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It's quite hard to lose a Duolingo streak (leejo.github.io)
255 points by leejo 86 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 225 comments

Losing a Sojourner medal streak in Ingress (due to being busy due to my own wedding!) made me quit playing the game regularly. Streaks can be effective in keeping the user returning, but once it's broken it can be a perfect moment for the user to churn. Hence, I can understand how the Duolingo devs made the streak less fragile than it would initially appear, but doing so (and having the cover blown) also makes returning to the app not as urgent...thus less effective in preventing churn. Huh.

I had this problem with the Books app on my iPad. I had a nearly 300 day streak going of reading at least 5 minutes every day (and I have not been an avid reader throughout most of my life.) The books app would keep track of the streak at the bottom of the screen in your library view.

Then one night I started reading at 11:57 PM, and by the time I was reading for 5 minutes, it was 12:02AM and I technically missed a day. I didn’t even realize how important the streak must have been to me, because I stopped reading after that and haven’t picked up the iPad to read a book in almost 2 years since then.

Edit: to one of the flagged replies that assumed I wasn’t reading much anyway (which I can’t reply to)… to be clear I didn’t just read five minutes a night, that was the minimum amount to keep the streak going. I read (iirc) 8 books in that time frame, including the lord of the rings trilogy in there. I wasn’t reading for hours a day, but probably averaging more like 20 minutes. Not a ton, but it’s not like I was barely reading.

Wow, that's impressive.

Non-avid reader before to almost a year of avid reading, then all lost because of a hook metric. This stuff is a real deal.

It can be demotivating. I use other language learning apps (not Duolingo, which is garbage), and I try to maintain a streak not because I care about it, but because I want the daily habit. Nevertheless, the number goes up… and help but get attached to it. I mean I don’t care about the number per se, but it was a reminder of my good study habit, which as someone with ADHD is an accomplishment itself.

Then, like GP, I just had a particularly busy day and didn’t get to my reviews until after midnight. BAM- a triple digit streak gone. After that, every time I logged in I got a reminder of my FAILURE (real or imagined) to keep up with my studies. I didn’t like being reminded of that, so I didn’t login. I ended up taking a year-long sabbatical from language learning instead.

Developers, don’t put streak counters in these sorts of apps.

Out of interest, what other language learning apps are you using? I'm going to Portugal nest year and learning Portuguese through Duolingo at the moment. It's ok and some stuff is sticking, but I can't help but feel some of the why is missing and I'm just learning how to interpret their questions, rather than learning the language (I guess that's your problem with it?)

The ones I’m using now are specific to Japanese (WaniKani and Bunpro), but if you want to level up from Duolingo I would recommend Memrise for a similar bit more effective experience. They have a Portuguese course.

If I were in your shoes, I would do Memrise to fill the little moments throughout the day. But the focus of my studies would be (1) a local community college Portuguese course; (2) the FSI Basic Portuguese course (or another drill heavy course from the 60’s, maybe linguaphone?) for self-study drill practice, 30min a day; and (3) a good sentence deck in Anki, minimum 10 new cards per day.

Idk, I started out using both Memrise and Duolingo in August 2018 for French, used both for a couple of years but now use Duolingo only for French and Italian the last couple of years. I think both are good but prefer Duolingo. But to get conversational I believe you would have to go to more personal methods…

There’s no app that can build up conversational fluency. You can’t master a thing without actually doing the thing.

SRS apps can be good for building up a vocabulary base. Self-study drill based programs like the old FSI series can be great for internalizing grammar rules so that you don’t have to consciously think about it.

That does give you a great foundation for developing linguistic fluency though, should you relocate to the country or start immersing yourself in native media.

For German I'm using Speakly. What I like about it is that it goes in order of the most used words, and all phrases are actually realistic and something you would use.

There's a streak, but it's so easy to ignore, specially since the app focus on 'learned words', something that duolingo had many years ago. The study is also organized in just chunks of 100. So instead, I focus on how many words I want to learn on the next week/month, or when I'm getting to the next group.

> Developers, don’t put streak counters in these sorts of apps.

This definitely deserves a deep discussion. Get to the bottom: is it good, bad, is there a better way to implement?

I can speculate that, for many people, just getting a triple-digit streak is a big win.

Even if they drop for a year, or even forever, after losing it.

They wouldn't have accomplished the feat without the streak metric.

I don't have any data. As I said, it's speculative, but perhaps reasonably possible to be the case?

Idk. Data point of me: I’ve kept up with other review apps that don’t have the streak counter longer. But obviously there’s a lot of confounding factors.

Readwise allows you to “recover” your streak if you miss a day for whatever reason. I’m sure it is for the exact reason you cite here.

I had the same thing happen in melodics (a finger drumming educational app), went over midnight, lost the streak and just mentally gave up on it. Duolingo (that I have the pro version of) does the same thing, but it 'froze' it for me after the fact, so I kept going. Weird how the motivation can switch to demotivation literally overnight.

And Duolingo appears to base it on your home time zone. My wife has used up a few streak freezes when we were many hours from our home time zone.

As a sporadically avid reader I wish I could impart my experience directly, but I'll try to describe briefly the wonderful moment of the 'flip', when, after working at a book for some time I become absolutely hooked. Then it's actually harder to stop reading, I want to know what happens next, I care about the characters, and am looking forward to the next chance I get to return to the story. At this point I actually want to read slower and make it last.

The trick is 1) finding the story that you want to read.

and 2) putting in the time to reach that state of flow/pull.

It's extremely pleasurable and I wish it on everyone.

I think the timetracker sort of motivation is like the runway before the flight. The bootstrapping. Or the kindling of a fire that will grow to sustain itself.

I wonder what a fix would be? Maybe reset every 30 days and have a separate counter for the number of completed months that doesn’t reset if you fail.

If you start on a day, time it until you stop and count it for both days. What's the downside of someone starting at 11:59 and reading 6 minutes to game it?

Also, days are like 48 hours long from the first timezone to the last timezone.

Good point! If you flew from SF to AU, you’d lose a “day” in much less than 24 hours.

Anki (a flashcard software) allows you to set when the "next day" is. I put it around 4 am, it works well for me.

Maybe some added leeway time, more leeway the longer the streak is. Like a 300 day streak should give you maybe a week’s worth of “time off,” so to speak. I’m kind of imagining a sort of SLA type of counter.

I mostly attribute it to the fact that I started out the streak reading LOTR, which was really good and kept me going long enough for the streak to start to look substantial (a couple months IIRC.) Then I didn’t want to lose it so I kept picking up other books.

The website chesstempo.com has a daily streak that resets with no forgiveness, but it also has a weekly streak so as long as you use it once a week you can keep that going.

Change the date on the phone, and read again.

Were you really reading that much in five minutes anyway? It doesn't sound like you changed much.

"atleast five minutes"

I've used Duolingo for about a year and they definitely have a lot of stuff like that built into the gamification. Often times, though, playing the game they designed is counterproductive. I've broken 100+ day streaks twice now because I realized I was only putting in the minimum for the sake of the game. I've found it better to take a month off here and there so that I can come back and focus on my actual goals.

There's also the cracked lesson feature. They aligned cracked lessons to urgency gamification instead of something more sound like delayed repetition. As a result, you'll often have cracked lessons which you've long since permanently committed to memory and will be spending 15 minutes on easy lessons rather than doing the important, harder lessons.

Yes, it seems that Duolingo will encourage and reward you for using the app, even though your rate of learning is not increased more by this.

It seems that the better language learning app would rather ask you to use the app less, if you make more progress when you do use the app.

The collection of recently failed flashcards that you can iterate is a great feature. It is somehow an automatic feature of spaced-repetition apps, since recently flashcards are shuffled into the stack at a higher frequency.

Does the app work? I don’t mean the gamification: I mean, are you becoming fluent (or even just literate) in the language outside of the app?

After a few weeks with the Greek course and adding important words to Anki, I was able to communicate with Greeks who know no other language - which I was surprised to find many of. The Arabic course is less useful by itself, only because Arabic itself is very dependent on dialect and Duolingo teaches a mix of Egyptian / MSA. But the Duolingo course did provide a terrific cornerstone to learn the specific dialect that I am interested in, so it had real value.

You _will_ need to supplement the vocabulary with Anki or another tool. You won't become fluent, but you will get a good basis to start talking with people comfortably. Becoming fluent depends on keeping up that talking. I would say that Duolingo gives a terrific starting point, at least for the three languages I've learned with it.

