Do I Duolingo?

One of my students, Christabel, 59, from Kent, emailed me with a question I am frequently asked about the use of language learning apps.... 

She wrote “the last 582 mornings of my life have started in exactly the same way. The alarm goes off, I reach for my phone and there is Duo, the cartoon owl face of language app Duolingo, urging me to do a lesson. Or two. Within seconds, I’ve begun the first of the day’s attempts to scale the leader board through a series of challenges in which you compete with other users.

My compulsion started innocently enough. A friend had discovered Duolingo when learning French and raved about it. It was also free. This was the perfect way to practice Spanish... I thought. I have loved the daily challenge of the app, but I'm now 18 months in and I find myself lacking in confidence to actually use the language or indeed understand what I am hearing.”

These are comments I hear at least once or twice a week, so I thought this is a good opportunity to share my opinion on language learning apps in general – because great as I believe they are, they do have some drawbacks.


Buckets full of vocabulary and grammar are, without doubt, useful to acquire but nothing beats real-life conversation practice which most, if not all, apps lack. Additionally, over-reliance on apps may neglect essential aspects like pronunciation and nuanced language use.


Apps generally jump around between tenses and not offer much in the way of an explanation why or how the user would do this with their own sentences. In addition, the way sentences are constructed in Spanish is usually different to how we do things in English and again, a brief explanation of the why or how would make progress more achievable when using an app.


Apps such as Duolingo offer convenience, flexibility and accessibility for vocabulary building, progress tracking and building the discipline of a study mentality. They can be used at anytime, anywhere, allowing the users to learn at their own pace.


I recommend that these apps are used as a companion to conventional learning methods – i.e. regular structured classes or conversation sessions with a native Spanish speaker, as combining apps with other learning methods typically yields the best results.

There are no shortcuts and that’s the bottom line! You can optimise the learning process by immersing yourself by watching Spanish movies, listening to music, practice regularly and engage in conversations – but overall, consistency and varied practice are the key.