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Duolingo Review: A Fun, Functional, Fresh Approach to Learning a Language

¡Hola, Duo! This app finds solid middle ground between campy cartoons and the routine of a classroom.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
5 min read



  • Old material refreshes to stay challenging as you learn and progress
  • A majority of the app is accessible for free
  • Reading, writing and speaking exercises used for ultimate comprehension.

Don't like

  • Premium features aren't in everyone's budget
  • Losing a practice streak can be discouraging
  • Duolingo practice reminders border on excessive

Learning a new language is tough, especially as an adult. Our brains just aren't wired for it the way they were when we were younger. Language learning apps are a convenient way to help us over those hurdles, but some are better than others. And in a field full of apps trying to help you achieve your linguistic goals, Duolingo shines brighter than the rest.

A laptop open on a desk with the Duolingo logo on the screen

Duolingo's ease of access, tailored learning content and welcoming interface earned the language learning app a CNET Editors' Choice Award for 2022.

Shelby Brown/CNET

Duolingo has been around for more than a decade and is available for iOS and Android and via browser on PC. The app employs bite-sized lessons that include speaking, listening, reading and writing to teach you a new language or brush up on a secondary language. Lessons are also gamified, which means they offer rewards and other benefits for making progress, giving you more incentive to keep learning.

In the fall, the app began rolling out a massive redesign with a map replacing the skill tree, a decluttered user interface, more gamification, animations, less pressure to complete units and more. In May, Anton Yu, Duolingo's product manager, told CNET that the app's redesign was shaped by user feedback. 

Duolingo was a great app to use before, but the updates made me love it even more. In addition, a majority of the new features are accessible to users on the free tier. 

Duolingo's redesigned home screen is a winding path instead of a rigid skill tree. 


The language learning app maintains an encouraging, welcoming environment from the first time you sign on and offers a high-quality language learning experience for free (without pressuring you to upgrade to a premium subscription). The app deftly delivers lighthearted gamification without losing the ultimate goal of learning. This fun, effective learning experience is why Duolingo maintains a CNET Editors' Choice Award for 2022.

Getting started is easy 

When you use the app for the first time, you can choose the language you want to learn. Duolingo offers more than 61,000 language exercises that teach 39 different languages, including endangered and indigenous languages, fictional languages like Klingon from Star Trek and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones. And more courses are on the way. 

Duolingo will ask why you want to learn it (travel, school, job opportunities, etc.), whether you're brand new to the language, and how much time you'd like to dedicate to learning -- Casual (three minutes per day), Regular (10 minutes per day), Serious (15 minutes per day) or Intense (20 minutes per day). You can change these time-based goals any time in the app. 

Reaching your daily goal earns you experience points, which translate to a numerical skill ranking, as well as access to leaderboards for competition-style features. The longer you use the app, you'll earn achievement badges and earn gems that serve as in-game currency to enhance the game elements.

Along the way, a little green owl named Duo cheers you on and reminds you about completing your daily goal. Duo's "motivational" tactics -- big weepy eyes and "I miss you" notifications -- have earned him a spot in meme culture as well.

Duolingo owl meme

Duo is always ready to remind you to practice.

Video screenshot by CNET

Again, you can have a great experience with Duolingo without paying a dime. The app's free tier is ad-supported and you get five hearts (like lives in a video game) to start. Each mistake you make costs one heart, but you can refill all five for 450 gems. Upgrading to Super Duolingo, the app's premium tier, has unlimited hearts, no ads and more personalized practice. 

Language lessons for everyone that don't get tedious

Duolingo has a streak feature -- like Snapchat -- that provides extra motivation, but it's not where I feel the most pride when using the app. The most rewarding feeling is learning a particularly tricky conjugation, finally getting a question right that I'd missed before, being able to comprehend one of the in-app stories, or understanding a bit of dialogue in a movie. 

The app features learning units, which break down into lessons like phrases, travel, family, school, emotions, routines, weather and more technical stuff like word tenses. Lessons have five levels -- as you progress, you earn gems and in-game rewards. Exercises get harder and more lessons unlock for future units. 

Duolingo Stories

Duolingo Stories are now built into your learning path and help with comprehension 

Shelby Brown/CNET

The lesson icon turns gold when you reach level five, but it doesn't mean you can't go back to it. If you're subscribed to the premium tier, once you hit level five on a lesson, you can do eight more sessions to gain legendary status, which indicates mastery and turns the icon purple. I like that past Duolingo lessons grow with you. For example, I can go back to the very first lesson that covers introductions, but Duolingo won't be giving me softball questions. This makes reviewing old material way less tedious.

Besides regular lessons, you can test your knowledge with Duolingo Stories. You can read along, but the story is also narrated so you can hear pronunciation and inflection. After a couple of lines of dialogue, the app will ask a comprehension question, like "what is this character looking for?" If you're unsure of a vocabulary word, you can tap to get a translation and it won't count against your score. Like the regular lessons, if you've already gone through a story once, the next time you do, it'll be a bit more challenging. The stories reiterate the vocabulary words you've learned while putting them into realistic situations. 

Duolingo also has supplementary podcasts that you can find on most podcast apps. Each episode features an interesting story from a native speaker with English narration for context. The episodes feature more intermediate language skills and won't apply toward your rank or points in the Duolingo app. They're still enjoyable to listen to and have a similar feel to a feature piece you'd hear on NPR. 

Plus, when you make an account, Duolingo makes it easy to access it across devices. For example, I can do a quick lesson on my phone, iPad or swap over to PC. The app is also pretty adaptable. For example, if you don't feel like repeating a phrase you can skip the question and the app will keep your microphone off for an hour while using the app.

Should you try Duolingo?

There are a lot of language learning apps out there to choose from (check out our favorites), and it's OK if Duolingo doesn't fit your learning style. Duolingo doesn't force you to make an account right away and doesn't harangue you about subscribing to the premium tier. In fact, you can access Duolingo content without making an account. You won't be able to save your progress, but it's a great way to test out the service with zero commitment. 

Is Duolingo Super worth it?

The free version of Duolingo and Duolingo Super aren't drastically different, even after the redesign. After a 14-day free trial, Super Duolingo costs $7 a month and Duolingo Super Family -- which supports up to six users -- costs $10 a month. You can also cancel Super and revert to the free version at any time. 

Duolingo Super levels up your earning experience by supplying unlimited hearts, removing ads, and adding extra features like special mistake practice quizzes and extra mastery quizzes to earn legendary status. In addition, Duolingo says that Plus subscribers help support the free tier for others.