Fluent with Duolingo alone? Very unlikely in my experience.

From my point of view, you can make it to A1/A2 proficiency in a language with Duolingo alone - after that, it gets quite hard. Teaching grammar and conjugations isn't its forté, without resources outside of Duolingo it will get rather tricky.

That being said, I still use Duolingo for my daily dose of language exposure - but without Anki (for vocabulary), youtube videos (to explain various specific topics) and evening courses (which help a lot by giving a structured approach on what to learn in what order), my learning curve would probably flatten out.

I'm using Duolingo to learn Russian because my spouse is Russian and I want to communicate better with his family (especially his grandmother, who speaks less English than I do Russian).

After nearly a year, I can help set up for dinner ("Where are the plates?" "There is bread on the table already" "Do you want tea?") and similar things.

Now I'm getting into genitives and such, and that's where Duolingo really seems to not do well. It doesn't explain why a word appears a certain way in a tense, it just makes you memorize that it does. Sometimes I'll ask my husband why, and he just says "Well, because that's the way it is". Of course I'll use the same explanation when my MIL asks me something about English.

> Sometimes I'll ask my husband why, and he just says "Well, because that's the way it is". Of course I'll use the same explanation when my MIL asks me something about English.

Most native speakers are useless for why. You ideally want someone who learned both your native language and the language in question. Then they can often explain things relative to your language, and you'll learn things about your language and the language in question. Look for language notes from Hong Kong; I had found a university site with very helpful information on French many moons ago, but I can't find it again, it was written in fluent English, but with insights on English usage that were unlikely to occur to native English-only speakers.

Duolingo is best when you're the average American, with a few years of language courses in high school that you've half forgotten. As you go, it all kinda fills in. I tried learning Arabic from scratch and while it's fantastic for learning the alphabet and memorizing words, it became obvious fast that I'd need to do some reading outside the app.

I don't know if they have changed this in the few years since I let my Duolingo streak lapse, but they actually have decent explanatory text for each lesson, it's just not (or wasn't) accessible from the mobile app; you had to use the desktop website to see it.

Yes, this text has been accessible on mobile for over a year now.

Tourist fluent, maybe. Enough to go to a country and get by on the patience of the natives.

I did French all through high school and most of college, then learned firsthand that I was maybe 25% as fluent as I assumed. Then I went home and went through the entirety of the Duolingo curriculum in a few months, without learning anything new (a couple new vocab words, maybe).

So, you could view this in two ways: either it's a scam that tricks you into wasting a lot of time viewing ads or paying a subscription without delivering on its promise. Or, you could see it as a shortcut that's worth at least a couple years of classes. But, at least in my experience, it does not enable you to speak a language with fluency.

(Which makes total sense if you step back and look past the marketing promises. Of course 20 minutes a day with a cartoon bird is not going to replace actually living in a country and being immersed in the language 24/7)

no way. i learned german through immersion, then tried to learn the much simpler Spanish via Duolingo.

key problems:

1. not enough speaking practice. speaking is _at least_ 50% of the skill but about 10% of DL.

2. Waay too much time spent setting up each question w animations etc. not enoimugh learning time. much more repetition is required.

3. way too general learning. people have varying needs for language. e.g. work, travel, family, research/reading. teaching must be tailored to these.

Well, nothing is going to compete with immersion. And immersion isn't going to help you unless you have enough understanding to build atop of.

Else you're like a dog listening to steam of human sounds: "Not walk, not walk, not walk, ...WALK!! (I know that one!), not walk, not walk, ..."

In my experience, Duolingo and other entry level apps can get you there especially for the person who hasn't learned a second language thus doesn't even know where to begin.

You're right. My skill was hard-won! And it showed me how to make DL so much more practical! My first 2 suggestions are simple parameter changes to their existing software :)

> Does the app work?

Not in my experience.

Anki + language-partner sessions + evening classes did it for me.

I supplement Duolingo with Anki, otherwise I would forget the vocabulary.

Duolingo and other apps are good to learn a little bit about the language, but what you really need to do to become fluent is to have conversations with native speakers, read newspapers and immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible.

Luckily, that is a lot easier these days with the internet!

Yeah two months into my two years in Madrid my Spanish improved more than it did in two years of lessons and online learning as well as three years of school Spanish.

I can still understand a lot of Spanish and when I’m warmed up and have been back a few days my conversational level comes back.

It is a good way to get started with a new language, but you won’t make it to fluency. They don’t have enough content for that.

I found it a very effective way of learning a new script (devanagari) but I'd have really struggled to answer sentence based questions without studying at all outside the app. (I'm reading Snell's textbooks on Hindi, and have finished the Duolingo course.)

The app works great for getting you to an intermediate level, which is all it claims to do.

An app is only ever going to be an adjunct to a real course taught by a real human. As an adjunct, it works pretty well for teaching vocabulary and practicing in between classes.

For me Duolingo's gamification is better than nothing but it's really not that fun. It wasn't a motivating factor to keep learning.

Spaced repletion algorithms can be really helpful, but they can also be a hindrance. Duolingo treats the user like they don't know better than the algorithm. The language learner needs to be the one in the driver's seat with the algorithms and course material being there to support the learner.

Gamification is great, but it should only be there to help the user stay motivated meeting their goals. Like you mentioned, if you've already mastered something having it presented in your study session is actively working against meeting your goals because you're spending time studying something you don't need to.

I don't see studying everyday as an end-goal, though studying every day can be helpful for retention. You should feel rewarded but not punished when you "loose your streak".

I've seen with Wordle players recently. No one wants to break the streak but once it's broken once or twice it's almost the end of it

I have privacy settings ramped up for their website, so it doesn't track my streaks. My behavior has been to come back to it sporadically, maybe once or twice a week. Could be better long term behavior from a developer perspective.

there is a difference here though where you realize that you are meeting the street to an addiction versus your meeting this streak due to something you would like to productively learn

What I noticed from the sobriety community (specifically alcohol), it is important to make promises to yourself 'one day at a a time'. There is a presumed danger to tying too much of your ego to the duration of your sobriety. I am not sure if it is scientifically proven, but if you relapse the assumption is you would rather have a psychology built around making the right choice today and not one built on pride of a large number of consecutive days of sobriety.

Durable "streaks" are built on worthwhile days.

Focus on the days, and the streak will take care of itself.

Focus on the streak, and one day you might realize that it hasn't been worth keeping for a long, long time.

I really like this thought. Thanks for sharing.

Yeah. Because relapsing happens to almost everyone. And even if your "sober streak" resets to zero you haven't lost your motivation to stay sober, the experience of being sober (and knowing you can cope), and the tools you've learned. You're still in a better position than before, all you need to do is get back on the horse. Fixating on a streak just makes it harder to do that.

I've always wondered, if someone has a drink the week before getting, for example, their 10 year pin, do they not get the pin, or is there some kind of duolingo take-back?

Personally if I drank once or twice within a 10 year period I'd still count it as 10 years sober. There's a big difference between a one-off 'lapse' and a 'relapse'. And I suspect a large number of '10 year sober' people have had the occasional lapse and just don't want to admit it.

Put it another way, is 10 years with a few lapses worth significantly less than 10 years completely sober? Of course not. It's still a huge achievement. So why punish yourself?

Sure, but also: who cares?

If you think it's worth lying about having 10 years, then why bother lying about having 10 years?

In practice, milestones are more for sharing one's experience than for attaining an award. And if you slip up, telling that truth is honestly more helpful for the other person struggling to stay sober than lying to them about having 10 years.

You would not celebrate your 10 year anniversary, which would connote 10 years of "continuous sobriety" or 3650 days in a row without a drink.

Chips are the opposite to this theory.

You need both.

The ability to not lose it all because of a break.

But also a reason not to have a break.

I love that Duo streak is hard to lose, unlike other apps where if you miss a day streak is gone. The goal of app is to help you keep learning. In life things are bound to happen because of which you might miss couple of days or more, it make no sense to penalize you for that. I have been trying to maintain streak in other apps but I when I miss a day, I am not motivated enough to go back and start again. Also, streak is only one gamification point in Duo, it's ok if it isn't perfect. Leagues, stories, medals provide enough motivation to keep making progress. I have tried to learn french multiple times and nothing made me stick to my learning routine like Duo has. It might not teach the language to hold a conversation, but I like how much progress I have made reading front.

Dailies are great for getting you to come back, but losing a streak can be enough to make you reconsider your life and never come back; especially when you were doing it out of habit and not really "into" it anymore.

