New paths, new problems

Published November 13, 2022

Illustration of a circle made up of speech bubbles, each with ‘hello’ in a different language

Duolingo have been rolling out a new format to their free language learning app, with a more structured approach than previously. I’ve been using the app on and off for years, and have loved it, it’s been my go to for language learning. The new path rolled out to me this month, as it did to most others, having been in testing and beta for a while, and the reaction has been… mixed would be polite, negative would be more truthful.

I don’t mind it. Some of the elements have moved around and will take a bit of getting used to, but that’s okay. I actually think the increased structure of the course will be beneficial to me, because I’d reached a bit of a plateau where progress was slow because it was getting hard, and I kept dipping back to easier lessons just to keep my streak up. Now there’s not so much on offer, you just have to dive in and take the next lesson in line, which is a bit more of a motivation to keep on ploughing through. There’s science behind it, the Duolingo team research what they’re doing very thoroughly, and have worked on what helps to cement learning in your mind, revisiting topics at the right point, and mixing things up with the different styles - Lessons, Stories, Revision - all baked right into the path.

But I can see why people aren’t happy. What it’s really done is taken away the element of flexibility and freedom to choose what you do and where you go next. It was always a bit of a debate whether the best way was to do one lesson at a time, max it out to its full potential before moving on to the next, or whether you should have a few on the go, and gradually complete them. The freedom was there to learn how best suited you… but as I say, the structure was missing to really push you on in the right path.

It’s always difficult when apps change. Duolingo is fundamentally a free app but there’s a paid tier, a pretty expensive one, that means some users have every right to air their frustrations over the change in direction. But ultimately the changes are being made for the right reasons, and I can only assume they’ve had good feedback as well as the voluble negativity otherwise things would have changed more drastically since the beta.

And there are lots of other language learning apps out there. I’m sticking with Duo for a while, but if it ends up that I don’t like the new path so much, I’m excited to see what else is out there.

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