One Year of Spanish on Duolingo

I joined Duolingo in August 2019 with two goals: (a) Be able to understand native speakers with ease and (b) converse comfortably with native speakers in casual conversation. After one year I’d like to reflect on my experience, how much I’ve learned, and what I plan to do next.


Being able to understand native speakers is still difficult. If I slow videos down to 0.75 speed I can make out about 80% of what’s said. At full speed I can make out 50% of what’s said.

I would say I can converse with native speakers but not comfortably. I’ve luckily had several opportunities to put my conversational abilities to the test and have received positive feedback. I’m still slow putting sentences together and often find myself coming up with the sentence in English first and then translating it in my head, rather than “thinking in Spanish”.

Practicing with Duolingo

I am nearly finished the entire Spanish tree. Past Subj. and Vocab 4 are my only unfinished modules.

Duolingo Spanish Tree

I was fairly consistent with practicing. I used the app for about 11/12 months since I started. Each day of practice would be 5-10 lessons.

What I liked

The “tips” section for each module in checkpoints 1-5 were invaluable. Those little grammar lessons provided context for what I was learning and greatly improved my understanding and retention.

What I didn’t like

After checkpoint 5 the “tips” section for the modules vanishes. This was a huge disappointment and sadly some very important modules like the Subjunctive, Conditional, and Future Tense lack a tips section. You’re essentially thrown into a lesson introducing a new verb tense without showing you any of the grammar rules. You could look up the grammar rules online, but that doesn’t make for a good user experience, especially when the grammar lessons used to be there and simply disappeared without warning.

The modules become quite repetitive after you hit levels 3/4. At that point you’ve memorized most of the expressions and when they come up you recall the answer from memory instead of actually translating it and exercising your skills.

Duolingo Conclusion

My conclusion is that duolingo is an excellent launch pad for your Spanish learning journey but it will not event get you close to reading/writing fluency on its own. It supplies a solid foundation for vocabulary and grammar that will make more advanced learning material accessible. It lacks any conversational or serious listening practice (though Duolingo stories is decent for listening).

Supplementing Duolingo

If you agree with my conclusion about Duolingo then you are most likely seeking additional learning material. Here is what I found helpful:

  • Listen to all the Duolingo Spanish podcast episodes if you haven’t already.
  • Listen to Spanish YouTube channels. I found Easy Spanish and Why Not Spanish the most helpful.
  • Find someone to talk to. I practice with a friend of mine who’s also learning Spanish but ideally you’ll want to practice with a native speaker.

If I could go back and restructure my learning.

My practice breakdown was probably 75% Duolingo, 20% listening practice (either Duolingo Podcasts or YouTube videos), and only 5% speaking practice.

If I could return to the beginning of my Spanish learning journey I would restructure my learning as 40% Duolingo, 30% listening, and 30% speaking. This is also what I plan to do moving forward.

Written on September 6, 2020