Duolingo is a great (and FREE) way to learn a language, but not everyone uses the app to its full potential. This process is what I follow every time I begin learning a new language and I follow through until I repeat it again with a different language! Follow these 14 steps and you’ll discover the best way to use Duolingo to learn a new language.
I had a strategy that I followed pretty religiously with French and Italian, but since Duolingo changed its path, I’ve needed to revamp my plan.
So with the new Path, here’s my strategy as a beginner to advanced learner and using Duolingo along the way.
1. Turn All the Units in Section 1 Legendary
The best Duolingo strategy when starting a new language on the app is to get the basics down really well. You do that by completing the Legendary Level lesson on all the Unit bubbles in Section 1 of your Duolingo Course.
Once you’ve started the course, you should see a bar at the top stating which Section and Unit you are currently on:
If you click on the bar it will tell you which Section you are on, and you can scroll to the right to see which Sections come next.
The first Section is filled with the first topics, grammar, and vocabulary that you need to get a beginner’s understanding of the language, so you’ll be ready to tackle the rest of your Duolingo course with a good foundation.
Especially if you are a true beginner who has never studied this language before, you definitely need the repetition of the basics before moving on to Section 2 and the rest of the course.
2. Work Through All Units in Section 2 & Turn Grammar and Vocab Units to Legendary
Now that you’ve finished Section 1, we have to start working through Section 2! For this section, I recommend finishing each Unit in the Path without doing the Legendary Level lessons on EVERY lesson.
Instead, get through the whole Path in Section 2 one time, then go back and get Legendary Level with the grammar and vocab lessons, which are the Units that look like checkmarks. I wouldn’t waste time getting Legendary status with the Stories Units (the book emoji ones).
If you’re in a hurry or feel like you know this information really well already, go through and get Legendary status on each Unit’s review lesson, which is the little Duo trophy that shows up at the end of each Unit like this:
So for Step 2, you complete Section 2, then go back and turn the grammar and vocab (checkmark emoji) Units Legendary OR turn the Unit Reviews Legendary.
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3. Finish the Rest of the Sections Until You Finish the Course
The main first goal to get you motivated on Duolingo is to finish every single Unit on the Duolingo course in all the Sections.
Unfortunately, Duolingo has taken away the Duolingo Golden Owl trophy that would show up when you had finished the course. This is what that looked like:
I just finished the Spanish course and was looking forward to seeing what new trophy they would show at the end, but it was super anticlimactic, just the same little trophy that shows up at the end of every section you finish, nothing special:
I thought then there would be a better trophy at the end of doing the Daily Refresh (Section 9 in the Spanish course right now) but nothing special happened there either. Boo. I hope Duolingo brings back some sense of accomplishment when you finish the course.
The motivation now is just to finish the course so you can say that you did! Another motivation would be “leveling up” which the Duome keeps track of. You can learn about how to track that here.
If you want to learn a language faster than ever, I also highly recommend reading Benny Lewis’s book on how to learn a language in JUST 3 months.
4. Go Back To Section 3 Through the End of the Course and Focus on Turning Grammar Skills Legendary
Once you have finished the full course on Duolingo and earned your trophy, you are still far from being done with your course! The best way to use Duolingo at this point is to go back to Section 3, focus on the grammar Units, and try to get each of them to Legendary Status.
Then go through each Section getting Legendary Status in the grammar lessons until you get to the end of the course.
The reason I think you should focus on grammar first is because it is the building blocks of the language.
Once you get the grammar structures down, then adding vocabulary is much easier because you can actually use the new words that you are learning in real sentences.
Let’s get into how to do that though, since the new Path doesn’t make this easy.
One thing I don’t love about the new Duolingo Path is that it’s no longer easy to tell which lessons are grammar or vocabulary lessons.
Before, in the Duolingo tree, you could easily see which lessons were what since they were labeled very clearly:
Now we’ll have to dig a little deeper in order to figure out which lessons to turn Legendary.
First, you’ll want to go to Section 3 and read the Unit description. For example, in the screenshot below you can see Unit 3 Section 1 for the Spanish course which says “describe activities, use stem-changing verbs.” So we can assume that there WILL be a grammar lesson in this Unit. Let’s find it!
What I’ve noticed about the Path is that the Grammar lessons are almost always the second-to-last Checkmark Lesson in the Unit, but ONLY IF the Unit description mentions a grammar topic.
So you can see that in Unit One, if I go to the second to last Checkmark Lesson, there’s the stem-changing grammar lesson.
Confusing, I know, I miss the old Duolingo!! (oo, that rhymed lol)
Then, in the Spanish Course at least, there are no grammar lessons until you reach Unit 5 when the description says “shop for groceries, use commands.”
In this Unit, there are actually 3 grammar lessons on commands, so in cases like that, you’ll want to click through and make sure you’ve done all of them. The second to last and last Checkmark Units were both grammar lessons, plus one random one in the middle of the Section.
If you’re confused about what a grammar lesson is, it would be anytime you’re talking about conjugating verbs (past, present, future, etc), using pronouns (direct, indirect, etc), using commands, etc.
