Duolingo Spanish Review – Who Should Try It?

Kirsten has been fascinated by foreign languages since childhood and has made it her mission to inspire others with her passion for Spanish. She has a master’s degree in Hispanic Studies from Boston College and has tutored and taught students of all ages.
Kirsten Agla

I’m back to reviewing! My name is Kirsten and I am a Spanish teacher in the United States that has taught Spanish to all ages and language levels. Recently I purchased and reviewed Rosetta Stone’s Latin American Spanish program as part of my mission to evaluate Spanish resources for independent learners. This time, I am going to give Duolingo Spanish Review and evaluating it’s language teaching approach, app format, and more so that aspiring Spanish speakers can choose the right programs and resources for them. Let’s get started!

Duolingo Spanish, Free vs Duolingo Plus

Duolingo has a free version for everyone and is available for the computer and smartphones. Most of Duolingo’s material is available, but this version is definitely more limited than the subscription version. 

Duolingo acts like a videogame in that if you make a mistake, you lose a “heart” and if you run out of hearts you “lose” and have to wait for the hearts to recharge. This will be a tedious process unless you purchase Duolingo Plus. 

One of the main draws to Duolingo Plus, aka the paid version, is that it has no ads. The free version has an ad after every lesson and these ads can become quite annoying. In addition, Duolingo Plus allows you to download lessons to do offline, offers progress quizzes, unlimited skill test-outs so that you can skip lessons that teach material that you have already mastered, and unlimited hearts (so no fear of making mistakes).

 

Who Should Try Duolingo Plus?

If you have some Spanish experience, you will have to test out of lessons which cost “gems” (points that you earn by using the app) so you can’t go immediately to the lessons that are appropriate for your level. If this describes you, I recommend doing the free trial and testing out of the basics, then ending the subscription.

 

Price About Duolingo Plus

There is a 2-week free trial, and the website claims that a subscription starts at 6.99/month. However, after doing some research, Duolingo Plus actually costs $12.99 per month, with a discount if you pay for a year ($79.99) or half a year ($47.99) upfront. They do not offer this information readily on their website.

Duolingo’s free version has a lot of ads and limits your experience, whereas Duolingo Plus has no ads and additional features. The company is not direct when it comes to price.

Does Gamification Really Work?

Duolingo has 5 tabs at the bottom of the screen; Lessons, Stories, Profile, Leaderboard, and Shop. Overall, Duolingo presents language learning as a fun, competitive game. You earn XP (experience points) and “money” which they call “lingots” and “gems” for each lesson that you pass, as well as crowns and achievements. The reward system is a bit confusing because of all of the categories, but the general effect is that you are rewarded for doing the lessons. 

Also, as mentioned previously you have 5 “hearts” to start and you lose a heart for each question you get wrong. This is to motivate you to get questions right in order to be able to continue because if you run out of hearts you have to wait for hours before you can play again. You can buy more hearts with gems or buy Duolingo Plus if you don’t want to wait.

Your profile has all of the achievements you have unlocked, your daily streak (number of days in a row that you use the app), total XP, total crowns, and your league (bronze, silver, gold, etc.). Again, it’s unclear what these measurements do besides give you a sense of completion and achievement, but it looks like the goal is to advance your league status and compete with other players that are also learning the same language as you. 

Duolingo Spanish Review Achievements and Profile tab
Achievements and profile tabs

If the competition motivates you, then this app has the right format for you. If you don’t like to compare yourself to others and want a more independent language learning journey, I recommend ignoring the profile and leaderboard tabs or using a different app altogether to avoid the competitive nature of the app. 

Duolingo runs like a game where you earn points and lose lives, and you are ranked alongside fellow players around the world. It’s good if you like ranked games and competition, and bad if you want to take your time and avoid comparison to others.

How Does Duolingo Teach Spanish?

When you are just getting started, Duolingo Spanish categories include Travel, Family, Restaurant, Phrases, and more. 

Lessons are divided into groups called “checkpoints” and you have to complete the available lessons in order to unlock the ones at the next checkpoint. You can complete them in whatever order you like, for example, you can start with the “shopping” level then move on to “family.”