Cf: World of Warcraft

That makes sense, I think that's more of a reason for not enforcing the streak so strictly. Giving levay days helps you not obsessed over it. Also, for a user who lost his streak and is devastated over it, I do think Duo support helps them restore it. I do think they realize it's just a number and there is not need to traumatized people over losing it.

On the other hand, may be it should not be things like obsession at all?

Many important things in life like fitness, diet etc are very repetitive and hence boring to some extent. There are times when you just to have to get through the grind even if you are not interested or you are aligned with it. The point being don't just depend on the initial euphoria of things to do a thing that's good. If something is good on the longer, at some point it does get a little boring, and that's ok, just keep doing it.

There are things that I stopped doing because I was bored and a few months later I had like a moment of epiphany- It wouldn't have hurt me if I had stuck to this, quitting has cost me more.

May be one should think beyond doing things for immediate emotional relief.

It much harder to stick to routine without any short term rewards. Human brain priortizes short term rewards. Logically it makes sense to me that good habits will give fruitful results over long term (like learn french everyday over two years) but in short term i need something to keep me motivated (like streak)

Yeah I remember starting a couple week streak in an app and then I had a long day with a work due to some issues and it reset my streak to 1 day since even though I did it before the end of my day it was technically the morning of the next day. It may have been technically "correct" but not having leniencies made me realize the streak was going to inevitably keep getting broken which made it lose all value to me.

But how does the streak motivate you if you know that it is meaningless - and not even really a streak?

You can abuse it the point of meaningless, but I'd guess most people don't. If you are committed to practicing every day, it's a motivator, and the streak freezes are nothing more than a bit of leniency for cases where something unforeseen happened. I have a long streak and have only occasionally used them. The streak actually represents sustained, long-term effort.

Because it's still a motivating number that has rules around it (even if they're loosely-enforced), which my monkey brain finds appealing to make go up. If I knew it was _completely_ meaningless—say, if I knew it were impossible to ever lose—I think it'd lose its appeal, so it's a fine line they have to walk.

Duo streak isn't meaningless, it's just easier to maintain. You get levay of couple of days using streak freezes. Life is hard as it is, I don't think users should be penalized for missing a couple of days. If it means more people can maintain their streak I think that good. I don't think learning should be a competition and if more ppl can make progress that's good. It does devalue your streak number if you consider it in relation to other people streaks, but why compare. If I am making progress and easier streak helps me do that I am happy.

In a way it's a streak that's more meaningful for you, because you know yourself and what you can and can't do, and you know what innocent things (dinner with friends, meetings at work) might be fair enough for you to skip a day for, and that way you can control it and not let it control you.

There's also the fact that your lower brain systems don't care that you "know that is is meaningless" -- they still see that number getting bigger and give you that dopamine hit, which is what will really keep you coming back for more.

It's not meaningless. Just not 'every day'.

Like, when I have to travel to visit my family, it's like 25h of flights and connections + another 2h road trip, and still need to arrive like 4 hours earlier. I'm def. going to be offline and would miss a streak if it required me to do every day. So I would not even try to increase it anyway, since I know it's impossible not to lose it a couple times every year.

Since I know I can go offline for a day or 2 when necessary, I have more motivation to just keep going

My boss stopped learning Spanish on Duolingo when he lost his streak. It's a powerful motivator even if it's not a "true streak" due to streak freezes and such. My streak is at 1436 and if I lost it, I wouldn't stop Duolingo because I actually like it to learn, but the streak does make me happier, haha. I think I've had 2 days in the last few years of streak freezes due to 1 day forgetting and 1 day the site not saving my exercise. Ah well, I still like my streak even if it's not 100% pure!

Same for me. I had a 800+ day streak and I remember that on the days I couldn't practice, I used to play Duolingo story #1 at 1am with half eyes open just to keep it going.

But as soon as my streak ended, my frequency of playing went from 6 days in a week, to 5 days.. and now I haven't played it in months. Fake or not, keeping the streak alive did help me learn a lot of French (well actually there is one more side to it.. even after all that I can't speak a single proper sentence now apart from the basic je m'appelle stuff)

> even after all that I can't speak a single proper sentence now apart from the basic je m'appelle stuff

This is the real problem with Duolingo: it doesn't actually teach you to communicate in the language. Rote memorization and communication are two different things, and Duolingo does very little aside from drilling memorization. Streaks and gamification don't contribute to communication, which has its own system of rewards: when you communicate successfully, you accomplish some real-world task like buying yourself bread or getting a date, and that accomplishment doesn't need game-level rewards. Gamification is only effective when trying to palliate some sort of otherwise boring "grinding" (to use a gaming term from RPGs).

Duolingo can absolutely get you reading and listening. Which is let's say half the battle.

I think it's too dramatic to say it's a "real problem" with it! Anybody who intends to become fluent in a language is going to need to practice actually speaking and writing.

Every tool has its use, but sometimes that use is pretty limited. I don't know if it's a "real problem" that Duolingo focuses on this stuff so much, but honestly, it's probably more about Duolingo's engagement numbers than it is about learning.

Is rote memorization essential to language learning? Absolutely. Should it be the focus of your learning after the very early stages? Probably not. It's just something you do, all the time. Memorize all you like, but true acquisition only comes after you've used your words in real conversation / listening, so that's should probably be where you place your effort. But that doesn't help Duolingo.

In the Japanese learning community, the seduction of this kind of rote, mechanistic, "streak-y" learning has been a trap for a long time -- so much so that there's a popular methodology that has people spend a great deal of time "memorizing kanji". It's appealing because Japanese has a big alphabet of complex characters and the methodology suggests that you can turn learning into a simple memorization exercise with discreet, measurable progress. The problem is, it's pretty much orthogonal to the act of speaking (or reading, or listening to) the language. Learn 2000 kanji and you might gain some ability to infer the meanings of words, but you're still essentially illiterate. The same thing applies at the level of words and sentences -- I have lots of words that I "know" on flashcards, but aren't available to me in actual conversation.

People get absolutely addicted to this stuff, spend years on it while gaining no meaningful level of language skill, then get frustrated and quit. The tragedy is that most people could put in a fraction of that time engaged in listening and speaking with a simple vocabulary, and end up in the kind of virtuous cycle that actually leads somewhere.

I’m not sure I would be so pessimistic. Learning a language is hard and you’re probably correct that you won’t be able to speak it with just duolingo. That doesn’t mean duolingo isn’t providing a substantial amount of necessary foundation.

I’ve never tried it but I feel like it’s probably similar to Spanish classes in high school.

It is similar in that Spanish classes necessarily require learning a lot of vocabulary and grammar. However once you have a base level of knowledge you can take advantage of being near real people to practice conversation skills. By the end of my second year of Spanish class we were being tested speaking for several sentences about a topic (with some advance preparation) to the teacher who would ask questions. Holding a conversation, more or less.

Duolingo doesn't put so much emphasis on conversation in my experience. Most of the questions give you the words in one language or the other and have you write out an answer. This allows you to lean on reading. Listening and speaking are the hardest parts so the should have the most practice, not the least.

I find myself thinking about the answer before looking at the options. Also, not reading the prompt but trying to figure it out by listening.

If it's too easy, you can make it a bit more challenging yourself.

That it doesn't - teach you to communicate, that is - but I found DuoLingo great at providing the base vocabulary and phrases to enable me to make my first small attempts at communicating.

(I suddenly found myself stuck in Brazil for work for two months this year, and after a couple of hours of DuoLingo I was able to exchange a few phrases with hotel staff, often interspersed with the most useful phrase 'O que isso significa?' (What does that mean?')

The best part of DuoLingo was (and is) to save my conversation partners much of the 'Oh, in Portuguese we call that...' we'd otherwise be doing.

Yup, I always do one story when I'm strapped for time just to keep it going on days I can't do exercises.

In the context you mentioned it, the streak sounds like a powerful demotivator.

This is a more general problem with gamification and external rewards: they are just as good demotivators as they are motivators, if not more so.

This is why I wanted to turn off streaks when I was using Duolingo. I knew it was just a matter of time before I had my streak broken, and I was very concerned about what would happen then.

The real question is whether they'd have used it to begin with— I’d guess not. It seems most folks here discouraged by streak-loss had sizable steaks to lose. That means they reaped real benefit and provided real revenue for duolingo. Nobody uses a language learning app forever.

