Language Learning Efficiency and Duolingo

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. Efficiency in language learning is extremely important. I learned that when studying Chinese 45 or 48 years ago. Because there’s so much time involved, even a 50% increase in efficiency has a big impact. And the faster you can learn the language, the more efficient and the more intense, the better you’re going to learn. That was my experience 48 years ago.

So how do we want to spend our time? I checked out Duolingo. Duolingo is extremely well designed, it’s fun, it’s like a game, so you’re playing a game and at the same time you’re discovering a language. You’re discovering the word for bread, eat, drink and cow, things like this. So is that an efficient way to learn a language? In my view, it has a big advantage in that it’s a gamified approach, it is fun and you do learn something. In terms of time efficiency, it’s not something that I would spend a lot of time with because my feeling is that efficient language learning consists of exposing yourself to word-dense material. The greater the density of words, the better, therefore, I prefer listening audio material to visual videos.

Whenever I’ve listened to a story or a novel in an audio book format and then watched the movie, I find the audio book format, especially if the text is available to me, much more intense and much more effective in terms of building vocabulary because building vocabulary is key. As I’ve said before, you don’t need one or two thousand words in order to speak a language, you need 10,000 words. You need lots of words. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve gone to a country with a thousand words and I got nowhere. Couldn’t understand what they were saying and they quickly switched to English on me or didn’t have the patience to stay with me.

So Duolingo, by all means, you should try it and I’d be interested in hearing other people’s impressions. I think it’s a good way to get started in a language, but also inefficient. It’s not only that the high word density material that I listen to and read is more efficient in terms of acquiring the language and getting used to the language, it’s also that it’s so much easier to organize. Duolingo, I have to sit in front of either my iPhone or computer and play that game, as enjoyable as it may be.

However, I have a visitor coming from the Czech Republic and I’ve been reviewing my Czech. I go on the Internet and download __________, some new episodes. I can read them on LingQ. I can listen to them while walking the dog, while driving. It’s a better use of my time. I can do it while doing other things. If I couldn’t simply listen for an hour or more a day, I couldn’t learn all these languages. It’s just the portability of listening that’s so powerful and then you couple it with reading. Here again, all of the material that I’ve downloaded from the Internet in Czech, I’ve now got it ready to go on my iPad so that I can do my LingQ offline on the plane. I should mention I have to fly to Edmonton tonight.

So in terms of efficiency, I see Duolingo as a great introduction to the language. I think the simple fact that books, reading and listing is just the most efficient way and when you have the opportunity you speak, but in the meantime you are able to spend free time, dead time, in a very efficient way simply by listening and reading.

I would look forward to your comments on Duolingo. I’ve only spent an hour on it. I checked some reviews on the Internet, there are people who have been on it for years and have much more in-depth things to say and you can check those out on the Internet, as well.

Thank you for listening, bye.


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17 comments on “Language Learning Efficiency and Duolingo


I go on Duolingo, and I agree. It is great for starters and for a little side game, because I do learn a lot from it that helps with fluency- but it is not the MAIN thing You should go to- it shouldn’t be the main resource, but a booster !

Judy Gettelfinger

I’ve been using this site over 2 years ( I’m on level 23!). The thing lacking is explanations of grammar. For example, its category “past tense verbs” just gives you sentences to learn but has nothing to read explaining prederite or imperfect tense. I have to use Fluencia for this. But Fluencia doesn’t have English translations for its dictated sentences and they talk too fast. Even in their “slow” mode the words are not separated and are not spoken clearly.


