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My story of how I learnt French “wrong” (and how I’m going to fix it)

My story starts on the 23rd of February 2018, when I started my Duolingo account. From the start, my reason for starting Duolingo was incorrect - to be at the top of my French class in school. It was all very new to see skills, a percentage of fluency and how well you could remember words. It was very different back in 2018, and there are people who have been here much longer, I’m sure, who can vouch for these features that were supposedly “not very accurate”.

My method of learning through the trees was just by doing lesson after lesson. They got progressively difficult pretty quickly and I was learning so much new information. I also used the forums to gain tips on how I could learn French as fast as possible and the best ways to learn French. However, this is where I was slightly misled. After I had done several and several skills (I believe about 20 in one day), I saw the fluency calculator show my percentage: 20%. Because of this, I thought that if I could get 20% in one day, I could get 100% in one week and therefore be fluent in French!

There was just one problem - the difficulty factor. After passing 20 skills in one day without revising or reviewing any of what I had learnt, I found an easier method to escape it on the Duolingo app - the word bank. This allowed me to complete lessons even faster than I could on the desktop version and I barely had to think. Before I knew it, I was past a third through the French course. But, even then, with the word bank and all, it got too difficult.

So, I quit Duolingo. I’m sure you can see the problems with that.

A few months later, I returned to Duolingo, with the same idea in mind (to be at the top of the class), but also with a motivation to learn French as I was beginning to like the language. I had mostly grasped the fact that you couldn’t learn a language in a week and so I took it slower. I got a journal to write in for my French work and I began learning. Maybe not reviewing, but actually learning some of the words that I was seeing in my lessons.

Unfortunately, another problem started: I was just copying the Duolingo sentences and answers into my journal. Essentially, I was just writing the lessons down. When I looked back at things I had learnt from a month ago and hid the answers, I had no clue what the sentences meant, even with my proud 42 day streak (which is still my highest to this day!) and I began to practise. When I practised, I got questions right from the beginning of the course, since I didn’t practise before, and it was too easy for me, though I was still forgetting everything I had learnt.

So, I quit (again) and came back a few months later. This time I believed I was going to go about it the right way. I made my own French Club on the Duolingo app (a feature that is now removed) and I started learning French in a more proper manner, with daily practice, communication with native French speakers (my club was on the French-English course) and motivation. I even started Duolingo Stories as I had reached a certain level in the tree where I could begin to understand them (the first stories I did are now Set 9 in the French course, which is quite surprising for me). I even managed to finish the French-English course in one week (legitimately) as I had a lot of time on my hands. I made a forum about it, though I’m not sure how to see old forums. Sadly, I slowly lost motivation as I became too focused on XP and I drifted from Duolingo for pretty much one year.

In the meantime, I was trying to use other resources such as Memrise and French YouTube to learn French better, and I have to say, even though I had a lack of commitment to these, I learnt so much more and so much better than I did with Duolingo. The only downside to these is that I was slowly forgetting all the structures I learnt here and how to turn that vocabulary into more than basic sentences. With the help of actually integrating into French culture with their YouTube (as well as turning my phone into French), if I kept what I said in French basic enough and “French-sounding” enough, with some slang that I had learnt, I could be confused for a French native speaker. My listening over the few months I spent had been from unintelligible at 0.5 speed because it was too difficult to slightly understandable at normal speed and mostly understandable at 0.75 speed, which is a big improvement for me. This is one of the things that I would like to start up once more.

Though, before I made these correct choices, in 2019, there was several posts about people receiving their golden owls, or hitting a goal on their streak, or reaching a certain level, that they shared with the whole community. Needless to say, although I didn’t think so at the time, I was jealous. All these people were achieving their language goals yet I felt like I had hit a road block on Duolingo after accidentally resetting my reverse tree and being left with little to no XP. My result? I decided to reset my French tree and get a golden owl.....by testing out.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes - I cheated the test out with Google Translate. I was proud of myself for being a cheater. Of course, I didn’t get the congratulations I had dreamed of. After an hour, it didn’t feel like much of an achievement at all, especially since I had managed to get 2/3 of the way without cheating. My profile picture felt meaningless and still does. So, I reset my tree. Again.

