Beating Duolingo: The Best Language Learning Software

nexusae0_duolingoCheck out my next steps for learning a language after beating Duolingo for the best way to continue your learning, or learn how to create the perfect practice plan if you’re just getting started. This post is one of my many reviews of educational software, and there are more language learning resources at the end.

When I first found Duolingo I was ecstatic. If you don’t know about it: it turns learning a foreign language into a free game. The lessons are high quality and the software is excellently developed. There’s a website, iPhone app, etc. and instead of focusing on cramming grammar structures down your throat, it uses a “figure it out yourself” approach.

In many ways, this was the software I had personally wanted to create. I’m a video game designer by training with a love of learning foreign languages and a desire to use video games to teach.

Many months later after first discovering the foreign language game, I’d like to share with you how to use it to get the best results. I “beat” the entire French course (and am now happily reading books and listening to news in French), and have just started on German. I had previous experience living in France, but German is entirely new to me — so the software can be used either to perfect or to learn fresh — just follow the following tips:

Play the Game

What makes games unique is that they are playedThis means that you should not be memorizing, but exploring. You shouldn’t be consulting tables of verb conjugations, for example. The goal is to develop a “sense of what’s right,” just like you already have in English.

The way to do this is to probe and explore. When faced with a word jumble, don’t be afraid to mix around the words until something looks right to you. The way Duolingo is meant to be used is through trial-and-error, just like a video game. The more you embrace this structure, the more you will learn.

Why? Because making a mistake is educational. Let’s take French as an example. Adjectives sometimes come before the noun, and sometimes after… like with the English phrases “the car is black” and “the black car is on the street.” To this day, I could not tell you what the rules for this are. However, I’ve made enough mistakes with Duolingo that when I type it backwards, it usually looks wrong to me.

In other words — getting it wrong, repeatedly, will make it feel wrong. This is how you develop that sense of what is right.

Set Goals


This tip really applies to anything you might want to accomplish in life, but Duolingo makes it especially easy. The “coach” mode may seem like a pain-in-the-butt at first… after a week of being “on track,” though, you’ll naturally develop a sense of pride in your accomplishment and not want to let yourself down.

The important part is not how high you set your goal, but that you stay on track with the goal you set. It helps if you create a routine out of your studying (I do my lessons each morning with my coffee and breakfast).

When you do keep up with your goals, you’ll find the language slipping into your life. A few days a week, I wake up with some German sentence inexplicably lodged in my head. Notably, these sentences are new (i.e., not something I explicitly memorized) and generally grammatically correct. It’s one heck of a cool feeling.


IMG_1906Yes: you should cheat at Duolingo. I keep Google Translate open in a separate tab while I’m playing.

But, you should cheat wisely. Don’t type a full sentence into the program and paste the results into the game. Not only will you not learn anything, but you’ll quickly find that Google Translate makes a lot of subtle mistakes.

“Smart Cheating” actually makes you learn more. Let’s say that you can’t remember the word for “food” in German. Was it BrotOr was it Esse? Or Essen? You type each of these into Google Translate and look at the results, and find that Essen was correct. So, you switch back to Duolingo and write down the correct word.

In other words, you validate your guess. What makes this difference than “dumb cheating” is that you started with an assumption, and were able to see if that assumption was correct or not. More importantly, you then immediately re-write the correct spelling in the Duolingo application (no copy-and-pasting the correct spelling!)

Without going into the theory of learning, the basic reason this works so well is that each assume + test + correct cycle is a like a “rep” of lifting weights in the gym. If you had not cheated at all, you would have merely ended the realization that you had gotten the question wrong, like performing a half of a rep. By testing a few guesses, you’ve now performed three “reps” instead of one, then solidified the correct answer by rewriting it, and finally you were rewarded with the satisfying chime sound when you got the answer right.

Next Steps

Just getting started? Check out the one-month plan to start learning anything. Finished with Duolingo? Check out the next steps after you beat the language learning game. That’s it for now! How has your experience with Duolingo been? Have you enjoyed it? Given up? Let me know below!


  1. Avatar
    Ruth Elisabeth -  April 4, 2014 - 1:59 pm 1187

    I’m surprised you used it so well for French considering you had quite a bit of background in it. When, six months ago, I first tried ‘revising’ my once-good-but-half-forgotten French, I gave Duolingo a go but found it tedious.

    However I like the idea and I think I’d find it useful for a language I have a more elementary level in. So if they expand their language base to Asian languages, I’d try again.

    • Avatar
      Zane Claes -  April 4, 2014 - 9:40 pm 1190

      Have you considered using the “Test Out” feature in Duolingo? If you find it too easy, you can easily test into higher levels. I admit it was still a little slow at the early parts, but I also learned some vocab I had missed in my other studies 😉

      Yep, that’s exactly why I’m trying it for German. I can’t wait for Russian / Japanese! Did you know they’re actually crowdsourcing this? If you speak a language, you can contribute to the process 🙂

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