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    What is Duolingo? Everything You Need to Know

    By Kayla Korzekwinski

    Kayla Korzekwinski is a Scholarships360 content writer. She earned her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied Advertising/PR, Rhetorical Communication, and Anthropology. Kayla has worked on communications for non-profits and student organizations. She loves to write and come up with new ways to express ideas.

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    and Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: March 14th, 2024
    What is Duolingo? Everything You Need to Know

    Duolingo is a language learning website and app. In fact, it’s the top language learning app in the world. The platform is notable for its bite-sized lessons and its visually appealing style. It makes learning a language into a simple game that requires daily practice. 

    The company’s mission is to make language learning free and accessible, and the website is free to use. There is a premium option called Duolingo Plus that comes with upgrades and ad-free learning at a monthly cost. More on that below. 

    The Duolingo app makes learning a language easy while on-the-go. The app and website provide over 100 courses to over 500 million users around the world. English speakers can choose from 39 languages, and the company is always updating, with more on the way.

    How are Duolingo lessons designed?

    Duolingo lessons are designed using AI and principles of language science. The website makes learning a language into a game that users complete in their free time. Each language is illustrated as a “tree with nodes,” and each node has several lessons. To complete the lessons and advance to the next nodes, users answer game-like vocabulary questions. The questions are designed as activities such as translation, assembling a sentence with given words, speaking, listening, and photo matching. 

    Duolingo lessons are designed to be quick and get users in the habit of practicing their language daily. Because of this, they do not have grammar lessons. Rather, they use implicit learning. This is when language learners discover grammatical patterns on their own. This learning style helps build foundational language-learning skills. Don’t worry – they also offer separate explanations and tips on grammatical structures.

    Duolingo utilizes gamification to help students become engaged. Some of the following are used on the Duolingo platform to keep it fun and engaging for users: 


    You can collect XP which you obtain whenever you complete a new lesson, read a Story or complete some practice. There will also be special opportunities presented that offer extra XP such as a more challenging lesson or timed challenges. 


    You can use your total XP to compare your progress with friends and to compete against learners from all around the world! Each week, Duolingo users can play against others within their leagues and can move up leagues based on their performance.


    A streak is the number of days in a row you have completed a lesson and this can be seen next to a flame at the top of your screen. 


    Hearts in Duolingo are like lives in video games! Each mistake you make will cost you one heart and one heart is restored every 5 hours. 


    As you complete lessons, you’ll earn gems which allow you to buy items from the Shop such as a Streak Freeze or more hearts! 


    There are daily quests users can complete to grant them higher XP or to use them as goals for learning. An example of a daily quest would be to get 5 in a row correct in 2 lessons or score 90% or higher in 4 lessons. These motivate users to continue to learn and learn accurately! 


    You can customize an avatar that your friends will be able to see. There are different hairstyles, outfit colors and accessories to choose from to make your avatar you! 

    How effective is Duolingo?

    The website shares research on Duolingo’s efficacy. There were two studies on a variety of Duolingo users measuring their listening and reading skills in Spanish and French. All people used only Duolingo to learn the language and had little or no prior knowledge on the subject. The results showed that those who completed up to Unit 5–the beginner section of the course– did as well on reading and listening tests as students who had completed 4 semesters of university-level instruction in the language. Another study examined users who completed up to Unit 7, which is halfway through intermediate material. They did as well on listening and reading tests as students who had 5 semesters of university-level classes.

    However, there is some criticism of Duolingo. Used on its own, the app will likely not make you fluent in your target language. It also doesn’t teach the cultural and conversational nuances associated with a language. Rather, the app focuses more on vocabulary and sentence structures. 

    Many recommend using Duolingo along with other language-learning education such as taking classes, reading, speaking, or watching TV in your target language. Duolingo is useful to get daily practice on your language skills.

    How can I learn most effectively on Duolingo? 

    Study every day! 

    A little bit of studying every day goes a long way! So, when you receive a notification from your Duolingo owl telling you it’s time for a lesson, you should listen! This will make learning a new language more manageable, it will be easier to fit into your busy schedule and it will ultimately lead to more effective learning. 