How Does Duolingo Teach Spanish?
lessons and checkpoints tabs

There is a great variety of activities that range from matching games and fill in the blank to typing what you hear. Some of the activities have fun animated characters too!

Duolingo Spanish activities
activities tabs

There is also speaking practice where you repeat a sentence or respond to a question. If you are unable to talk or use the microphone, you can skip them.

 

Duolingo Spanish Review speaking
Speaking activity

Are Duolingo “Lessons” Effective to Learn A Language?

While these games are fun, I hesitate to call them lessons. They are more like an interactive quiz on the material that you haven’t learned yet, and the quiz teaches you as you go. I’m not a huge fan of this method, especially since you only have 5 hearts and therefore only 5 mistakes allowed. 

The real lessons are presented as “tips” that you can view before starting the activities, and calling them “tips” makes them seem optional. To be frank, it’s misleading. On the other hand, these “tips” are short, well-written grammar lessons that are very valuable for learners. 

Duolingo Spanish Review grammar
grammar tips

Duolingo offers a fun variety of activities that it calls lessons, but the real lessons are called “tips” and seem optional. If you have any previous Spanish experience, it will be a helpful quiz to keep you on track and using Spanish every day.

Duolingo Spanish Stories

Now, this feature is awesome! The Stories tab offers cute short stories in Spanish and reads the story to you piece by piece. It allows you to move at your own pace because you hit “continue” after each sentence and can tap a sentence to hear it again. It also asks you comprehension questions as you go. As a Spanish teacher, I think it’s a fantastic tool and a great way to practice listening and reading skills.

Duolingo Spanish Review Stories
Stories

Advantages to Duolingo Spanish

The first advantage of Duolingo is that it’s free! And you can try out Duolingo Pro for 2 weeks and see if you like it. Activities are fun and the interface is light with colorful animations.

Next, due to the game-like nature of the app, users are encouraged and reminded to play every day. The addictive nature of smartphone games and social media is often viewed as a negative, however since in this case it’s in the name of knowledge I think it can be considered a positive. The leaderboard and points system lends both a sense of competition and camaraderie as your name is posted alongside fellow learners. You can also follow your friends and keep each other on track!

Last, an ingenious feature during the lessons is the ability to leave public comments on activities. You can ask questions about that particular activity and look at past conversations from the Duolingo community.

Duolingo Spanish Review comments
Comments

Problems with Duolingo Spanish

The first major downside to the Duolingo Spanish program is that there is no distinction between the Spanish from Latin American and from Spain. Lingodeer and Rosetta Stone allow you to choose between the two accents and vocabularies, whereas Duolingo only teaches European Spanish. The audio quality for the voices varies – the audio for the Stories tab is great, but for the activities, some of the voices are a bit fuzzy. 

Second, as mentioned previously the “lessons” aren’t actually lessons. They are activities on material that the app has not taught and you are expected to learn as you go, which is hard because the app only allows you to make 5 mistakes total. This can be discouraging to new learners as they may feel that they should already know the information. There is also an advertisement after the completion of each lesson and the exit button is hard to see.

For some activities, you are prompted to type in Spanish. This can be a problem if you do not have a Spanish keyboard and can’t type accent marks. And if you do have a Spanish keyboard downloaded to your phone, it makes auto-suggestions that can give away the answers.

Lastly, a major negative to Duolingo is the inability to test out of levels without paying gems or getting Duolingo Plus. 

Should You Learn Spanish with Duolingo?

Duolingo is definitely worth trying, in part because it’s free. It’s better to use Duolingo if you have some prior knowledge of Spanish because it doesn’t always explicitly teach Spanish vocabulary and grammar. If you’re taking a class, it could act as a supplementary resource and a way to keep you on track and using Spanish every day, or you can use it to maintain your Spanish skills in between classes. The Stories tab is a great tool for this.

If you are truly a beginner and want to start learning Spanish, I recommend Rosetta Stone, Lingodeer, or another program that takes more time to teach you versus test you. Whatever app you choose, you are taking a step in the right direction by choosing to learn Spanish!

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