Duolingo: Learn languages playfully with this Android app

Martin Brinkmann
Jun 4, 2013
Google Android

I'm interested in languages and want to learn quite a few in the coming years including Spanish and Russian among others. I do not really have the time to visit language courses regularly at the moment which leaves me with self-study. While that is great as I can spend time learning languages whenever I do have some time left, it also means that I'm on my own and have no one to correct me or help me understand a concept that I can't get my head around.

Duolingo is a language learning application for Android devices that you can use to learn Spanish, French, Italian, English, German or Portuguese at the moment.

What's interesting about the app is that it uses techniques usually found in computer games to keep learners motivated.  Probably the biggest element in this regard is that most lessons are locked by default. You start with the most basic lesson which you have to complete before other lessons become available to you.

Advanced users get options to skip ahead by completing advanced lessons so that they do not have to start at the very beginning.

What makes this unlock system interesting is that unlocks become only available if you manage to complete lessons. You get hearts in every lesson which are like lives in video games. You lose a heart if you answer incorrectly and need to start over if you are out of hearts.

duolingo language learning

That's actually a great system as it makes sure that you understood a lesson before you can continue.

The application uses different techniques to teach and to verify that you have understood the lesson:

  • Translate a text to the language you are learning.
  • Translate text written in the language you are learning to your language.
  • Mark all correct translations.
  • Enter the Spanish translation of an image that you see on the screen.
  • Select a missing word.
  • Listen and type in the language you are learning.

You can revisit lessons that you have already completed at any time, or select the practice option instead which lets you practice what you have learned so far.

The app uses text, voice and images in lessons so that you not only know how something is written in the language, but also hear how it is pronounced.

learn languages app

All new words are introduced in two different ways. They are highlighted in the lesson so that you know that this is a word that is now. You can tap on the word to display a translation for it, and also hit the speaker icon to hear how it is pronounced.

learn spanish

Each lesson should not take longer than five to ten minutes to complete which means that you can fire the app up whenever you feel like it and have a couple of minutes of spare time at hands.

You either need to be an English native or understand English to use it, as it is the base language that you use in addition to the other language.  The only exception to this is if you want to learn English as you can select one of the other languages as your base language (not German at the time it appears but all others).

Note that the app seems to concentrate on vocabulary and not on grammar. That's great if you hate grammar and not really necessary in the beginning as you get to learn many concepts just by following the lessons. Eventually though you may need to dive into grammar to understand key concepts of the language you are learning.


Duolingo is one of the best language learning apps that you find in Android store, provided that you speak English or want to learn English. The unlock system will keep you motivated if you like these kind of things in games, and since you only have a set amount of hearts in each lesson, it usually means that you will have to repeat lessons to get passed and unlock the next in line.


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  1. Shai said on June 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    The following is by no mean a criticism on Martin for posting this, but the post is lacking some information.
    It should be noted that Duolingo is not just a language learning tool, it is an crowdsourcing, for-profit imitative – from the creator of ReCaptcha – that sells the translations produced during the lessons. It may seem harmless, but it is not. It sells translations from unqualified people, while hurting real translators as well as the “clients” who buy these translations.

    I think that any crowdsourcing initiative that aims to abuse a profession (as oppose of a crowdsourcing initiative by a company for reasons of strengthening the relationship with their user base for example), as well as people in general should not be supported. This is also why I don’t support ReCaptcha (digitizing texts that are later being sold back to you).

  2. blue_bsod said on June 4, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    +1 Thanks Martin.

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