How Does Duolingo Teach French? | Duolingo French Review

A French teacher in her twenties, based in the South of France, where palm trees and beaches are part of her daily life.

Bonjour bonjour! As a teacher, many of my students have asked me if language learning apps are worth their time (and sometimes, money). 

I like to personally test every tool I advise my students to use, and today, it’s time for Duolingo French review!    

Is Duolingo any good? How does it actually contribute to language learning?Let’s find out by analyzing some aspects of this app…

What Should I Expect from Duolingo’s French Course?

Before you decide to start your journey with Duolingo French, here are a few things that you could expect from it:

  • Learning a lot of French vocabulary.
  • Practice building simple sentences.
  • Learn basic textbook French.

As much fun as Duolingo is, there are also some things that you should not expect from it, such as:

  • You probably will not be any close to fluent.
  • You probably will not be able to talk to a native French-speaking person that speaks everyday French.
  • You probably will not be able to use the expressions used in everyday French.

Now that you have all this in mind, let’s continue…

 

Duolingo is a Game-like Language Learning App

It is accessible to beginners in French, but also to those who already have some knowledge. 

As you select your language course, the app will ask you if you already have some knowledge or not. If you don’t, it is perfectly fine to start off from scratch. It’s a fun and somehow addictive way to learn languages.

As you progress in your language learning journey with Duolingo, you will find even more challenging levels to unlock. 

What makes it so fun is that you need to achieve a certain score before you can even unlock those levels. By repeating the same content (words and phrases) in a friendly game environment, 

The Duolingo leaderboard:

Duolingo French Review Leaderbroad

Once you achieve a goal, you’ll be able to claim the reward: gems that will allow you to visit the Duolingo shop and buy some perks (see below).

Duolingo French Review Duolingo shop

 

What does a Typical Duolingo French Lesson Look Like?

If you’ve never tried Duolingo before, this is how a typical lesson goes like. 

The main goal is to learn more vocabulary and complete your “tree” that has over 200 lessons. 

Each lesson includes 2 to 10 parts and will take about 15 minutes to finish. 

Duolingo will help you read and memorize your vocabulary quite fast.

However, Duolingo uses English to teach French, and most of the exercises are based on English-French translation and vice-versa. 

You will first start to learn simple words, one by one, and slowly upgrade to learning sentences.

Duolingo French Review topics

It has a wide range of topics, from greetings to travel and family. 

Each Duolingo French lesson has 5 types of exercises:

  • Match pictures with words, with pronunciation audio as well. 
  • Translate words or sentences from English to French, and vice-versa.
  • Rearrange words into proper sentences in French
  • Write or select what you hear
  • Read a word or a sentence out loud

Duolingo French Review exercises

 

Duolingo French Review exercises

You can also learn French with Duolingo stories:

Duolingo French Review- Duolingo Stories

There has also been a recent update that now includes stories, accessible after you reach checkpoint 1. You will be able to select a story, listen and read it, but also answer some quizzes.

Stories can be a great way of acquiring language comprehension, as it focuses on other points than vocabulary. Many of my students have reported that they actually enjoyed the Duolingo French stories as they are fun to read.

What Difficulties will a Native English Speaker Encounter in Learning French?

As most of you know, French and English are two completely different languages. English is a Germanic language, whereas French a Romance language. This means that there are not a lot of similarities between the two of them.

 English would be similar to German, Danish, Swedish, and French would be similar to Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

Unlike in English, French has some aspects that native English speakers could find challenging and here are some of them:

  • French pronunciation
  • French spelling and silent letters (you don’t write exactly what you think you hear)
  • French nouns and their gender
  • French conjugation
  • French grammar

How does Duolingo Teach French Pronunciation?

In Duolingo, the acquisition of French pronunciation will be done through repetitive exercises that include the audio sound of those phrases and words, read by a man or a woman (you will hear both voices). 

Basically, if you listen to the same word or phrase repeated after a certain amount of time, you are supposedly able to repeat it and thus, know the proper pronunciation.

Duolingo’s audio system for French is actually good. It reads, with a human voice, each word but NOT each sentence. The sentences and phrases are read by assembling each word side by side. 

The main issue with it, outside of the “robotic” effect, is that the pronunciation is sometimes too fast, and it makes it unclear to learners: pauses between words are too short, words are pronounced too fast and it doesn’t take into account syllable timing and stresses.

The speaking exercises provided in each lesson will also help you learn pronunciation, although it is judged by the voice recognition algorithm of the app. 

Side note: Why is French so hard to pronounce for beginners?

The biggest struggle that beginners (but also intermediate learners) can face is French pronunciation. No joke, it can be such a headache! 

According to most French learners, they will mostly struggle with these specific points below:

  • The French R
  • The nasal vowels
  • The liaisons

The French R

What makes it so difficult? It is clear that this sound doesn’t exist in many languages. It is produced by the back of your tongue (and not the throat!) pressing against your soft palate. Listening to French speakers will help you notice that the French R is actually not a very strong sound.

Nasal vowels

Nasal vowels will come in second position in this list, as it can be a little bit easier to master their pronunciation. What are nasal vowels? They are vowels that you are going to pronounce using your nose, such as:

in, on, an, en, un

These vowels are challenging because they don’t exist in the English language. 

Liaisons

A liaison is when a supposedly silent letter, a consonant, at the end of a French word is pronounced and linked to the following word starting with a vowel.

Liaisons could also be difficult to master for beginners that are not used to listening to French or have little exposure to the language. It can confuse learners as they mostly know “textbook French”

How Does Duolingo Teach French Grammar?