All my experience on Duolingo the past few years has now been deleted, apart from the awards on my profile that mean almost nothing to me now. Leagues that I desperately spent hours on a year ago now mean nothing to me. I realise now that this is good for me, and that there were two things that I was missing in my French learning:

  • the right purpose to learn
  • the discipline to continue learning

Now, on the 23rd of June 2020, two years and three months after I started Duolingo, I believe I’m ready to learn properly. At least I’ve amassed 870 lingos over my time here, which I’m very happy to donate as they weren’t gained fairly. Just ask for some (no more than 50 per person). After reading recent posts on this forum, I have decided to reset my French tree and have tested out of it, and now I will limit myself to just one lesson a day, and two practices a day. This way, there will be no excuse not to spend just 5 minutes on Duolingo daily, and I won’t be buying a streak freeze. Even though everything I did achieve seems meaningless now, I see them as a goal to work to and to make them a reality that I worked hard for.

My reason of learning French is to better myself and to become bilingual in French as I’ve wanted for 5 years, and I think I’m ready to take the long and disciplined process of learning a language the right way.

  • Joseph733121
June 23, 2020



Hi Joseph,

Well done for coming back! Not giving up is the most important step.

If you're not already familiar with the "hover" technique, I'd recommend you check out https://blog.duolingo.com/whats-the-best-way-to-learn-with-duolingo/

Everyone if different, but this is what I've found works well for me: - Use browser version, without word bank. - Every day practice to fix any cracked skills (should be 3 max) - In addition, hover over several (4/5) lines in the tree, doing just ONE lesson per day of each skill ... this slows progress down considerably, but by the time I get a skill up to level 5 gold, I think I've really got it. - Augment with stories, and materials from outside duolingo.

Good luck!


Thanks for the advice, and I’ll try this technique! Merci beaucoup !


Wow, quite a journey! I believe in you, you can do this. I hope you achieve your goal to become bilingual in french :D


One lesson per day could be going too far the other way! Are you using the hover method? https://blog.duolingo.com/whats-the-best-way-to-learn-with-duolingo/ I think you can add far more lessons per day if you spread out the skills.


One lesson per day works wonderfully for me. I do one lesson, a couple practice ones, and I use the hover method, and I do a lot outside of Duo. Duo is great at what it does, and I love that I get the rules/grammar doing it, but I spend the rest of my time doing things that are more fun - ie listening to French music, movies, interviews - that train my ear in a way Duo never could, teach me how real people really speak, and also teach me a lot of expressions/idioms. For me, it's the perfect balance. It's not a race. One per day is fine.


Thank you for your input, Julia!


I haven’t been using it, so thanks for recommending it!


That is a really cool story. I hope you can learn French!


Merci beaucoup pour cette longue histoire. Grace à DUOLINGO, en même temps que j'apprends l'allemand, je continue à lire de l'anglais et j'apprends tous les jours des mots anglais que je ne connaissais pas. Dans l'Europe qui se construit actuellement, il va devenir essentiel de comprendre, parler, et écrire en allemand, et en même temps continuer à bien connaître l'anglais. Aussi, grâce à vous, j'ai appris aujourd'hui un mot que je ne connaissais pas : "to hover". Quel mot extraordinaire ! j'ai envie maintenant de hovering partout et en tout lieu ! Et aussi grâce à ce mot, je viens d'apprendre une technique intelligente mise à notre disposition par DUOLINGO et ses spécialistes: https://blog.duolingo.com/whats-the-best-way-to-learn-with-duolingo/ Je la mets en pratique dès aujourd'hui et je passe, hovering the skills, d'une crown à l'autre comme un oiseau. Bonne continuation. Vous êtes le meilleur (de la classe) Tschuss


Merci, idomne ! Ton message me rend très, très heureux !


