Duolingo Review plus Supplemental Notes for Irish!

23 Apr 2017 at 17:02 (Random Randomness) (, , , , )

(Clicky here to go straight to the supplemental Irish notes)

I’ve been studying Irish using Duolingo for 72 days now and I will say that I quite like it. Having said that, it has plenty of flaws. I started off on the app version, as going to the website on mobile was all ZOMG APP!!111 so I didn’t even realise there was a web version at first.

The first thing I noticed was the lessons were not even lessons: they’re just drills. The first few “lessons” were okay, but once it got to the more complex concepts, like lenition and eclipsis, there was no way on Earth I could have got the concept relying on the app alone. There was talk of a “Tips and Notes” section in the lesson discussions, only it turns out the most useful part of a language programme (i.e. the actual teaching bit) is completely omitted from the app and only available on the web version, which to me is a really, really big flaw.

The second issue is that there is no offline mode, which means unless you have data (I don’t), or access to public wifi, you won’t be able to study, say, on the commute to work, or during a lunch break (this is one of the reasons I love dead-tree editions so much!).

After studying Irish for a bit, I thought I’d learn a bit of Italian, since I’ve always thought it’s a pretty language. It was okay at first, but even after studying for a couple of months, I still don’t feel as if I can conjugate any verb off the top of my head like I can in French. Irish conjugations are a bit simpler as you only need to learn one conjugation for each tense, but Italian has one for each subject pronoun, and even after doing the lessons over and over, give me a verb I’m familiar with and I still couldn’t reel of the conjugations.

Back to Irish, I’ve completed the lessons on Present Tense 1 and I’m practising that set over and over. This is the one that’s really bugging me, even more than initial mutations. They’ve info dumped a ton of verbs on us, some of which are very similar to each other (loads of them start with t, have a vowel or two, then a g then another vowel set, then an n) and mixing them all up in one lesson set is just too confusing.

Most courses on Duo use a text-to-speech generator, so you can get a feel for pronunciation, unfortunately Duo doesn’t have access to one for Irish, so everything would have to be recorded individually, which is beyond Duo’s budget. They have a lady from the Connacht area doing some of the audio (before that, they had a non-native speaker who I hear pronounced things pretty badly), but unlike the other language lessons, you don’t get audio with each word. There are just so many words that I’m not sure I’m pronouncing properly, and since Duo doesn’t even have a pronunciation guide (Irish spelling is almost as bonkers as English to the uninitiated), unless you’ve done your research beforehand, you could go the whole course pronouncing things incorrectly or not even having a clue how the word should be pronounced.

Unfortunately, what it comes down to is Duo just doesn’t really match my learning style. I know a lot of people like the osmosis way of learning, or learning without feeling like they are learning, but that’s just not my style. I like to get into the grammar, learning the patterns and writing out verb conjugations over and over again. That’s the way my brain learns.

So while Duo can be a useful supplement to learning, and a good starting point, I personally will not rely on it as a sole source of learning. I still recommend you check it out as there is still a lot to be gained. After all, it’s free, and you can get a feel for your target language and see if you would like to invest money on a more thorough course. It’s also great for picking up vocabulary — when they’re not dumping a zillion similar words in one lesson.

This was just a quick jotting down of my thoughts. For a more thorough review, check out this one by snarkynomad. Or for a total trashing of the Irish course, here is a thread on reddit.

Update December 2017

The devs are focusing all their energy on adding all these extra club and achievement features to the app, but still NO TIPS AND NOTES. Seriously guys, priorities, yo. On top of that, they have become seriously begware. When I first installed it in February, the ads were unobtrusive, and for that reason I would sometimes click on them to contribute back to the program. Later, they added a delay before you could close the ad, and where the “continue” button was, you now got a “visit advertiser’s website” button instead. I get that they need to make money, but for real, I don’t even bother with the ads anymore, especially since they have become completely irrelevant to my interests. Also, get this, they want you to pay ridiculous sums for the privilege of the premium version of the app:

Really? Over £70 for one year? I could buy a good quality coursebook for less than half that! Are they having a laugh? Fair enough, I suppose you’d have access to every language course on the program, but that is a ridiculous amount of money, especially given how many errors there are in the program and how many things it misses out. Completing the Japanese course, the only tenses it teaches are the present, past and continual, and I believe it touches on the potential. It misses out the plain forms (despite the course blurb claiming it’ll teach you to understand manga/anime — sure, everyone in manga speaks the polite form at all times!), even though the plain form should be introduced first — after all, how else will you look up a verb in a dictionary if you never learn how to form the -masu form from the dictionary/plain form! Plus the plain form is needed to construct other forms, even in a polite-form sentence!

