes. These are to be analyzed: do I understand why I am wrong? If no, I have to look for grammar explanations or post a questions in comments. If yes, I may want to revise something from the previous lesson. If this is grammar introduced in the lesson I'm working on, well, I don't know it well enough and it is perfectly fine to lose a heart and repeat the lesson.

  • Typos and mistakes of inattention. If I make too many of these, I'm just tired and need a rest.

In fact, the only cases I feel resentful for are the first two. These make me lose hearts without any fault on my part. However, I usually cover most weird sentences in one or two passes.

Now about my own grammar mistakes. I am really very grateful that Duolingo is so pitiless with those. I just have no chance to neglect articles, cases, conjugations and stuff. This is great. I use Memrise, too, but it is not as motivating and appealing to me as Duo is. I have thousands of points there and don't care at all about it. The only thing I am interested in there is the course itself and my progress through it. This interest is not always enough to make me study regularly. On Duolingo, some magic keeps me motivated to get my daily skill points.

It seems that the best system is somewhere in between of being too easy and too hard. If you want my opinion, I'd say Duolingo is fairly close to just the right level of challenge.

Now some tips:

  • Write down every single sentence with its translation. When desperate to pass the lesson, you can peek into your records. Don't abuse this trick, though, if you want to gain steady knowledge.

  • If you make a mistake in the first 1-5 questions, just refresh the page and start over. This way you won't lose too much.

  • Take a break. Calm down. Remind yourself that your goal is to learn the language and not to pass this very lesson right now. Take your time.

Update: I just looked at your Spanish tree. If you struggle through Adverbs, take it easy—I guess this section is a nightmare in all the languages :-) At least it was for me in French and German.

  • 428

Wow! Have you been looking over my shoulder? I've taken to writing down the sentences and translations so I can study them away from the computer. I've already learned that if I make an early mistake I can refresh the page. I just wish that if I had just time for one lesson (and can't go back,) I might get a point or two for my effort for that day's skill points.


I agree that it would be nice to get even a few skill points on days when I only have time for one quick lesson. I write sentences down also and bring my notebook with me so I at least can study some french each day.


You made some good points - perhaps the lesson format can be modified so that people can still keep moving forward, however slowly. The idea should be to find some way to keep learners from dropping out.


For me it is frustrating when the sentence is very long, which makes it more likely that Duolingo will not recognize part of the answer, in other words, the longer the sentence, the more slight variations a legitimate translation might have. When sentences are long, I allow myself to copy and paste it into a word doc. The next time I come up against this sentence, I do my best to translate it, then I go back to the word doc to see the exact wordings that Duolingo accepts. This is more useful in the French module than in others, because, well, the French module frankly has more inconsistencies than the others (with the possible exception of Portuguese, which I have not really explored yet).


I remember finishing my French tree using almost the same method, but I wrote the sentences in an exercise book instead of copying and pasting. Writing with my own hand makes me remember better.


Agreed, if you can read your own handwriting.


Sometimes I can't (tee-hee).


personally i think failing it over and over gets it in your brain so then you remember it may seem discouraging but remember they really just help to learn it better i think actually the more you do it the better you get


I agree with your line of thought. Surrounding your idea, I think it should repeat sentences with words you struggle with instead of repeating words you have mastered. This area is kind of tricky as it seems for Duolingo, I often already know a word but Duolingo insists on repeating instead of that one word it just introduced to me and fails to repeat that word throughout the lesson and when it pops out during practice it seems like I never learned it. I think it is hard for Duolingo to distinguish whether you really do not know how to translate a sentence or it is simply a spelling error/type/indefinite/definite article error etc. Although I think failing lessons is motivational to repeat them, I do think there should be a "consolation price" even if it's one coin or something.


I agree. Focusing on word strength as a measure for completing a lesson or skill might be the way to go. Just some minor additions to what was suggested: Every answer should count towards increasing word strength and every time we repeat the lesson we get questions for words that are below a certain strength level. A skill is complete when we are above a certain average strength or when all items are above a certain level (or both).

On the other hand, I suspect that some lessons/skills could also be improved, possibly by looking the average number of mistakes users make. I was doing the "Spanish: Verbs: Past" skill earlier today and it has 18 lessons, no grammar summary and it starts more or less with a bunch of irregular verbs. I also failed lessons there multiple times and I suspect many other faced the same problem. Reviewing and revising problematic lessons can also help reduce frustration.


I like your idea of using the word strength to determine when you advance (instead of testing the ability to perform a (almost) perfect 20-question run).


See, I understand that Duolingo has developed a game-ish interface with rewards and all that. But you have to look past that, this is not a game. This is a learning experience. In real life, this is how you learn. You make mistakes and you should learn from them and NOT REPEAT THEM. If you make a mistake don't go "augh, gosh darn it, I hate this bwaaaa, f my life, maybe in the future God will enlighten me, etc".