French grammar has rules, just like any other language. However, French grammar rules contain so many exceptions that it can be a hassle to remember them. 

As a French teacher, I don’t insist on teaching the grammar itself without anything else, but rather on teaching it along with everyday situations and how to apply it properly depending on the context. 

Grammar should be taught for understanding how a language works.

Learning how basic sentences are formed and what they are built from helps you get a better grasp of everything and strengthens your memory by analyzing the different components.

This is why I was hoping to see more in-depth grammar tips (even full lessons) in Duolingo French, which I did not really find. 

It does include some grammar or conjugation explanation and tips before a lesson if you tap on “tips” (see example below).

Duolingo French Review Grammar tips

During the exercises, you also have the option to tap on the words and see the exact translation in English (which can be a great way to spot prepositions and adverbs):

Duolingo French Review comments

You might find this important to know that there is very little grammar explanation before each lesson. This means that you will have almost no information regarding the grammar used to form the sentences you are learning.

Regarding the tips (this is what I would call “mini lessons”) that they provide, they are pretty basic, although very attractive to read. I was hoping to see a little bit more of those.

On the other hand, they also provide a forum for learners, where they can discuss a specific grammar point or sentence with other learners. Once again, Duolingo is a free app, so we can’t expect EVERYTHING to be in there! 

 

Is Duolingo Useful?

Before downloading a language learning app (and take up more space on your smartphone), you must be wondering: is this app useful? 

Let’s take a deeper look at how Duolingo is a useful language learning app.

What Level can Your French Achieve with Duolingo?

By learning French with Duolingo, you might expect to reach an A1 or A2 CEFR level (Common European Framework Reference), which is a beginner or elementary level. 

But that is all depending on how seriously you will take your lessons and how much effort you are willing to put in them.

📍The fact that Duolingo does not really teach you the basics of conversation or daily life situations, it will unfortunately not get you anywhere near fluent in French. 

However, you will learn vocabulary and a lot of it.

Pros of Using Duolingo to Learn French

I’ve listed the most useful information to share with you, French learners, in case you were thinking about downloading Duolingo French. 

Pros Cons
🆗a lot of vocabulary 🆖bad for learning pronunciation
🆗frequently updated 🆖little in-depth grammar explanation
🆗100% free to use, but... 🆖Overly dependent on translation exercises and English
🆗fun to use 🆖too many ads

So, let us first list down all of the pros that this language learning app has to offer!

Duolingo French has a lot of vocabulary

One of the biggest pros is that this app will contribute to vocabulary learning, given the exercises that it provides. Although it may seem a little too repetitive for some, for others this is the best way they could learn.

The app Duolingo is frequently updated

The French tree goes through regular updates, so you can learn more vocabulary and have up-to-date content, which is a big bonus.

The app is 100% free to use, but...

Duolingo is a pretty fun language learning app, and all of it for free, so why not? Well, remember, nothing is really free. If you’re not buying the product, you are the product. 

You can expect to get presented with a lot of ads while learning on Duolingo. If you’re a parent, you might want to be careful with that because who knows what kind of ads your child might see. 

Duolingo makes it fun to use

The fact that the app looks (and feels) like a game is making it really fun to use. The goals to achieve makes me think about some addictive games that I used to play before (whether they were apps or online games). 

 

Cons of Learning French on Duolingo 

Of course, we can’t go through the pros of Duolingo without checking out the cons, and there are some of them…

Its inaudible audio does not help you improve pronunciation

This is also one of the most noticeable things in the app: inaudible audio. The exercises are pretty fun, though the audio that goes with them…not always. I find it a little too fast for my taste and sometimes. And because the sentence audio is assembled by word audios, the pronunciation of phrases and sentences is unnatural.

Little in-depth grammar explanation

As mentioned previously, there is very little grammar explanation in Duolingo. The exercises are pretty basic, and you are only given some tips before starting them.

Overly dependant on English translation

It keeps you working on your French, but with English at the back of your mind (or in front of you). This means that you will actually be learning French in English. This can be great to understand and focus on some specific points of the language that you have trouble understanding, but it is not a viable long-term solution.

French is a completely different and separate language. If you are into language learning, you might already know that it is not only important to speak and write, but also to think in that specific language.

Too many ads

Yes, Duolingo is a free app, which is great! But as a user, you might find the number of ads…overwhelming. Or maybe am I just being too picky? After all, they do offer Duolingo Plus, which is a paid version of the app, that allows you to enjoy it without all of the ads.

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Jennifer
Jennifer
21 days ago

I agree with you regarding the limited grammar explanation in Duolingo. Having earned a Spanish degree in college, which required me to study Spanish on Spain for on year, I have a good understanding of what it takes to become fluent. Hearing native speakers and their intonations and many opportunities to speak accelerated my learning. Now, I am learning Korean online. A whole different method and experience I must say. I did try Duolingo as a way to practice and just hear Korean being spoken, and found that was really all I could do with it. Even seeing new vocabulary regularly and having it repeated many times it was not really sticking. I heard about LingoDeer and am really impressed with both the “just enough” grammar lesson before the section and with the review section. I always start my learning session with the review; the deer head listening section (which I didn’t realize was there for a very long time), the five minute quiz, vocabulary 40 random, and the grammar 40 random. I love that they can be customized as well. Thoroughly impressed. The only supplement I do is I use Memrise for the helpful memes that users can create to help with vocabulary memorization. It’s definitely worth spending some to get a whole lot more.

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