It also randomly gives very casual forms of a sentence later in the course, leaving beginners wondering what the heck just happened. £72 a year, even for every language I’m learning? No thanks. Instead of being greedy, Duo needs to realise that they’re more likely to get paying customers if they set an affordable price. I’m sure more people would be willing to pay £10 a year, especially considering how high the dropout rate is. To see what I mean, join a club and see how quickly the rest of the members will become completely inactive. In the French club I’m in, I’m the only one who has maintained a streak. Occasionally, 1-3 of the other members will do a lesson, but for the most part, it’s 0XP, 0 day streak, and this is since February this year!

Update October 2018

Earlier this year, Duolingo did a major revamp of the learning system. This is what the old tree looked like (had to nick these images as I never screenshot the old ones):

Each lesson would have a strength bar (it looked a little different on the app version, but the functionality was the same). Clicking on a skill would take you a list of each individual lesson and its vocab:

As you worked through each sub-lesson, your progress would increase. Once you’d completed all the sub-lessons, you’d get that strength bar and skill to gold level. As time went by, the progress bar would start to decay, which is your prompt to revisit the skill. There was a “strengthen skills” option available once you’d completed each sub-lesson in the skill, or a similar option on the main screen to revise from all the lessons completed so far.

In the new “Crown” system, this is gone. The progress bars have been replaced with a “crown level”:

The way it works is, once you’ve completed all the sub-lessons in a skill, you get to Crown Level 1. The number of lessons then increases in order to get to level 2 and so on, until you get to level 5, at which point you get the coveted gold status. Unlike the old version, you never get downgraded. Well, actually, sometimes you do, but more of that later.

Why I intensely dislike the new system

The reason I installed Duo in the first place was to learn Irish. Now Irish and English are very different in terms of grammar and syntax, and I wanted to make sure I remembered everything I learned. What was good about the old system was that we had the list of sub-lessons there, and I could deliberately repeat the same sub-lesson every day until I was confident I knew everything it taught. I can’t do that anymore. As you can see in the screenshot above, clicking on a skill no longer brings up the list of lessons, just a meaningless number and a START button. Users are forced to move on to the next sub-lesson even if they haven’t memorised the lesson before.

The “reason” for the crown system was that going up in levels meant you’d be given more and more complicated exercises as your levels went up, but I haven’t found this to be the case at all. You get the exact same exercises, all that’s different is that the easy levels use tiles, the harder levels use more and more freehand typing.

More recently, they enabled testing out of a skill set, and to be honest, if they hadn’t, Duo would probably be off my tablet by now. Because trying to get your skills back to gold (which many of us had done before they threw this stupid crown system at us and reduced our skills down to level 2 or 3), you had to do a ridiculous number of drills, and for the early lessons, this was so tedious, it was just not worth the bother.

It would literally be lesson after lesson of “la fille”, “bonjour”, “au revoir”, “la pomme”. It was not getting harder as the level went up. Really, they were taking le biscuit, and there was nothing to be gained from this mindless repetition.

So these are some of the reasons I am feeling disillusioned with the new version of Duolingo. A reason I am ticked off with Duo in general is that this is the SECOND time this year that they have reset the French tree. Which means again, all my progress was wiped not once, but TWICE. “Notice anything different? We’ve made some changes to make the French tree better!” Except it’s only been about half a year since you wiped my tree, and I had just got to getting all my skills back up to level 2 when BAM! You wipe the whole damn thing again. It’s basically like your teacher setting you coursework, and then when you go to hand it in, telling you that they’ve decided to make things better for you by changing the assignment completely. Nice one, Duo.

