Homeschool Language Learning Apps: Duolingo (My Recommendations)

Well, it’s the end of the week, and it’s time to wrap up this series on Duolingo. If you’ve been with me all along, thanks for following! If you’re new and would like to catch up on the series, you can read in-depth explanations of what I like about this popular language learning app and what I don’t. I’ve evaluated it from my perspective as both a foreign language educator and a mom—so I hope that you’ll find my observations helpful.

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Today, I’d like to summarize all that I’ve learned about Duolingo and help you evaluate whether or not it’s a good fit for your family. For those who do choose to use Duolingo, I’ve also got some helpful tips for incorporating this app into your homeschool language learning. And if it’s not a good fit? Never fear! Next week I’ll be providing an in-depth review of Mango Languages, another language learning app used by many homeschoolers—and one that just might be a better option for you. 

So who is Duolingo for? Considering all of its features and limitations, I believe that Duolingo would be MOST suited for families who:

  • Appreciate gamified learning. If you’re still not sure about this approach, this six-minute video from TEDEd might just convert you. 
  • Would consider using Duolingo as a supplement to a more comprehensive curriculum. I don’t think that Duolingo is enough for homeschoolers to learn a language since, as I mentioned in my last post, it doesn’t provide an overview of any given language’s grammar and vocabulary systems. Within the app, you can learn how to conjugate tenses, for example, but there’s no explicit instruction on when use those tenses—such as the difference between the preterit and the imperfect past tense in Spanish. For that, you’ll need a resource that can offer more explicit instruction.  
  • Are looking to learn a language that uses a Latin alphabet. Students won’t be hindered by the app’s limitations if they don’t need to learn a new alphabet. 
  • Have students who might struggle with motivation. Duolingo is so well-designed (and its gamification so appealing) that I honestly believe that it would engage even the most hesitant language learner!
  • Have older students (13+) who are social media savvy—and parents with the time to monitor their Duolingo use. Since the social media elements of the app are unmoderated, this is essential. 
  • Have realistic expectations for a language learning app and understand it’s limitations. Can Duolingo make your child fluent in a foreign language? Short answer: no—but it can lay a great foundation for further study of the language. 

By contrast, Duolingo would most likely NOT be a great option for families who: 

  • Have young children (unless the parents are learning alongside the child). Duolingo users are supposed to be at least 13 years of age, according to the user policy. If your child can’t read well, he/she will also have a hard time benefitting from the app. 
  • Don’t want their older children to have unsupervised access to Duolingo’s social media functions. Explanation above.  
  • Want writing practice in another language that does not use the Latin alphabet. As I mentioned in my second post of this series, Duolingo currently does not offer writing practice for languages like Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, so if your child really wants to learn these languages, you may want to consider a different tool or at least plan to significantly supplement your Duolingo usage. 
  • Want or expect to reach a high level of proficiency through the app without outside support. No app can replace the value of human interaction in language learning—and while Duolingo is great for motivating kids through its gamification, it’s not great at providing kids the structural overview and explicit grammar instruction that they need to truly understand how a foreign language works. Just think about your children’s English language development; would you expect them to understand the rules of English grammar without ever having any formal grammar instruction? Of course not—but just so you know, that’s essentially how Duolingo works: by providing exposure to the language without explicit instruction in it. 
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If you do choose to use Duolingo to learn foreign languages in your homeschool, here are a few ways that you can maximize its use: 

  • Since Duolingo is structured by short, daily practice sessions, think about where those might fit into your typical schedule. Of course, you can make this part of your morning basket, or before lunch routine, but given its portability, Duolingo can also be used effectively during your childs downtime. Got a twenty minute drive to sports practice? Duolingo time! Does your teen need to decompress with some screen time at the end of the day? Duolingo time—it’s so fun, I promise that it won’t feel like studying. 
  • Consider which additional resources you might be able to provide to your language learner. Duolingo is great, but to really learn a language, your child needs more than what an app can offer. Audiobooks are an excellent way to boost your child’s listening comprehension, but there are other ways to do this as well. Could you pool resources with other homeschooling parents to organize a small conversation class? Could your child volunteer at a community center where he/she might have an opportunity to practice the language? If you have extra money for a language curriculum, considering doing that alongside your Duolingo practice. 
  • Up the ante. If you have a number of children learning languages (or even better, the same language), enhance the Duolingo experience by making it into a competition. While I don’t recommend speeding through each activity—your child’s brain needs some time to process and retain new language skills—you could create some friendly rivalry by encouraging your children to see who can keep up the longest Duolingo streak. Whoever wins gets a Twinkie (or whatever your reward of choice might be). 
  • Use cultural education to give your child’s Duolingo use a real-world meaning. Language learning without culture is like studying math without ever using money—there has to be a real-world connection, or the exercise will lose its appeal. If your child wants to travel abroad in college, use Duolingo as a way to prepare and stoke that passion for travel and cultures. If he/she has a favorite author who writes in another language, use Duolingo to help your child be able to read that author in the original. Above all, contextualize what your child is doing on the app within a larger goal—this will give your child a real motivation, which actually helps students to learn languages better

And that’s it, folks! I hope that you’ve learned more about Duolingo from these posts—and stay tuned for next week’s series on Mango Languages, another popular app used for homeschool language learning. 

If you’re using Duolingo in your homeschool, I’d love to hear about your experience—share how it’s worked for you in the comments!