The gamification requires two coordinating motivations— secondarily the game mechanics, and primarily learning a language. Duolingo won't replace candy crush for non-language-learners. I imagine folks significantly discouraged by poor game performance without doing some serious learning first just aren’t motivated enough to practice their language skills in an app.

Personally, I’m not motivated by gamification at all and am content to ignore it. It is noisy, however, and I also wouldn’t mind the ability to shut it off.

That goes to show how easily humans are manipulated. When I read these comments it all sounds incredibly pointless. People cherishing a counter they are allowed to increase.

The problem is progress is slow and hard to measure. Streaks are something you can measure and consistent study makes a different after many hours of work.

That said, if you want to learn a language you need to study a lot. Complete everything Duolingo can in a few months and then find better courses of study to learn after that. You should never in my opinion have more than a 6 month streak.

How is "used app every day" better than "did X exercises per week" or per month?

Better for who, you or Duolingo? If you want to learn a language you need to run out of Duolingo exercises in a couple months and quit that app for other study.

Same here. In fact I lost my 1000+ day streak 2 months ago (a newborn will do that to you) and haven't done a single Duolingo lesson since then. However, I did replace it with another app called DuoCards (no relation to Duolingo, AFAICT) which is great for memorizing vocabulary using spaced repetition. Duolingo used to have a companion app that did something similar, but they closed it a year ago. Anyway, they lost my subscription.

I was learning several languages and one day at 12:01am I lost a streak. That crushed me. From then on I haven't touched Dulolingo. It sounds silly but the streaks have a very real physical affect on me.

It's similar to redit where someone demanded a subredit of mine since they deemed I not active enough (I was active but not to random guy's satisfaction) and the redit mods agreed. I haven't been on redit since after being a member for 15 years.

So yeah streaks, the chain (as Jerry Seinfeld says), consistency being broken makes me feel like crap.

At a much smaller scale, that's what happened to me with the Wordle game. Once I lost my 100%, I never touched it again. With Duolingo the drive is the learning so I've lost the streak many times (current is highest at 60) but that matters nothing to me. With Wordle, I think I was no longer having much fun, and keeping the streak probably was the only reason I played.

One thing I found odd about Duolingo is that they disabled offline lessons. It was the most powerful thing they had -- to me at least. I was able to board planes and just grind for hours, I could travel cross country and do the same. Even in normal travels I was able to use it without constant disconnects -- it was great.

But they decided one day to just nuke it... for no reason as far as I could tell. My subscription went with it. Shame.

EDIT: based on the responses below I did a quick search and it appears that it was silently removed, refactored and then returned slowly back to people depending on their account age/device. This is actually incredible news (to me).

Not with you on that. I just did your exact usecase on my flight of 9+ hours and it worked just fine? Maybe they shuffled around the way you set something to download? I can confirm that this feature still exists (atleast on iOS)

I think you can do one level oer exercise while offline, not more

Offline is still very much a thing: https://support.duolingo.com/hc/en-us/articles/4410000601869.... Maybe you just had a bug?

Sounds strange - I've been able to do offline lessons as recently as this week. On android with a free account. Maybe this was something temporary in the past?

How did this not result in refunds for thousands of people?

I'm curious, did offline mode show ads? If not, then I can suspect why it was disabled.

Of course you can refill freezes, but you need enough credits to do so. You accumulate credits as you complete lessons and hit targets. So OP was, effectively, living for a period off the riches he had accumulated over almost 10 years (!) of efforts. That's not easy.

That is a fair point. I went back through my history in the app to figure out the real numbers:

    First day of use: 11th Dec 2014
    First missed day: 19th Jun 2017 (921 days later)
    First freeze use: 20th Oct 2020 (2,140 days after first day of use)
The missed days were down to (IIRC) time zone crossing and patchy internet, I can't recall if Duolingo let you off here or if there was leeway in the streak calculation. Those could also be Duolingo being down for maintenance.

I think when I started using the freezes was when the value of the app had dropped for me. 2,140 days is a pretty good run.

FWIW: living in a French speaking country has provided the most value. Duo helped initially with vocab building. I find/found the lack of colloquialisms one of the biggest problems with it.

> I find/found the lack of colloquialisms one of the biggest problems with it.

This is actually a big problem with how people perceive language in general. It's hard to understand if you only speak one language, but the idea of a language as a discrete unit is a myth. Here in Québec there is Québécois French, which in and of itself is a generalization, as many regions have different accents and expressions.

In France there are many kinds of French. Some people say they "can't even understand" people from a certain other region... That's pretty much where a dialect crosses the line into a language!

In general people will learn what we call "international French", which is spoken by no one but understood by all. But good luck navigating the subtleties of a French-speaking society without being familiar to their regional dialect.

I think you're vastly overstating the differences that exist in French. It's mostly accents with a few distinct words/expressions. The grammar, spelling, syntax and everything else is the same.

Sure, someone with a strong uncommon accent can take some effort to understand ("can't even understand" is a clear exaggeration except in the more egregious cases), but the language underneath is the same.

French is very standardised, and "international French" is spoken by everyone. That description would fit something like German much better.

> "international French" is spoken by everyone

You sound clueless. The majority of people don't speak "international French". Do you even speak french ?

Wow, two and a half years without missing a day is impressive. Kudos to you for having that rigor, and to Duolingo for whatever about their design allowed you to engage so consistently.

Do you have a sense of what kept you going? And what about Duolingo helped?

Tip: streak freezes cost less jewels or whatever on the web client than the mobile one.

If you haven't used it in the past few years, it's worth noting that they really stepped up the gamification. I was shocked when I logged in to it recently after not using it since... maybe 2018? and every action in the app is accompanied by 10 animations, sound effects, "share" buttons, etc. It also now "randomly" gives you streak freezes. I've gotten 3 over the course of my current 100 day streak without spending any of the currency.

I've been on it for less than 6 months (151 streak), so it's always been like this for me. And I definitely had to "pay" for all my freezes after the initial 2.

I've been able to "hack" around the streak loss demotivation by tracking my language learning practice outside of the Duolingo streak measure. I use an app called "Habit" to track good habits I want to follow, such as exercise, meditation and language learning. It has the ability to set up weekly goals such as 3 days out of 7 or monthly goals and displays progress and various stats.

That flexibility has helped me track my streak outside of the gamified experience that is Duolingo. It has helped me stay motivated based on my personal goals and not be artificially motivated by the whims of the App developer & PM who are focused on driving goals such as DAU/engagement and monetization.

I track all of my language learning across multiple languages and multiple resources per language using Google spreadsheets. The streak effect at that point is much more about seeing my overall progress per language and effort spent over months and years.

I had over a year of completing the health three rings on Apple Watch (maybe failed on two or three day) - but a flight tripped me up and it fell apart very quickly.

The ability to make up the missed days might have led me to carry on. Or maybe forgiveness if you'd gone over in the precious few days.

It's sad really it was quite an accomplishment.

I am with you. I am well aware of being gameified yet it worked for a while for me as well. But after having been sick for a few days I lost my streak. Apple tolerates no sick days (don't take this out of context).

Also, not getting in enough stand hours because I have to put the watch on the charger during the day (the non-replaceable battery of the watch is on its way out) was another reason to stop chasing rings.

I still use the watch to track my activity and my sleep but I gave up chasing badges.

I've a ~six year streak with travel logistics and 3 Covid Shots being the only exemption. As long as it's planned, there's no need to get stressed about it.

I wish they had a setting to turn off all the gamification. I’m an adult. I don’t care about streaks or points or gems or whatever.

There's a setting to turn off the "ding" when you get something correct. I thought it's annoying, so I turned it off. Suddenly, the app felt very dull, and maintaining my streak felt hard - I kept forgetting to look into the app. So I turned it on again.

... Pavlovian conditioning works, even when I'm the rat. For the time being, I'm okay with that, because Duolingo does help me learn French, let's see how it goes long term.

> Duolingo does help me learn French

Can you say more about how much it has helped you, in what ways, and what else you have been doing to study?

Sure! I think Duolingo is fantastic to learn basic sentences and vocabulary. To reach A1/A2 proficiency, Duolingo is absolutely amazing in my opinion (I can only judge it for French though).

Once you go into the B1+ area, the usefulness of Duolingo starts to fall off, slow but steady - learning grammar and conjugations in all the different tenses isn't its forté. I think it's still very useful for repetition and constant exposure to the language, but without content outside of Duolingo, I'm not quite sure if it would work out so well.