You gotta see a mistake as an opportunity to learn in itself. A happy little accident that will teach you something. So, when it happens, just smile, relax, sit back and re-read the sentence a few times. Maybe create a song in your head about it. Apply the word to some made up sentences in your head. Another thing that works to remember stuff is to do something unusual while doing it/saying it. Lets say you go out camping for a few days and you want to remember if you turned off the stove before going out. Then, as you do it, do a little dance in front of it while chanting "it's off, it's off, whooo hooo" or something. Later, during the trip you'll remember you did a silly dance in front of the stove, something unusual, before leaving. So try to apply that to this learning process. You made a mistake? Analyse it, correct it, re-learn it well and do a little dance of chant some rhymes about it while clapping your hands, or whatever. This way it's more likely you'll remember it positively instead of looking at it like a punishment.

Just my two cents.


I fail sometimes three or more times in a row, but never got discouraged, because in the end, that's only a matter of twenty questions in a row, so usually for short term memory it's not a problem. Duolingo does not accept "reunion" for "reuniao" in portuguese? Okay, I report it, then try again, and make sure to use "meeting" this time even though I know that the former was also correct. Until I got all 20 answers wrong.

And then I can start working out these skills by using the Timed Practice who can afford mistakes, until the words enter into the long term memory.

But I admit that some things can bother in terms of learning, such as idiotic phrases, misspelled translations or typographic enforcements, but the report button is still here (and horribly missing in the iOS app) and usually after a week or two, the translation is corrected so the mods are doing a great job here.


With all due respect, if your are failing a lesson 2 or 3 times in a row, you should be more concerned about learning it than how many "coins" you didn't get. In order for coins to have any meaning whatsoever, they need to be given sparingly.


"Apparently, not even some words get strengthened." I think this is a very valid point. It is the only thing which annoys me really. Progress seems always to be saved after finishing a lesson. So words you knew all the time while trying again reappear and reappear. It is the same for very easy sentences. It's tiring to have to go through them again and again to get to the hard questions. But then again there might still be a learning effect though repetition.


I would have to agree. It is very discouraging. I started learning portuguese and got a lot of questions wrong, but it's better now that I am learning an easier language--French


You know what? I've just reread the whole thread and suddenly came to a funny conclusion. All these complaints about points only prove that the current system is right!

Look: you people feel frustrated and angry because you don't get some virtual coins in a game! It's just pictures and numbers on a website. It is not money or candies, you can't buy anything with these coins, but you still crave for them. You feel your time is wasted if you failed and did not get your points.

Does not that mean that Duolingo team is successful in making the gamelike experience motivating? If points were too easy to get, nobody would care about them.

And now about time. Some people claim they only have time for one lesson and they want to be rewarded. How much time does it take you to complete one lesson? It takes me a few minutes. Are you devoting only a few minutes a day to learning a language? This is too little. I don't mean to bring anyone down, but I'm completely sure that you have to study in at least 20-30 minutes sessions if you really want to learn a language. It is better to give 30 minutes of your full attention once a few days than to give 10 minutes daily. You need time to adjust yourself to the language, to revise something from the past lessons and to learn something new.


I agree that the coins aren't worth the discussion, I don't care about them neither on Duolingo nor on Memrise. I didn't propose that you should earn points for every action but rather that correct actions should be rewarded. I now see that for some here "reward" equals coins/points, but for me, it doesn't. I'd rather like to gain word strength on the words I got correct even if I fail the test as a whole. I mean, I DID something right, so in my eyes that should have an effect.


Thanks mmx. You pointed clearly out what I was intented to say.


I agree that spending 20-30 minutes a day is best, but we are all different in what we can and are able to do. I am closer in age to 60 than 50 and sometimes it does take me 30 minutes to do a lesson. I may have to do it 3 times when I'm learning something new. As a teacher, I know that some students can only handle small amounts of new information at a time, while others can soak it large amounts. I am more wired to take in small amounts. It may take me longer to learn, but that is o.k. On days when I have very little time, I try to review past lessons. On weekends when I am more fresh and have longer periods of time, I do new lessons. For me, its not only fun to learn French this way, but also to see how I can best arrange my learning. Writing down sentences and quizzing myself during the day are very helpful.


Well, I onl ypartly agree with your opinion and mostly support the thread openers issue. Duolingo is a great tool to learn a language along the way. But if you only have time for one or two lessons a day and you make just a few mistakes (sometimes typos, sometimes it seems that duolingo does not accept a correct language), you lose a whole day. The timed practice rewards every correct answer, but it is too fast. I have colleagues who perfectly do ten finger typewriting, but they are not able to do more than me with my two finger system


I assure you the complaints are not about the points and the suggestions mmx11 and I made don't even mention them. At least as far as I am concerned, I just see it as a waste of time repeating 20 questions 2-3 times when I know the answers to almost all of them. Even if I had 6 hours a day to spend on duolingo, I would prefer to spend them working on things I don't know well or at all and certainly not repeating 20-question tests because of typos and 1-2 honest mistakes. Since they use word strength as a metric anyway, I believe they could take it to the next logical step.

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