Of course, finding the grammar lessons throughout the course isn’t an exact science since Duolingo has made it so difficult for some reason, but with these tips, you should be able to find them!
5. After Grammar, Focus on Vocab that Is Difficult for You
Once you feel like you are getting a good grasp of conjugating verbs, head to the vocabulary subjects that have been difficult for you to remember. I always start with the ones that are presented earlier in the Duolingo course and work from there, so that would be Section 3 and onward if you’ve followed this plan to a T.
I would go through each Section until I reached the end of the course and turn “Legendary” all of the rest of the Units that I haven’t completed yet since those all cover vocabulary and review.
So by the time you finish this step, you should have all of the Units at Legendary Status.
This is a huge thing to accomplish, so if you start getting bored, keep reading to see how you can motivate yourself with levels, XP, and possibly doing a reverse course (learning your language from the language you’re learning, ie English course for Spanish speakers or Italian course for French speakers, etc.)
6. Focus on “Leveling Up” By Watching Your XP on the Duome
Once you’ve earned your trophy by finishing the course and have started practicing the harder parts of the Duolingo Path, it’s time to get you motivated again. What is your next goal?! It’s getting to the next level!!
A lot of people aren’t even aware that Duolingo has levels, let alone that they should be a goal for you to set for yourself.
Basically, levels are decided by how much XP you have earned. So the more XP you earn, the higher level you are. The highest level is level 25 and is incredibly hard to attain.
You can read this post here to get a better understanding of levels and how to find out what level you are!
7. Set a Goal: What Level Do You Want to Be & By When?
After you’ve figured out your level, set a goal for yourself using the Duome website. (You’ll need to read the post about Duolingo levels first which explains how to use this website!)
If you hover over the Level (mine is level 18 for French from the English language) it will tell you at the bottom how far you are from the next level.
In this case, I need 770 XP to get to the next level. Using that number, I can figure out what a realistic goal is to get to Level 19. My end goal is to get to Level 25, but for me, it is easier to break up my goals by individual levels.
If I earn 100 XP a day, I can get to Level 19 in just 8 days! I’ll definitely need to use a few hacks to earn XP faster to get there, but it makes the goal seem closer and more attainable!
Figure out how much XP you usually earn per day and see if you can challenge yourself to earn more per day to get to the next level that much faster.
8. Get Motivated by Winning Leagues & Earning Achievements
Another way to get motivated at this point that can encourage you to use Duolingo even more efficiently is by competing against other users in Duolingo Leagues.
Every week you have the chance to beat other users in leagues and move up to another league. The highest one is the Diamond League.
To see your league, just go to the shield icon at the bottom of the app. Only the top 10 users with the most XP earned that week can move on to the next league. If you are in the bottom 5, then you move down a league.
This can motivate you to earn a ton more XP since you don’t want to get knocked down a league or have to wait another week to advance to the next league!
You also can check your Achievements in the Profile tab on Duolingo to get you motivated (that’s the one with a head symbol). Scroll to the bottom to see what you have accomplished and how much you have left to get another Achievement badge!
Once you get into the Diamond League (the highest league available on Duolingo) then you can earn another Achievement badge by finishing #1.
9. If You’re Losing Motivation: Start Your Reverse Path
Once I start getting bored and unmotivated and have already worked on all the steps listed above, the best thing to do is start your reverse Path!
I LOVE doing this and it is usually way more fun than the first course was, especially because you can see how much you have improved and learned while finishing the course the first time from your native language to the new language.
A reverse Path is when you start learning your language FROM that language. So instead of learning Italian from English, I switched to my second language (Spanish) and started learning Italian from Spanish.
You can also try learning from your language to English (or whatever your native language is).
10. Aim to Repeat This Process on Your Reverse Path
Your goals and the process of the best, most efficient way to finish or make it through a Duolingo course are the exact same this time. First, head towards finishing the course, then start focusing on XP and get your level up!
I was super proud to finish the Duolingo Path from Spanish to Italian even more than when I did it from English to Italian!
11. Try the Desktop Version to Earn XP Faster & Not Lose Health (If You Still Lose Health)
At this point, you are trying to level up and earn more points, so you should start using the Desktop version of the app to get through lessons quicker without having to deal with ads or losing health when you make mistakes.
Lastly, although Duolingo is an incredible resource for learning a language for free, you should DEFINITELY be using other resources as well. This is the language plan that I follow that incorporates all my favorite resources.
Listen to music in your language, get a few months of the Babbel app to deepen your understanding of grammar (like a virtual textbook), and watch a ton of Netflix with and without subtitles. That’s it!
Keep using Duolingo even after you’ve earned all of the things we’ve listed above because the best way to use Duolingo is as a constant refresher of what you’ve learned!
Dayna Brockbank is a travel and language-learning blogger who has lived around the world but has now settled in Nice, France. She speaks 3 languages at varying levels of fluency: Spanish, Italian, and French, and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Spanish Education. She and her husband focus on making travel part of life by living cheaply and traveling on a budget.