Hello, friends and fellow language lovers! I’m Micah Bellieu, the founder of TruFluency Kids. We’re a company that offers online Spanish lessons for kids age 4 and up, for all fluency levels.
But we’re also huge cheerleaders for parents who want their kids to learn other languages as well. So I frequently post videos that answer common questions we get about raising bilingual kids, even if you only speak 1 language!
And some of the most common questions are about language-learning apps. Today, I’m going to focus on one of the best-known apps, Duolingo, and what exactly to expect in terms of learning a new language or improving one.
What is Duolingo?
First, though, I want to give a quick overview of what Duolingo is and how it works for anyone who might not be familiar with it. Founded in 2011, Duolingo is a language-learning platform that’s been downloaded more than half a billion times.
In fact, Duolingo has been so popular in its universality and accessibility to all that it has now added music and math lessons. Even if you don’t use the app, you’ve probably seen its mascot, Duo the owl — who has 8 million followers on TikTok.
Duolingo prides itself on feeling “more like a game than a textbook.”
Duolingo lessons incorporate reading, writing, listening and speaking practice to prepare users for situations where they will need to use the language they’re learning.
Machine learning algorithms match the difficulty of the lesson to the skills of the learner. Test questions measure progress.
Anyone, regardless of age, can study a new language with Duolingo. But users younger than 13 are restricted from social features. In 2021, Duolingo also started offering an app specifically for kids called — you guessed it — Duolingo Kids, for ages 6 – 12.
Can Duolingo Improve My Child’s Fluency?
Now let’s go back to the question we started with: Can Duolingo help your kids become fluent in a new language? Based on our experiences here at TruFluency Kids, I would say that it can help, or supplement your live classes, but it isn’t a “one stop shopping” when it comes to language fluency. Let me explain more.
While Duolingo emphasizes a functional approach to language learning and students can practice speaking full sentences, its biggest shortcoming is that it does not offer conversation practice with a real, live person.
Imagine being able to do something you’ve never done before. Pretty hard. Would be like watching cooking shows and then being tossed in a kitchen with no recipes and expected to be able to cook like a master. You need to actually speak with someone to be able to speak with someone. Logic.
So, if you’re prioritizing the steps you can take to help your kids get fluent, get that conversational practice in place AND the free app practice in between classes.
For example, sign them up for language classes, enroll them in a dual language program and/or spend time with friends who are native speakers of their target language and who don’t speak your child’s native language – huge key factor.
Then use Duolingo as a supplement that can accelerate their learning or keep getting exposure in between the real life practice. Like we always say here, your kids will learn a language faster the more they’re exposed to it. And Duolingo is a fun way to get that exposure, motivation, and keeping up your practice in between classes.
What Do Others Say About Duolingo?
Now you know where we stand on Duolingo. But you might be wondering what others say about its effectiveness. Not surprisingly, Duolingo cites a lot of positive findings on its website. For example ….
- 9 out of 10 learners feel more confident speaking after 1 month of Duolingo!
- 9 out of 10 teachers say that Duolingo is an effective way to learn a language
- After just 4 weeks of Duolingo, 8 out of 10 new learners are more motivated to learn a language.
You can find more research and watch video testimonials at duolingo.com/efficacy, which I will link to in the description of this video. I’ll also link to Duolingo’s five-star review by PCMag. Additionally, Apple named Duolingo a finalist for 2023’s iPhone app of the year.
But where are the reviews from master language learners and language teachers? That is what would interest me most. So let’s go there.
But there are also some other opinions out there. Describing his experiences using Duolingo to learn Mandarin, tech writer Andrew Moseman said:
I learned basic sentence structure, simple words and phrases. Eventually, I knew I needed something more—real people to talk to, or at least a better app.
He also quotes Margaux Clermontel, the chief marketing officer at a French language-learning space in Los Angeles, who describes her experiences trying to have a conversation based on what she learned through Duolingo:
I’ve been doing Spanish Duolingo for a while. I used to speak pretty good Spanish, [but] suddenly I ended up with some Argentinian people, and I was so bad. It was terrible. I was trying so hard, but it didn’t, you know, come naturally.
So this person had previous experience with Spanish and used to speak it well, but Duolingo didn’t help her prepare for real conversations. Albeit, if you don’t practice speaking to Argentinians, it will be a challenge no matter what. The sounds will be different if you learned with someone from Mexico. So that might be hard for a lot of people if they don’t have an advanced level.
Another tech writer, Eric Ravenscraft, delved into the pros and cons of Duolingo for The New York Times. On the plus side, apps are good at teaching you basic phrases you can use while traveling. They can also be helpful if you’re studying a language that has a different writing system, like Japanese.
But a shortcoming of apps like Duolingo is that, on their own, they can’t really teach you how to go beyond simple conversations in your target language. Ravenscraft also adds that apps tend to fall short in teaching the “unwritten” rules of different languages, like formality and body language.
In other words – pretty much what we said earlier.
Bottom Line: Do We Recommend Duolingo for Helping Your Kids Get Fluent?
So, bottom line: Do we recommend Duolingo for helping your kids get fluent in a new language? It depends on your goals really.
Do you want your kid speaking at an intermediate level or more? Easily able to converse with people? That won’t happen.
Guaranteed. But it CAN help with motivation, making it fun, keeping you going in between classes with spaced repetition, which really helps memory.
So Duolingo can be part of an effective language-learning plan. But the key word here is “part.” Apps like Duolingo can’t create fluency on their own. But they can accelerate your kids’ learning in language classes or other programs.
If you want your kids to learn Spanish, we’d be happy to recommend using Duolingo in tandem with TruFluency Kids classes. We focus on giving your kids that all-important conversational practice — no matter how much experience they have with Spanish.
Our classes are online, available on your schedule and taught by native Spanish speakers. And, most importantly, they’re fun. You can learn more about us at trufluencykids.com.
If you’re specifically interested in comparing Duolingo and our classes, just search for “Duolingo” on our home page. I’ll also put a direct link in the description of this video, along with links to all other articles I mentioned today.