Hasta la vista, Duolingo

Hasta la vista, Duolingo
Photo by Madalyn Cox / Unsplash

After more than two years, a currently 800-day streak in learning Chinese, and having learned enough to comfortably pass the Chinese HSK1 test (and preparing for HSK2 this autumn), I've decided to part ways with Duolingo.

Financial Hygiene

One of the first reasons for that is that I've decided to be uncompromising when it comes to handling subscriptions, as you might have read in a previous post (by the way, NetFlix is also getting the window treatment, an apt way of handling things since I live nearby Prague).

The price for Duolingo isn't exactly cheap, and at the moment only my wife and I use it, with some other relatives and friends getting this as a courtesy out of us.


After two years of learning Chinese with Duolingo, and taking parallel HSK1 and HSK2 courses on Coursera from the University of Peking, I noticed that while Duolingo provides an engaging way to learn, you eventually reach a plateau where the platform no longer pushes you forward, or doesn't gives you enough grammatical background / context to understand why you need to use a certain sentence structure.

I found that self-paced courses provided much more value in terms of learning, understanding, and being exposed to daily situations, whereas Duolingo tends to be lacking on that side.

To add insult to injury, I would say that the Chinese courses are still very well designed compared to the French ones. My wife is learning French using Duolingo (I happen to be a native French locutor) and I have been half-amazed / half-appalled at the many nonsensical sentences in the French courses. Nobody ever uses stupid sentences such as "The birds are reading the newspapers".

FOMO and Manipulative Techniques

This is the worst part of all with Duolingo, and perhaps the main reason why I'm bidding adieu to this platform. I understand that the Duolingo team is not hiding about the use of multiple manipulative techniques to keep people hooked on learning, but after 800 days into this, too much is just too much.

The application combines motivational tricks with streaks, leaderboards, a ton of different challenges, in-game currency, and mini-games to keep people hooked on learning.

The darker side of it is that it is also using clearly passive-aggressive methods to keep people hooked to the app. In-app characters will send the users either motivational messages to keep their streak going, or passive-agressive wording sounding like "You're gonna lose your streak but hey, I don't care" to instill FOMO and have the user log in and complete their streak.

One of the other additions to the app is a widget that depicts the mascot, a big owl, showing different poses through the day, and growing more and more annoyed if you don't complete your lesson. It might be fun in the beginning, but the more you are involved in this and the more it starts feeling manipulative and abusive.

Yesterday, one of my sisters congratulated me for keeping a 800-day streak straight in Chinese (I had a few occasions here and there where a streak freeze helped), but I wasn't really happy about it at all. I felt that even if there was consistency on my end, a large portion of achieving this was done less for me to actually learn than instead to avoid re-starting the streak from zero.

When you step back and think about it, the whole thing is a completely artificial construct. I'm on my learning journey and I don't feel any need or desire to compete against friends or unknown people. I'm just not going to let an app send me intempestive messages and interruptions about the need to maintain a virtual streak.


I honestly don't know if I'll get back on Duolingo or not. My subscription is lapsing on the 20th of July 2024, so who knows, I might never look back - or get hooked again by virtue of a family member asking for it.

I am very keen to continue my Chinese learning journey. I had the opportunity in the past to take a couple of culture-related online courses on Coursera relevant to China such as this one, and will also focus on one of my pet peeves, a.k.a. Chinese litterature, while also hoping to make progress towards completion of HSK2 and HSK3 certifications.

Duolingo has served its purpose well, but now it's time to move on to better grounds.