For me personally, YouTube has been an amazing learning source for French - there are a lot of channels out there with tons of high quality teaching videos. If I had to name one, "Learn French with Alexa" is probably my favorite, but for a lot of topics it's very useful to watch multiple videos from different channels on the same topic, both as repetition and also because sometimes having multiple, slightly different explanations helps.

Since a few months, I do visit a weekly French course though - self study brought me only so far; reading already works quite well, listening so-so (depends on the talking speed), but I have a hard time speaking myself. It takes a very long to find the words, but the more I have to talk in course the better it goes.

One more thing: For purely learning vocabulary, I very much recommend Anki, it's amazing to just memorize words.

Ugh, this got a bit longer than intended, hope it gave you a bit of an overview of my approach :)

Use the website from a desktop/laptop. Almost all the gamification takes a back seat there. Also don’t use the word bank - force yourself to do the freeform typing.

You can also access the website from your phone (though it might require 'desktop mode' at this point). That's what I did when I used Duolingo if I wanted it on the go, and the experience was a lot better (as well as allowing me to type answers as you mention).

I don’t mind streaks alone, but it seems like whenever I open the app I have to click through about 10 pages of animations about League Repairs and Streak Freezes and Friends Quests and Gem Boosts. It’s really frustrating and almost always makes me quit the app immediately. I just want to take a lesson and I’ve paid for the subscription already.

It’s the whole premise of the program.

When I started it was minimal.

Duolingo was always super gamified. Sure it ramped up, but there was never a time when the site didn’t look and feel like a game.

I work for a foreign language instruction services company. We mostly serve government and military, but we do accept private students. All of our linguists are extremely skeptical of apps like Duolingo. And before anyone replies something like "your company has a vested interest in propping up instructor-led language training", if apps like Duolingo actually worked, the government--especially the military--would stop paying us in a heartbeat.

There is a lot of diversity in instructor-led training. None of our classes are anything like what you would have experienced in highschool or college. Our largest classes have 4 students in them, and that's strictly a cost-cutting scheme that Gov has insisted on for maintenance training. You'll be one-on-one with your instructor. They'll be a native speaker with often decades of experience teaching language. They'll be tayloring a lot of supplemental material specific to you. We even have some of our own apps that we've developed (that's my job), nothing like Duolingo (though nothing you can just use without our curriculum or instructors).

A lot of people say "the best way to learn a language is to live in a country where it is spoken". Clearly, that is unrealistic for the vast majority of people. I would also say it presumes you are a specific kind of extremely extroverted, fearless person. Most people find themselves becoming quite introverted in situations where they can't communicate easily.

For these reasons, I think the most realistic answer for the best way to learn language is private tutoring. The OP take about having used Duolingo for almost 10 years. That seems absurd to me. I would hope they have mastered at least half a dozen languages with that kind of effort. Language training shouldn't take that long.

For these reasons, I think the most realistic answer for the best way to learn language is private tutoring.

For people who have a specific need to learn a language this is of course true. Or even for people who have an amount of time and effort they are willing to dedicate to that end.

The thing is, though - I’m very unlikely to invest in private tutoring in order to learn a language speculatively. The time and financial requirements are too high a barrier.

But Duolingo is an investment of maybe 10 minutes a day at some moment of downtime. I’d estimate that I’ve spent maybe 200 hours over three years with it, which has taken me from not knowing a language to being conversationally fluent in that language - something I would otherwise just never have done.

Duolingo (or other similar systems) are very obviously not the optimum way to learn a language to fluency. And it’s especially obvious that they wont replace a tutoring service for government and military clients. But a lot of the criticism of them completely ignores the fact that they fill an entirely separate niche which is totally valid.

> I’d estimate that I’ve spent maybe 200 hours over three years with it, which has taken me from not knowing a language to being conversationally fluent in that language

This really jumped out at me. 200 hours to get to conversationally fluent is very, very fast: in the CEFR framework, with proper tuition, this generally gets one to about A2 ("elementary").

How closely related is the language you're studying to the language(s) you already know? Do you supplement Duolingo with other resources? And, last but not least, what's your definition of "conversationally fluent"?


I'd bet that the time spent is being underestimated. Duolingo doesn't track time and works in "lessons" containing a series of something like 15 questions each. You can do one of those in less than 10 minutes, but if you do two, you're over 10 minutes. There's no option to do less than a lesson (even "practice" is arranged as if it were a lesson), and bailing in the middle wouldn't be recorded as anything.

That could well be the case. But I suspect that there's also a great deal of variability in what people mean when they say "conversationally fluent". For example, I completed the entire French tree in Duolingo a few years back, and would consider myself nowhere near "conversationally fluent".

Of course private tutoring is one of the most effective ways.

But you can't have a private tutored lesson while in a queue at the supermarket. Or on a train. Or while you wait for the water to boil.

Of course the government pay for your services. They need people to be trained to be good at languages. Most of the people who use these apps are doing it as a hobby.

> The OP take about having used Duolingo for almost 10 years. That seems absurd to me. I would hope they have mastered at least half a dozen languages with that kind of effort.

Eh, the implication in my post is that Duolingo is minimal effort and the streak doesn't really mean anything other than you may have maintained that minimal effort for a long time.

Besides, very few people are mastering a single language let alone many. I'm a native English speaker and sometimes I feel I haven't mastered that language.

And yes - private lessons are going to offer the most value if you can't live in the country. Even then it's only in this particular part of this country where I would hear something like "On prend le traclet pour acheter du Papet."

I live in a country and I'm trying to learn the language. I also take weekly classes and occasionally use private tutoring when I have time. I still get a ton of value out of duolingo, its exercises are easy to do in spare moments and it's a great way to work on vocabulary and passive grammar understanding, I love it.

It's not nearly enough on it's own to learn a language though, it's very very good as a supplement though, ime

> For these reasons, I think the most realistic answer for the best way to learn language is private tutoring.

Based on my experience of language learning, I agree with you.

> The OP take about having used Duolingo for almost 10 years. That seems absurd to me. I would hope they have mastered at least half a dozen languages with that kind of effort.

This completely glosses over the costs involved.

Private tutoring has to be, with a good teacher, orders of magnitude better than anything else. Services that ask you to "request a quote" instead of naming a price are of course not for everybody.

Has anyone had success with finding tutors on platforms like italki.com? I tried for a bit but probably didn't spend enough time to find the right tutor.

> Has anyone had success with finding tutors on platforms like italki.com?

italki - yes, absolutely, but taking your time to do the research definitely pays off.

My method was to shortlist teachers who:

(1) fit my linguistic needs (country/dialect, native speaker status etc); and

(2) satisfied certain availability criteria (timezone, teaching days/hours etc); and

(3) had a high enough number of students and -- critically -- a high enough total_lessons/total_student metric (I forget the cutoffs I used).

I then looked through their profiles (there were by this point only tens of teachers left on my list for German), arranged trial lessons with a handful, and picked the one.

Been with that teacher for a few months. Couldn't be happier with the experience and with my progress.

10 years of Duolingo is about the same effort as 1 week with your course. That is effort, not a measure of effectiveness, your tutors are more effective. I'm sure you don't expect much of anyone after a week.

What are some good alternatives to Duolingo with fewer dark patterns? (And don't suggest traditional methods, I am very much not against them, I am just curious about apps and such.)

Babbel is the least hated of this kind of app among my linguist friends. Pimsleur is highly regarded by phonologists. I get frustrated by almost all of these tools. In particular, I feel like Duolingo is much less useful if you already know another language, and is almost useless as a way to brush up on a language you already know (my boyfriend has been doing Russian Duolingo for three months and his vocabulary is just now finally not a strict subset of mine - when I tried to use it to brush up on French I gave up out of frustration after three weeks of not learning anything except a new insect name).

Forgive the digression, but this reminds me of a general gripe: I wish there were more/better introductions and tutorials and other learning materials geared toward people knowledgeable in another human or computer language, the educational equivalent of P frames in temporal video compression. Rather than feeding you examples piece by piece and making you build up the mental model tediously, brain dump the mental model on you and let you fill in the specifics as you go. Easy Arabic Grammar by Jane Wightwick or Basic Polish by Dana Bielec are decent examples of what I wish were more prevalent.

> Babbel is the least hated of this kind of app among my linguist friends.

As someone who has used Duolingo for multiple languages (German, French, Swedish) for about a decade (2012-2020) I am here to say that Babbel is vastly superior to Duolingo in terms of quality.

Duolingo is just rote memorization of their vocabulary. Despite investing years into "studying" the above languages in Duolingo, I didn't feel I was actually useful in these languages (I studied before relocating to the respective countries).

Babbel on the other hand, is very much like a digital version of the language textbooks you will find everywhere for levels A1/A2/B1/B2. The Babbel lessons involve listening comprehension, speaking (though their voice recognition is... poor), reading, writing, and they make a huge effort to teach you conjugation and grammar rules. There are also no ads or annoying animations.

Babbel does cost money, but it's far less than Duolingo's paid tier, and I personally find Babbel much more effective at actually teaching me the language as opposed to Duolingo having me memorize random vocabulary.

Babbel allows you to set learning goals (though max target is 9 per week) and daily reminders, but they don't have streaks nor do they get up in your face about it.

I will never go back to Duolingo after having used Babbel.

Horace Lunt's Fundamentals of Russian is one I found helpful, particularly for being upfront about the actual pronunciation rules.

There are also many similar gripes among STEM tutorials. Why can't this physics/chemistry/economics book assume I know vector calculus/differential equations?

Cure Dolly for Japanese is a huge infodump of high quality grammar explanation.

As an aside, in Duolingo you can click on the checkpoint icon, on the main lesson page, to take a test to advance to the next large group of lessons. If you're not learning anything in a series of lessons, you don't need to grind through them all. Similarly, there is also a sort of placement test each time you start a new language that helps adjust to your preexisting knowledge.

You should never be in a scenario where you're using Duolingo without learning anything new unless it's intentional or you've mastered the entire selection of lessons they offer.

I use Anki. I wouldn't use it in the beginning, but when you're at the point that you can listen to some simple podcasts or videos or read some simple texts, then when you hear/read a sentence with a word or two you're unsure of, you add it to Anki and you get spaced repetition on that. (Don't just add lone words – although the context may feel like cheating, you want that reinforcement of related contexts.) Often I'll look up a word and find some real-world usage example too and add that.

I did use Duolingo a bit when starting out, but I felt like I didn't really remember any of the words introduced there, just learnt how to hit the buttons as fast as I could. (And oh gods those annoying animations). Pimsleur on the other hand is amazing when starting out. Then a combination of podcasts, simple stories and Anki.

I've also heard good things about italki, seems like a marketplace for 1-on-1 language tutoring online.

Piggybacking off your Anki mention, I'd like to continue to spread around something (currently only of interest to people learning Italian or Spanish) that I've been up on lately. A guy came up with a wonderful (and monolingual) deck format for people who are learning Spanish or Italian to use the old-school method of learning Latin where you learn all verb conjugations by rote first and get them (and tenses/moods in general) out of the way. Then you can dedicate your language learning time to acquiring words, sentences and colocations (i.e. interesting stuff) rather than repeatedly and incompletely relearning the verb mess, leading to permanent blind spots.

He also surrounds the verbs in mock clozes, so you get hammered with context. You can also do it without doing anything else; the Romance verb situation can be isolated from the rest of the language completely. At least for Spanish you'll eventually need to know what common subjunctive triggers are, that they'd rather use the present tense (with context) than the future or past more often than you'd think, and other stuff that's an order of magnitude simpler to remember than those damned verbs. If you need to know irregular vosotros conjugations in subjunctive future, you've already got them in your head.


I don’t feel like the dark patterns are really that dark when used by an education platform. All they are trying to do is encourage practice, which is very important to language learning.

I don't feel like Duolingo's gamification is dark, so much as counter-productive. They always give you a 15-minute "double XP" reward when you gain a crown; and there was a time when I got into a rhythm such that I always started my session just about to gain a crown; then I spent 15 minutes almost finishing the next crown, so I could start it again tomorrow.

But of course, when you're doing that, you're pressuring yourself to get through as many lessons as possible, not to engage well with the material. You don't want to stop and read the discussions about a particular translation. And (since I'm studying Chinese), you often have a choice between attempting to speak Chinese, typing Chinese using pinyin, or clicking on the character blocks. The first two are almost certainly better practice; but the last is a lot faster and more predictable.

And of course, now when I'm out of that rhythm, I'm totally not motivated to study, since I'm getting half the points I would otherwise be getting. If I'd been rewarded (not competitively, but just personally) simply for spending time in the platform, I'd probably be spending it more effectively.

I agree. When I started using Duolingo, my intention was to do at least one lesson every day.

I'm rather pissed if the daily reminder comes to late. If I don't want to practice daily anymore, I'll simply switch off notifications or uninstall the app.

It's a paid app, but I enjoyed Speakly's approach of "endless stream of open cloze exercises". It forces you to actually type words in the target language (unlike Duolingo which is mostly translations into the source language), it has a clever spaced repetition algorithm, and it lets you practice for as long as you want and stop immediately at any point, unlike Duolingo locking you into 20 question long lessons.

We made something a couple of weeks ago, you might like it, needs login but is 100% free. Endless (depending on language) listening exercises, sentences are selected (from tatoeba) based on vocabulary (no selection based on grammar yet). It's also integrated with a flashcard system (also free). If you set a small vocab (100 words) and do lots of cards, you start to get a feel for the grammar of a language. Something like 40 languages are supported.

https://dev.languagereactor.com/phrasepump (this is the dev site, will go to prod in a couple of weeks)

As a contributor to Tatoeba, I'm always interested in checking out how people use our data.

The interface needs work to be usable on mobile, but I guess you know that.

I'm not sure whether the TTS you're using is really good enough to be usable for learning a language. I tried it in German and noticed quite a few TTS bugs, like pronouncing "Tu" as if it were an acronym "TU" instead of the verb "Do", as well as switching to an English pronunciation next to English names (pronouncing "Hallo Roger" more like "Hello Roger").

Tatoeba also has many recordings in quite a few languages (e.g. German https://tatoeba.org/en/audio/index/deu ) You should try using them if possible. For download instructions, see https://tatoeba.org/en/downloads

Oh, thank you for your contributions! Mobile, we're planning a RN app (site is MobX/React), but we got our hands full at the moment (who wants a job?). TTS, I used to be of the opinion that TTS is something that should be kept far away from langauge learners. But, it got so damn good: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/cognitive-service... At least for many langauges. Didn't check the German much, interesting. For Hungarian, it screws up question intonation. But often it just seems completely human-like. I was concerned about the license for the audio recordings, and I assume recording quality could be mixed, but I'll take a more careful look.

That looks great so far! Pair it with open cloze with translation once you determine that the user should know the word and you've got magic going. You could even "beep" the word out of the recording (I'm assuming they're TTS).

Edit: typo

We use microsoft TTS, was trying to figure out if they can give time ranges for beeping out words.. didn't see it. Holy grail would be just generating audio files to listen to, no front end at all. :)

Sounds similar to Clozemaster (https://www.clozemaster.com/), which has a freemium model.

There are a lot of alternatives, but I found myself bouncing back and forth between different resources and spent a lot of time curating content.

I started working on some of my own tooling to help with this. For example, one tool took a list of sentences and translations and ran them through Google TTS to get recording to use in Anki. After working on this tooling for a while, I decided to move away from Anki and just build an app.

Right now, we're working on building out a beginner Thai course focused on reading because educational material in that area is severely lacking. We're also working on a series of graded readers.

Soon we'll be launching quick-study feature that allows you to curate lists of words and phrases that you want to learn. You will be able to select from anything you've already learned, draw from our existing library of 129,000 words and phrases or input new content. Once you've created or lists you can use the quick-study that will create a custom lesson for you based on how familiar with the content you are.

Not launched or even in beta yet, but the site is public. The info is listed in my profile and you can contact me from the site if you'd like to get in touch.

I quite like memrise, and it worked much better for me

+1 for Memrise

I track my usage separately in a spreadsheet, which avoids the stress of streaks, but still lets me draw motivation from past effort: https://www.ajnisbet.com/blog/tracking-goals

I've really enjoyed using Mosalingua! It is focused much more heavily on common phrases and vocabulary, and lets you choose a certain area (such as business, sport, dating) that you want to focus on in another language.

I like Babbel.com Tried German and polish and thought the lessons were good.

Did it help you learn communicate in it or is it just like duolingo where you only learn basic vocab?

In the case of polish it gave me enough vocabulary and prononciation clues to not be afraid to go to Poland and be able to use basic sentences when talking with staff at restaurants, shops and hotels. I was also quite happy to be able to understand basic stuff on signs and have basic conversations with native polish friends.

Thanks. I'll give it a try then.

Personally I like Drops.

I switched to Babbel a while back and couldn’t be happier

Duolingo must have psychologists on staff who realized the insidious side of the "keeping the streak".