Bonjour Steve,
I’m a big fan of you and your YouTube channel. I’ve been very interested in learning French for many years. I watch all your videos that I can. I followed you daily in your 90 day challenge and I have subscribed to LingQ.
I’m new at language learning, although I’ve taken French, and Spanish in school at different times I was never any good at them. I like the approach that you talk about in your video. “Language Learning should be fun.”
I am a bit confused by LingQ. I use to go on it every day and I wasn’t really sure what I was suppose to be doing. When I was a member of LingQ I would log in every day and I wasn’t really sure if I was making progress. I wasn’t a great student in school and didn’t like cue cards. My mind kind of shuts off when I do them and I don’t learn. I didn’t really know how well I was doing it.
Duolingo was introduced to me in January this year. As you say it’s a very simple site and not as in-depth as LingQ. However it was easy for me to understand and I had simple everyday goals that made me feel like I was going someplace. It’s kind of already set up and I just long in and do a certain amount and I’m done. There are rewards when the daily goal is met. And punishments, (lose of daily bonus points) when a day is missed. Games are better than cue cards
The tests are simple and never misleading. By misleading Duolingo does will sometimes test your reading ability of three different sentences; one or more will be correct. However they will all be correct grammar. So you are always reading correct grammar even in the wrong answer.
Doing Duolingo every day, learning between 6 and 12 words a day made me feel like I was going someplace. Yes there are cue cards but I kind of just skip through those. Once one has learned a section of words one needs to repeat them every so often to keep up to speed.
1) Make a introduction video on the best way to use LingQ. Keep it simple. I’m over 50 and not as tech savvy as the next generation.
2) Help your learners set a daily goal. The goal should be -So many words or so much time spent. With duolingo I have a routine that I do and after a while I do it automatically.
3) Teach culture lesson. I have a Living Language desk Calendar. Every day I do my Duolingo and then I read my French quote on my Living Language calendar. I have an ongoing word document that I use as a sort of daily journal. I write down the date and day in French spelling out the numbers. I write the words and the quote. If the quote is attributed I look up the person on Wikipedia. I then type in a shot bio of the person (in English). This makes the whole thing fun. I’m learning about the culture and the language and the country.
4) There should be different levels. As a person learning a second language for the first time I don’t have the confidence of a polyglot. I think Duolingo is more for first time 2nd language learners and LingQ is more for polyglots (which I hope to be one day).
I’m busy at work at this time but plan on coming back to LingQ and find a speaking coach when I get more time.
I’m really like your videos please keep up the GREAT WORK!

Kind Regards

Todd LeMay
From Oregon, living in Australia.


Hello Mr.Steve. I have a important question.

I read a text and see unknown word. I look up dictionary but see a lot of meaning in there.

İn case, should I focus learn only one meaning in reading text ? or another meanings I should learn ?

I write down unknown words with context in my pocket.

thank you for all sharing and inspiration…

    Focus on the learning that makes sense for the text you are reading. You won’t remember the rest, and you won’t even remember the one that suits the text you are reading. But over time if you run into the word many times, you will start to know how it is used and what it means in different situations. Good luck.

Leeza Silverman

Hi Steve

Im doing a Masters of TESOL so found your name that way. Then I discovered your sites and youtube.
I did use DuoLingo and I found it limited and even though I am at a ‘pre-intermediate’ type level it wasn’t giving me what I needed. I agree with you, I needed more dense content rich real and challenging material. I am currently living and teaching in Chile and i found reading trashy metro newspapers and watching CNN Chile taught me much more in a short period of time. I have a very high level of understanding of Spanish now after nearly 6months here even if I only speak at a pre intermediate level. So I think the hard stuff is the way to go. I could speak at a much higher level but that is my own lack of motivation. I can get by so I dont try any further. Im off to China shortly. Your site has inspired me and I want to now learn more languages. I just have Italian and Spanish to date.

barnes method

i found similar with duolingo

its quite clever, i like the way it makes you write, read, speak
its multifuncional

however, you’re learning words you don’t need most of the time
so interesting content trumps it

personally i need languages for certain things
<the news
<saying important things on the phone

i could spend 10 years on duolingo but still not know the pieces i need
however duolingo may help add to fluency if you used it like this


Duolingo is by no means a standalone source, or even a major source for language learning. I focussed my efforts on Italian with Duolingo, and was very disappointed when I went to Italy. You have to practice what you want to learn, and if you want to learn to understand and to speak, that’s what you have to do! However, Duolingo is a fun way to keep your interest up. With German, I’m focusing on coffee break German, Duolingo, a grammar book, and LinQ, and I think it is going better…ich denke.


I agree with the previous comments. I don’t think anyone will achieve serious language learning with this. I used it in French for a couple of weeks and quickly learned how to say ‘the boy has an elephant’! I also learned how to say ‘shark’, ‘bear’ and ‘turtle’ in French!. So it is not for me. In my opinion there are no real shortcuts to language learning other than a lot of hard work. I imagine in time that Duolingo will be seen as yet another ‘fad’. I might be wrong but time will tell.

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