That little green owl is everywhere, but how good is Duolingo for learning Korean?
We’re put the little fella through its paces in our complete and comprehensive review of Duolingo.
What Is Duolingo?
Duolingo is an all-encompassing, language learning app which helps you learn a new language from the convenience of your smartphone.
You’ll probably recognise their mascot, a cute little green birdy.
Duolingo is actually the most popular education app in the world, and it boasts over 300 million users worldwide.
As well as Korean, Duolingo offers classes in 34 other languages (including Klingon and High Valyrian), with more languages being added all the time!
Is Duolingo Free?
Yes and no.
The basic Duolingo app is entirely free, with uninterrupted access to all of its lessons.
However, the free version does have it’s downsides.
Firstly, you’ll have to put up with ads. No surprises there.
Secondly, your access is restricted to online-only, so if you’re thinking of putting in some work on your next flight, think again!
The free version also limits the amount of ‘mistakes’ you can make, and you” lose a Zelda style heart every time you make a mistake. You have 5 hearts in total, and each heart takes 5 hours to refill.
Duolingo plus get’s rid of all the annoying ads, allows offline access and unlimited lives, as well as offering a neat progress tracker.
Duolingo plus starts at $6.99, but you can get a 7-day free trial to test drive it before you decide to buy or now.
Read more about plus membership, here.
How Does Duolingo Work?
Duolingo uses a method known as gamification.
Gamification is a technique where game elements are introduced into non-gaming settings, such as language learning.
We’ve spoken before about how having fun while learning is essential in keeping up your motivation to continue learning.
This is what Duolingo hopes to achieve.
And you know what, it works!
In a recent study of the effectiveness of Duolingo, two American professors concluded that amongst those they tested, the average improvement in language abilities was ‘statistically significant’.
This is a mathematical way of saying, “it probably helped”
They concluded that the main reason Duolingo is so effective was down to an increased motivation amongst their users, due to the fact it feels like you are playing a game.
Learning Korean with Duolingo
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
When we spoke to our friends and colleagues about Duolingo, opinions varied wildly.
Some love Duolingo for its attractive interface and fun approach, which makes learning a complicated subject that much easier.
The haters really question the amount you are actually learning while playing, and had equally nasty things to say about the content on the app.
So how good is Duolingo for learning Korean? We’ll take you through the good and bad points, and let you make that call.
Let’s get started.
Learning Korean with Duolingo – The Good
We already spoke about the fact that playing Duolingo is fun. Actually, its a LOT of fun.
And notice how we said playing Duolingo? That’s because it really does feel like you’re playing any other game on your phone.
And it’s addictive.
You’re left wanting to log in every day to maintain your streak.
Duolingo, for a beginner, is a godsend.
It starts off nice and slow and teaches you the basics. We found that some apps tend to throw you in at the deep end, but Duolingo is not like that.
If you haven’t yet learned Hangul, Duolingo is a great resource.
In fact’ it’s probably all you need. It’s no secret that the Korean alphabet can be learned pretty quickly due to it’s unique and intuitive design.
If one of your goals is to build your vocabulary, then Duolingo will help you to do that. There is a tonne of content to help build up your knowledge and expose you to a new list of words.
As a beginner’s resource, Duolingo is great.
Also, the notifications reminding you to take lessons are pretty funny. Check some of the unfortunate screenshots below.
We love companies that have a sense of humour – not everything has to be so serious!
Beginner language learners are the most likely to give up, so using a tool such as Duolingo which keeps things fresh and fun, is an excellent way of ensuring you keep at it.
Learning Korean with Duolingo – The Bad
So far we have learned that Duolingo is great for Hangul and vocabulary (oh and it’s fun), but what else?
Well, my friends, that’s pretty much where it ends, unfortunately.
If you’re looking to learn about sentence structure and grammar, Duolingo cannot help you there. You’ll need to make sure you’re using the app in conjunction with other resources, else you really won’t know anything but how to say a bunch of disconnected words.