One of the happiest days in my life was the day after losing the streak on 750words a few years ago.

I had a 500+ day streak going but it had not built into an effortless habit (like a cold shower).

Surest way to misery is feeling forced into doing something yet not getting enjoyment nor showing any improvement.

I am reasonably sure if I had tried to not break the streak in say doing standup ala Seinfeld the results would have been similarly dismal.

On the same note I quit Duolingo when I realized that the modicum of German I was learning was quickly overtaken by my teenage daughter. She was in a very average German class spending less time on lessons.

Duolingo's founder is a world-class researcher on user experience. I'm sure he himself has deep insight into human psyches.

> On the same note I quit Duolingo when I realized that the modicum of German I was learning was quickly overtaken by my teenage daughter. She was in a very average German class spending less time on lessons.

how much german have you learned since quitting?

One odd feature of many apps that use streaks is that they fail to account or allow for a rest day or a weekend. Even with work one can have perfect attendance and only be there 5 out of 7 days. It's strange that it's normal for apps to demand more engagement than that to maintain a streak.

I find it overbearing that apps create the expectation of participating even when I am in the middle of the forest and mountains with zero network connectivity. It incentivizes unhealthy lives and life patterns of never disconnecting from the internet. Why can't these apps allow users to choose what kinds of streaks they want to aspire to?

I lost my 780 day streak, complained on Twitter and they repaired it: https://twitter.com/soheilpro/status/1356677917011365889

Lost my 635 day streak last week, offered £5.99 or something to repair it. I was pretty gutted but actually on reflection, the gamification just added undue stress. Duolingo is great for vocab and repetition, it was only with a tutor that I really became conversational.

I will break steaks in apps on purpose, to fight the gamification. At a certain point it is not really helping and just manipulating you for the application's benefit as the article explains.

Do it because you want to, you are getting something from it, not because you have to.

I discovered this somewhat by accident when I started wearing an Apple Watch.

Ended up with a ~400 day move streak. Yay me, right?

Well. It got pretty annoying toward the end, having to wear the damn thing every day. It kinda creeped up on me, one of those things where the motive to just not wear a watch for a day is low, so why not put it on and keep up my streak?

But cumulatively? There's a huge difference between mostly wearing a watch and always wearing a watch.

It was a relief when I busted it, finally, for two reasons: I could have a normal relationship with the device on my wrist, and I was in no danger of ever setting another record streak.

After that I deliberately bust streaks in apps at a number I choose in advance, something like 50 or 100.

Speaking of language learning, I wish Duolingo could come with leveled readers. We build our intuition on languages only when we see words and phrases used in different context. Somehow it's hard to find good Spanish readers, compared with ample readers in English. I was trying to read the reading materials for the Mexico first graders (https://libros.conaliteg.gob.mx/primaria.html), oh boy, there are just too many new words for me even though I was at Duolingo Spanish unit 5. I used to use a reader called America Today. The book 2 talked about all the natural wonders of the US, and the book 3 talked about the America society: a day of supermarket manager, a day of a big city, and etc. The difficulty of the book was so well arranged that I had no problem progressing through it, and I had no problem with English grammar or day-to-day vocabularies after finishing the series.

Duolingo does have the stories section for low-level, contextful reading/listening material.

My experience is quite different. Pre-pandemic I used to use Duolingo on my public transport commute and I had it more than once that I reached my daily goal only to notice the next day that it hadn't registered properly. This happened quite regularly and with my free account I could only have one streak freeze, so I occasionally lost my streak because of this.

Another issue that caused me to lose my streak is when Duolingo says: "Sorry we encountered an error. Don't worry your streak will be safe." In my experience my streak was not safe.

I don't mean to be too harsh with Duolingo, I think they get a lot of features just right. The streak thing, however, was just an annoyance for me. These failures made me temporarily quit several times. Even if you know you should not become upset about stupid internet points it still hurts when you feel it is not your fault.

Apps like Duolingo IMHO try to sell the illusion of learning.

Far more people like the illusion of learning than actual learning, so it makes sense from a business POV, but if you're really dedicated, textbooks + flashcards + immersion will get you farther ahead.

I think that's partly true, but the other aspect of it is that there are a lot more people who want to start learning a language than those have made it past a beginner level.

Apps like Duolingo and others also completely neglect giving the language learner longer passages of text to read or videos to watch. Most learners do this on their own, but it does take a tremendous amount of prep work to find the appropriate materials.

Once you have the materials, you need a way to re-enforce what you've learned. I was doing this with Anki and found it very cumbersome and time-consuming to do.

I am doing French and Russian, and there's so much more material for French. I wish there were stories in Russian, at least.

Anyway, I try not to look at the points or streaks, my real motivation is to learn the language.

Nobody ever became conversational in a language by using Duolingo. It's IMO a determent to language learners, because it makes you _feel_ like you're learning something without actually putting together the skills needed to understand even basic native content. Rather than spending time with comprehensible input, people get stuck in the Duo well where they're content to collect rubies and points.

Drop Duolingo, use a proven method like Pimsleur, grab the Anki Core Vocab deck for your language, and start consuming native content ASAP.

This mirrors my experience with Duolingo. I think I did 5 Spanish exercises every day for like a year and can't remember any of it.

What's more, it's easy to guess many answers knowing nothing. Simple things like the only word that's capitalized will be the first word in the answer.

I also remember thinking the vocab for a given topic was really arbitrary too.

What made me lose interest in Duolingo was (losing the friends whom I conversate with and) 1. The lessons are so sluggish, if I know everything I want to be able to zip through them. But no - apparently these success animations and transitional effects are good for me. And 2. The totally senseless examples and also the sometimes cryptic questions when you don't know what they are asking for because the language is ambiguous.

Not a big Duolingo person, but I suspect your complaints may be outdated now. They made the sentences less stupid in general and introduced switches to turn off a lot of the frilly stuff (because your complaints were shared by a lot of people.)

My problem with Duolingo ambiguity is that if you want to do language learning on Duolingo starting from the middle rather than at the beginning, you'll get a lot of questions wrong because you're not familiar with the exact vocabulary that Duolingo wants you to know (i.e. what it taught you in earlier lessons.) Since it's constant translation drills, it builds up its own internal conventions about what English word translates to what target language word that you don't know as someone who has learned from other sources.

I've found translation to be a dead end for me. If I don't know a Spanish word I look it up in a Spanish language dictionary and/or thesaurus, and if I can't manage to figure it out using that and context, then I'll finally look for an English translation of the word. Totally there for English language grammar instruction, but not translation.

Yes, but this is certainly a key to their success. They bring people back even after 2, 3, days, or even a month! Duolingo doesn't care _when_ you come back, as long as you _do_ come back. I was an earlier adopter of duolingo, and it's amazing to see how huge they've become. Overall I think it's an awesome platform; they've done very well with the entire design and clean UI of the site / app.

Also an early adopter. For me, the current UI is the absolute worst part.

I don’t want animated cartoons emoting — often incongruously with the sentences, but even when the emotion suits they are grossly exaggerated — in response to correct answers. I don’t want the “motivational” messages that remain even after disabling motivational messages. I definitely don’t want the “motivational messages” toggle to randomly reactivate, spamming me with far more quantity of annoying messages interrupting my flow. I don’t want the news feed. I don’t want the “lesson complete!” screen, followed by how many skills I’ve restored today, followed by my position on the league table if that changed, and possibly one un-skippable animation of a chest opening for each of the Daily Quest goals I met.

I do want the quizzes to load quickly, and (when on the web) to be openable in background tabs so I can queue up all the specifics I want to revisit in a session — years ago now, I did that with the entire German course, revisiting each lesson once over two days.

But you’re right, they don’t care so long as people keep coming back.

But hey, you need to keep those PMs busy!

It's so incredibly demotivating to lose a streak this doesn't surprise me. I quit duo in large part because of the streak mechanism.

Had a somehow similar experience with Strava. I am biking these days only to commute - so doing the same boring 15km urban route 2, 4 or 6 times a week (Returns). Each time my performance would be driven by the weather, my load (public library books weight a ton), fatigue state after a long word day or a poor night, traffic, roadwork etc...not by my training consistency or motivation. Yet the app would keep notifying me of new records beaten each time to keep me engaged by shortening time after time the distances measured,resorting down to timing every single "one block long" segment between traffic lights, stop signs or various landmarks to find new records to beat :(

"your best time is now 41sec (instead of 42 2 years earlier)" -> that's when I stopped completely using it.