What does this all mean? 'thank you for this long story, and I don't understand what else...


Wow, congratulations!


Very interesting story! I hope you can achieve your dreams in French!


Bonne chance et félicitations sur 201 lingots !


We believe you can do it


merci beaucoup


Thanks for sharing your experience Joseph. I am recognising myself in your exciting way of studying:) Keep going!


I'm so happy that you are now ready to learn the language the right way I hope you continue to better yourself and that you do well. good luck my friend


Hi Joseph, Glad to hear you are back. You don't need to put pressure on yourself, this is not a competition. Don't focus on the amount of lingots and crowns you have or how long your streak is: that is not relevant at all. Just learn your own pace and enjoy the journey. Learning a language properly may take years, but there is no rush and we don't have to set any deadlines!


That is an amazing story I have been doing french since I was 2 PROVO PROVO


Would you say you have a native-level grip on the language since you started so early? I’m interested to know.


And do you like Luna Lovegood or what?


I have the similar situation, but in German :/


Make sure you don't give up! I almost did and I would have regretted it.


Cool Story Joseph!


Good Luck with French. Same thing is happening with me in Japanase


bonne chance ! mais si c'est ma langue maternel c'est déjà difficile alors j'imagine pas comment vous faite . surtout en grammaire.


Ah, le français ! Je sais qu’il y a beaucoup de vocabulaire et grammaire que pour moi d’apprendre, mais je pense que c’est absolument possible. Merci de me donner de chance !


Have a look here. This lady is amazing teaching French. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbC9Utt1c6UXRqWw2lOTCBg


Thank you so much! I’ll try to use her channel in my French listening sessions!


Additionally there is a French series called Extr@ on Youtube you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaNqp4FXh-s and there is a really silly programme that's quite old but worth a watch called Telefrancais you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBSflK1FTSY finally if you like reading there is a tonne of material here: https://storiesfirst.org/greatstoryreadingproject/groups/francais/

In my own personal journey I have found these to have given me the greatest amount of acquisition. I haven't been on duolingo for 4 months and after taking the placement test I unlocked 15% of the French tree. I can also understand these episodes fairly well. I hope these help you.


Thanks for all your help!


hey joseph, good too see you've found the proper motivation to learn French. I congratulate you for not giving up on learning the language. similarly to you I used to sowly focus on the XP/lingot aspect of duolingo, instead of actually learning the language and studying properly. I consider my self lucky, In high school i'm taking french and have a brilliant teacher and class in which I have developed a lot. (I also am a native spanish speaker living abroad). feel lots of relatability to your post, thanks for sharing and, I hope you accomplish your goal of becoming bilingual, good luck


Thank you so much! I wish you luck also!


Glad i'm not the only person feeling this way, is nice to relate lol.


I’m happy you found my story helpful!


may I have some Lingots?


How many? I'm willing to give!


Do you still have any? I'm willing to bet that 500 people asked for lingots anyway! (But can i have some?) :)


je suis contente pour toi! happy duolingoing


Hi Joseph, Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us. You've shown that above all, persistence, patience and determination is what's needed to succeed, and you seem to have those sussed :) I've been on and off duolingo a few times over the last few years. I've struggled to keep going at times, especially when it feels like the more you learn, the more you realise you don't know! However to anyone out there, to you Joseph, and to myself I will say 'just keep going'. Whatever your learning techniques and tricks are, bit by bit, the knowledge keeps building. Saying the phrases out loud a few times over in each lesson helps me. I'll give french YouTube a go too. Hadn't thought of that. There's a French kids newspaper online called JDE which is worth checking out for some extra vocab and reading practice. Best wishes in your French speaking journey. It will be worth it in the end! :)

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