As well as being pretty basic, some students also complain that some of the sentences Duolingo teach are not really relevant in real life. Check out a few of our favourites:
- 듀오링고는 가끔 이상해요 Translation: Duolingo is sometimes strange
- 공윈 아래에 용이 살아요 Translation: Does a dragon live under the park?
- 바지와 셔츠를 벗으세요 Translation: Take off your pants and shirt
- 미국에서 사람들이 패스트 푸드만 먹어요 Translation: In America do people eat only fast food?
Now imagine you go to the trouble of learning that sentence.
I mean really learning it.
Now tell me when you’re going to use that in real life?
We get it, injecting fun into your routine is an excellent way of mixing things up. But, it’s pretty much a waste of time.
The Problem With Translation Exercises
In fact, most of the Duolingo experience revolves around translating sentences. To put it bluntly, exceptional language skills are not built from executing translations.
If you’ve played around with Duolingo for any length of time, you’ll notice that pretty much all of the exercises revolve around translation.
For some, translations are an excellent introduction to a language, pretty easy to understand.
But there’s one problem.
And in the long term, translations are just not that effective as sticking around in your memory.
The reason? Visualization and association.
Visualization and Association
Growing up with your mother tongue, you learn to associate a word with images, situations and scenarios.
Let’s take the word, egg, for example.
Think about eggs and you might think of chocolate, chicken, scrambled or Humpty Dumpty.
All essentially the same thing, but at the same time, very different.
Each one of those words will have a permanent association in your memory. Perhaps you’ll be taken back to pre-school, and the first time you heard Humpty Dumpty. Or to your Grandma’s house, and her ‘delicious’ scrambled eggs.
These associations cement the word, it’s meaning, and use in language into your memory.
Not let’s look at the Korean for egg 계란 (gyelan). How many associations do you have with that word?
Well one, now that we have told you.
Now, do you understand why just relying on translations is a bad idea?
Other Annoying Points
We’ve heard a lot from other users of Duolingo, especially the things that bug them (people love to complain!)
Things that continually come up are:
The pronunciation of some of the words, consonants and vowels is sometimes really sketchy. If you’re solely using Duolingo as a resource, then you genuinely run the risk of learning something that is actually, incorrect.
Heavy reliance on romanisation. We’ve gone through this countless times about why learners really need to move away from romanisation as quickly as possible, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. BUT YOU NEED TO DO IT.
The speech level used is entirely formal/polite, which, for most of us, is not how we would speak in everyday life.
Awkward marking of exercises which can really put beginners off. We read one users experience of being marked wrong for translation “the dog swam to the house” instead of “towards the house”. Ok we get it, it may have been technically wrong, but the meaning was the same, and it’s just not that helpful for a beginner learner.
Learning via an App Will Only Take You So Far
App learning is super convenient. We love it, and it’s definitely helped me on my own journey.
But it’s important to diversify your resources.
One problem with apps is that the exercises are fixed regardless of whether you can do them or not.
There is no-one there to ask if you have any questions, you just have to get on with it.
Now Duolingo has tried to address this point by providing a dedicated online forum where learners can meet and ask questions.
And that’s great.
But for the most part, they are just fellow users like you and me, and there is no guarantee as to whether what they are telling you is correct.
How Good Is Duolingo for Learning Korean? Our Final Thoughts
Well done for making it this far.
So, how good is Duolingo for learning Korean?
Ultimately, Duolingo is a great little resource for the complete beginner. Fun, engaging and damn addictive, it has a place in your language learning portfolio.
BUT (big but).
There are actually better resources out there.
Perhaps Duolingo has tried to spread itself too thinly across the 35+ languages it offers.
For that reason, you cannot rely on Duolingo alone. To do so would be entirely detrimental to your learning experience.
If you like the format and love the experience, go for it, but just keep in mind everything we have said.
Oh, and repeat after us:
공윈 아래에 용이 살아요
(Does a dragon live under the park)