    Set short-term goals 

    Try to think of some personal milestones to help motivate you and allow you to measure your progress. For example, perhaps you want to hold a conversation with your Japanese grandmother on the phone for 2 minutes or perhaps you want to sing along to a popular Spanish song and understand the lyrics. Whatever your goal is, try to set meaningful goals that will help you stay on track.

    Use your lessons as a starting point 

    Duolingo is a great way to jump into a new language. To go above and beyond, try finding ways to make the courses work best for you. For example, repeat sentences out loud or try physically writing the vocabulary words you are learning to help you truly understand this new language. 

    Are certificates available?

    Duolingo does not offer official professional certificates. Proficiency in your language must be shown by your use of it!

    However, there is a Duolingo English Test, which certifies a student’s proficiency in English language. More on that below.

    Related: Top alternatives to four-year universities

    What kinds of classes are available?

    For English speakers, the website offers courses on 39 languages. The most popular languages are Spanish, French, and Japanese.

    The platform also has other services such as Duolingo for Schools, Duolingo English Test, and Duolingo ABC. Duolingo for Schools is a free tool that can be adapted to teachers’ curriculum for teaching languages in school. Duolingo English Test is an hour-long exam that shows a student’s proficiency in English. Over 5,000 institutions recognize the results of this exam. The test is $59, but students can practice for free. Duolingo ABC is designed for children. Subjects include the alphabet, handwriting, and vocabulary in simple and engaging lessons. Duolingo ABC is free to use. 

    How much does Duolingo cost?

    Duolingo aims to create a learning platform that is free and accessible. The site is completely free to use, with ads and some limitations. 

    If you want an ad-free experience with some additional perks, there is Duolingo Plus. For $7 per month, Duolingo Plus removes ads and allows you access to more learning content, unlimited hearts, personalized practice and unlimited legendary. 

    Alternatives to Duolingo

    Rosetta Stone

    The main difference between Duolingo and Rosetta Stone is that Rosetta Stone is not free. 12 months of Rosetta Stone costs $10.50 per month. Rosetta Stone also offers 25 languages which is fewer than Duolingo. Rosetta Stone boasts over 25 years of success, so they are doing something right for sure.

    Like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone uses implicit learning and relies heavily on context. Unlike Duolingo, Rosetta Stone’s software has an array of tools for learners to use such as live practice with native speakers, a phrasebook, and stories to read in your language.


    Like Duolingo, Babbel uses short, engaging lessons. Activities on Babbel include live online classes, original podcasts, games, and videos. Babbel focuses on conversational skills and encourages speaking right away. Unlike Duolingo, Babbel has a monthly cost to use. A 12-month subscription to Babbel costs $8.95 per month. 


    Like Duolingo, Lingvist uses daily lessons to retain language skills. However, Lingvist’s lessons are at least 30 minutes a day, while Duolingo’s are 5-10. Lingivist claims to teach users a language faster with longer lessons. Lingvist has features that help you learn vocabulary with personalizable flashcard decks and other resources. Lingvist costs $9.99 per month to use.

    Don’t miss: Top scholarships for foreign language students

    Duolingo summary

    In summary, Duolingo is a game-like language learning website and app. It is free to use and can help learners gain proficiency in a language. The bite-sized, daily lessons help you stay on track and keep your skills sharp. When used at the same time as other learning resources, the platform can help you become fluent in a language. Give it a try when you want to learn a new language!

    Frequently asked questions about Duolingo

    Can I put Duolingo courses on my resume?

    No, unless it is a Duolingo English Test certification. Duolingo does not offer certificates in languages.

    Is Duolingo free?

    Yes! It is completely free to use! However, Duolingo offers a paid subscription that would provide additional features such as an ad-free experience and unlimited hearts.

    Is Duolingo suitable for beginners?

    Yes! Duolingo is very beginner friendly. The platform begins with basic vocabulary and gradually progresses to more advanced concepts as users advance through the lessons.

    Can I learn multiple languages on Duolingo

    Yes! Duolingo allows users to learn multiple languages at the same time. You can switch between the languages by clicking on that language’s tab in the upper left hand corner in order to progress in each language at your own pace.

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