Potentially amusing related analysis: Duolingo is the Devil by Langfocus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbmXSR_QiP8

This is a well-known play on FOMO - there is that bit about the inherent fear of missing out on being top of leaderboard/in-game items/bonuses/etc. What's fascinating is just how easy this mechanic is applied to so many modern games and apps, and how hooked folks become on it even though they know what's going on.

"Ugh... they implemented this for FOMO... but damn I can't skip playing this game for a day because I am going to miss out on the +1 bonus to agility that's gonna be awarded if I log in 7 days in a row."

Once, while traveling, I suddenly realized that my streak deadline had just passed, and I managed to cheat by changing the time on my phone. However, when I tried that again at some later date it didn’t work.

Duolingo is pretty good for getting you started with a new language, and can provide some valuable practice, especially if you don’t yet have a teacher. But don’t take it too seriously. Its translations are often poor:


I used to set my phone's time zone to Hawaii when I needed a little more time to do my streak. The trick is to not open the app after midnight without changing your time zone, otherwise it will lock in your lost streak.

Not quitting of course, but I hate it when my Garmin watch informs me that the activity I just did has not improved my condition in any way.

Just curious is this 8 year streak for 1 language? What % completion are you for a the language? Do you consider yourself proficient?

> Just curious is this 8 year streak for 1 language?

No. Probably five years for one and then switching between others (German, Italian, and Spanish).

> What % completion are you for a the language?

I got close to the end initially then they added more to the tree so I never finished the tree as I didn't need to. I just looked at it and I'm at 50% so they've added a lot since I last checked.

> Do you consider yourself proficient?

I've lived in the French speaking part of Switzerland for nine years. That has made me proficient. Having French speaking colleagues, going to evening classes, giving talks in French, receiving correspondance and filling in my tax returns in French, working in a local gallery (adds vocab and situations outside the norm), watching French films and TV, listening to French podcasts and radio.

Duolingo helped with building some vocab and grammar.

Becoming more proficient in French and living in a French speaking country has, on the flip side, started to erode my English (spelling for the most part).

Anecdata, but I completed the whole french duolingo tree and kept my whole tree "gold" the whole time, and I still don't feel like I'm proficient in french at all. I thing duolingo can be a good addition to another language learning system, but on its own I think it's next to useless

I'm the same with French. A few years later I recall nothing. I am proficient with Japanese which I learned using traditional methods and lots of reading over a few years. There's no magical easy way to learn a language!

I wish the streak thing could be turned off completely. I have no interest in being pushed to use an app more than I want to.

you have restored your streak with money. if its worth money to you, get the super duolingo offering and dont be bothered with it at all.

*once you have a one year streak, you become VIP which means you can 5 days of "vacation" instead of the usual 1. so thats 5 days that recharge once a month. In order to present the number of streaks that this guy has in his screenshots you will need to spend "gems" or "money" whichevever comes more easy to you.

So yeah, its nice that after investing time every day for one year, i get to get a week off in between ;)

I am very pro-duolingo as a product.

However, I am not sure if there's a use case for it that Anki doesn't achieve with notably less adverts. Am I just not the target audience?

They need a vacation mode. Though I imagine the fact that they don't include such an obvious feature is because it would interfere with their bottom line.

duolingo (back when I used it years ago) also made it pretty difficult to even get questions wrong. They seemed to shy away from questions where I had to type in the answer (ie come up with the translation out of my own head) when I was out near the edge of my knowledge in favor of multiple-choice (ie they give you the translation but you pick it out of a couple wrong answers)

Every now and then you get a hard mode prompt, which ramp up the freeform written questions

It usually happens when you do two or three lesson in a string, never seen it on the first exercise of the day.

What I miss is a sort of weekly recap across all units.

Typing in the answer is difficult from a UX perspective (on Android at least):

Barring Gboard, all Android keyboards that I've tested do not support automatic switching of languages[1].

Even with Gboard, you need to explain to the user how to install the language for the keyboard. This is not trivial.

You then may have to deal with another input method, and recommending one to use (for example: do you want Pinyin/Cangjie/Zhuyin). This is different for each language.

You'll probably need to deal with Android manufacturers doing ridiculous things to lock down their devices. I would not be surprised if some restrict you from changing the default keyboard.

And if you make your own virtual keyboard, you've got a lot of accessibility to think through.

[1] https://developer.android.com/reference/android/widget/TextV...

Maybe but they had that as an answer type, they just used it very sparingly.

Just went back and did a lesson. They also have a “translate this sentence” but you are selecting from a word bank and there’s only one verb (declined one way) in the bank…

That is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Just not challenging at all.

The second lesson was a story which was a lot better than what I was seeing before, but I still think they adjust the difficulty so you are missing fewer questions so that you’ll stick around.

I am traveling on vacation for 2 weeks right now and decided to let my 1,000+ day streak end. But it hasn't ended!

How does this work? If I won't be able to Duo for a few days, it will allow me to keep it still?

I've been missing days on purpose the last two weeks, this post is such a coincidence for me!

Don't do it! Keep that amazing streak! I think you'll regret it once you let it go.

How is it possible for you to buy / restore that many freezes? Are you paying for them?

Seems like a strange way to measure language proficiency.

Can you hold a conversation in said language?

Noooooooooooo don’t lose your streak!


Quite a few anecdotes here validating the streak so I'll just be an alternate data point. When I used Duolingo regularly it was because there was a goal I intended to learn a foreign language for. The gamifed streaks never really had an effect on me and are quite off-putting.

I understand because of that I am not their target demographic. Or maybe I am and they want to engage users like me more. Maybe if the UI felt a bit more immersive--a clip of native French speakers interacting rather than cartoon bubbles and gems, for instance.


Not sure it’s a flex. Long time Duolingo user here, that streak-building addiction is real. It’s like i’m on the platform to hit my streak and much less to learn.

You’re describing the incentive strategy behind orange theory, general education, or any habit building app. Being addicted to self-improvement is generally a positive thing.

I wish my other apps invested more research engineers into optimizing incentives. Brilliant.com is great for learning, but builds no habits.

What is Duolingo?

I do realize I can Google it. But isn’t it interesting that Hacker News brings all of us into contact with alien civilizations every day. Whatever Duolingo is, sounds like it became a significant part of you life. For me it has been Wordchums and FastHabit.

Duolingo has 40 million monthly active users. Ball is in your court if you don't know what it is.

You are right of course. Being an author, filing a patent for my invention, having a family, and juggling clients means my court has many balls.

My comment was merely a bit of musing about how big the world of ideas is. Don’t you also find that reading Hacker News you stumble on entire ecosystems you never heard of before?

Anyway, I did look it up. Apparently it’s about learning languages, in case you also didn’t know.

A) For those that question the apps and are on the fence, consider a traditional methods of language learning, consider a class at a community college. Community college in San Francisco is free for San Francisco residents and they have many language classes! Similar arrangements might be available wherever you currently live, and they're also cheap either way.

B) I travel a lot and I realized that I don't actually want to "learn a language" I want to "be able to communicate in an area". So doing a Duolingo speedrun on the airplane is pretty much useless (or even months before). What you really want to do is know how to buy a girl a drink, for example. In a loud situation this may even involve counting to the bartender, "language learning" apps aren't going to show you how to count on your fingers the local way. It really changes the priorities to what you actually need to use.

I recently signed up for a full-time, in-person community college language course this Fall. Not free where I live, but still very cheap compared to private tutoring.

Great way to meet some new people too.

So how do you learn with that goal in mind? And how do you know in advance what the cultural demands are?

I go to a club in that country and figure it out. Takes an me about an hour and a half to observe, and then try. I don't consider myself extroverted.

The more stimuli the better, because the less actual talking is expected. Very basic bits of information need to be transmitted.

Nobody is going to understand your years of app language, or years of school language, and definitely not your accent. You need idioms and expressions and you aren't going to blend in either way. Do it live.

Come on now. People are definitely going to understand that, and encourage you. You may not understand their idiomatic expressions of encouragement at all, but that's your opportunity to use your app/school language to learn something new.

1 and a half hour immersion is way more efficient than app/school teaching you a different set of irrelevant things for rote memorization across a much longer time span.

I think there are many people that also really just want to "learn to communicate in an area" but think that requires "learning a language". for that group of people that also has the time and privilege to go to the place, use my strategy

for some other group of people, have fun telling your phone how a "young girl eats an apple" for 20 levels.

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