Can Duolingo Make You Fluent?

December 10, 2021 by Leave your thoughts
I was looking at common questions about the app with the famous owl that some love to hate, some hate to love and other just love. One of the most common questions is: Can Duolingo make you fluent?

In July I took Speakly for a test drive over a month. I used it intensively to see where I would land with Estonian, during an intensive month of language learning.

At the end of the month of language learning with Speakly I did a TV interview in Estonian. My verdict was that it did what it said on the tin. I used it exclusively and just had a language teacher for practice to use the language actively.

But… Can Duolingo make you fluent?

Naturally I have not lived in a cave since Duolingo came online. I have used it. Here my basic thoughts before I start my in-depth look at the app.

In the past I have played with it in a number of languages. I have made no secret that I like to make the owl cry. Sorry no sorry, Duo! I have deliberately stopped streaks because I hate gamification for gamification’s sake. The emotional manipulation of the app with constant emails of the owl in tears frustrates me. It made me not want to use it at all. Speakly by contrast uses really positive language and images to help you.

Languages on Duolingo

Duolingo has a lot of languages on offer and you can use the app for free (as long as you don’t mind the ads). The big thing I LOVE about Duolingo. Yes I wrote “love” and it wasn’t a typo! I really love that it includes lesser commonly studied languages. It’s received many positive stories in communities, like the Gaelic community in Scotland for adding Gaelic to it’s list of languages. The numbers of people studying some Gaelic as a result are pretty impressive.

So it’s not ALL bad…

Well the truth is that I have no taken a language from scratch to try to learn it via Duolingo in any serious way yet.

I have only played with languages I already speak or have studied before anyway. So I don’t want to comment too far on that at this point.

I can give you some anecdotes on the main question of this post. Given my life is languages, I come across people socially and professionally all the time, who have used many different systems. I’ve met people who have studied languages on Duolingo, who cannot string much of anything together after completing the course.

BUT I have also met a few people who have studied languages on Duolingo, who have made a real go of the language and went on to sign up for courses, skipping the beginner levels and diving straight into more intermediate/advanced materials. In particular for Welsh and I was surprised/impressed at what they could do.

Let’s see if Duolingo can make you fluent

For the purposes of “fluent” I am going to use my Estonian example as a yardstick. Basically I want to be able to use the language in a pretty natural way in normal daily conversation about regular things. I don’t expect it to be mistake-free or super technical. A vocabulary of around 1200-1500 is around an A2 level, so let’s take that as a nice conversational ability as a measurement here.

From today (Friday 10th December) I will study with Duolingo for a month. I will also do lessons on italki with Glory, a teacher who has given Swahili taster lessons at the Polyglot Conference.

A Month? Why?

I have a month’s break in my regular classes, so there is some time for me to do it right now. A month because a month of intensive study can be enough to get into basic communication, if the study is intensive enough. And if the materials work well.

Why Swahili?

I chose Swahili because I am constantly asked why I don’t study African languages. The truth is that I want to but just haven’t had the need or occasion to do so yet. Now I am making the time to do it. I also hope one day to go to places where the language is spoken. Have you seen the photos online from Zanzibar? Wow!

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Balancing things out…

Glory will teach me as she would normally. I am spending a month on the language and just using Duolingo is not sensible. But I will account for what I learn and from where. I would rather give a practical insight into how I could use the app to study the language and get the best of all worlds.

I will be posting weekly updates on my YouTube channel from my classes, so you can join me on the journey and follow my progress. Join me on the journey and let’s see what I can do with Swahili in a month! Let’s see if we can answer that popular question together: Can Duolingo Make You Fluent?

What do you think?

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This post was written by Richard

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