I got so fed up I reset it completely, and have worked my way up to testing out and golding every skill up to Friends, and I can tell you, I did not notice the lessons getting harder as I went up in level. So again, what exactly is the point of this crown system?

I will say one thing to the devs’ credit though: they have finally got Tips and Notes to mobile, although so far it only appears to be on the French tree.

I started the Portuguese course recently, and felt very disappointed that they only teach Brazilian Portuguese, so switched to Memrise instead, which DOES teach European Portuguese (Duo does the same with English too, only teaching a US dialect, whereas most English-speaking countries are closer to the British dialects). Overall, I’m finding Memrise to be a lot less headachey (although a lot stricter), though it does have some issues (launching into {complex!) Kanji from the beginning of the Japanese course is BAD. Even I was thrown, and I’ve been studying kanji — on and off — for over six years). But that’s another review for another post.

Back to Duo, I’m getting close to a 600 day streak, and considering ending on a high. My motivation for learning Irish has gone (my dreams of buying a bit of Irish land in the middle of nowhere are probably never going to come true, so I don’t have any reason to learn Irish anymore. My laaaaand 😥 ), plus Duo becoming even less suited to my learning style makes me less and less inclined to use it. However, having some really nice club members is still keeping me on it, so who knows.

People are jumping ship:

Update November 2018

I’m done. I only use Duo now, because 1. I have a fluent speaker in my Japanese club and 2. I want to keep what little Italian I learnt fresh in my mind. Other than that, I’m only doing the minimum required to not get booted out of the French club. I gave the new system a chance, but it wasn’t working for me anymore.

I will not!

My Supplemental Notebook for Irish

I made this for personal use, but thought it may come in handy for other Duo learners, especially those relying on the app. The main problems with Duo are no pronunciation guide, no offline mode, no notes with the lessons and I felt like it was going too slowly in some areas, and I’ve tried to address these in my notes. Like I said, this was made for myself, so you may or may not find it useful. As I’ve used other websites’ material in here, this may not stay up for long, or at least not in its full form. Also, the notes only go as far as I have gone in the actual Duo course. You’re welcome to share this among your friends, just bear in mind that some of it is not my work, so please credit appropriately.


If you are the copyright holder of any of these (with the exception of the wikis, which already give permission to use), and you object to my use of them, please leave a message in the comments and I’ll be happy to remove your content.

Download here (final version 20/10/2018): notebook-2018-10-20final.pdf
Goes up to the Jobs lesson, plus verbal nouns and the present progressive.


  1. James Davidson said,

    Thank you very much for these tips and notes on the Irish Duolingo Course. How are you doing in Irish now?

    • Silver Arrows said,

      Tá mé go maith, go raibh maith agat! I feel I’m progressing, as I’ve actually been able to express quite a lot in Irish to my (sort-of) Irish-speaking friend (I’ve actually managed to call his bluff on this one and he had to admit he’s forgotten most of what he learnt at school!). However, if I’d relied on Duo alone, I may have given up by now. I’m thinking of getting Learning Irish by Michael O′Siadhall, but not sure if I want to spend that much!

      I’m guessing you’re doing the Irish course too? How are you finding it?

      I’ve updated the notebook btw, I’m glad it was of use to you!

  2. James Davidson said,

    Just found your soooooooooo helpful site again – am on day 342 of my Irish Streak – thank you so much for the update. I have the book and the videos of ‘Now You’re Talking Irish’ and must start watching and reading those. If you want the videos I can send you a link to download them


    • Silver Arrows said,

      Hi, sorry I thought I approved your comment already. Congrats on keeping it up!

      I’m going to admit: I’ve pretty much dropped out of the Irish course. The new crown system started the decline, and my plans to become a culchie are with O’Leary in the grave, as they may or may not say in Ireland! I did mean to keep revising what I’ve learned, but ever since they changed the system I’ve become less inclined.

      I’m up to nearly 600 days, but I think the only thing keeping me on is the nice club members and revising French and Japanese, which I’ve been studying for many years already.

      Anyway I plan to update this post wit a nice long rant about it! I have updated the notebook anyhow. I’ll post it to the blog once I get on my PC.

      Rant duly posted and notebook updated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: