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So You've had Enough of the Duolingo Owl

Getting beyond the language learning apps during foreign language acquisition.

So You've had Enough of the Duolingo Owl
So You've Had Enough of the Duolingo Owl - Second Language Strategies

What should you do when your language app is no longer stimulating

Welcome, aspiring polyglot! For those of you who have been joining us on Duolingo for the past couple of months, you may be finding that there is something missing, especially if your only input is Duolingo on a daily basis. While it is a phenomenal way to keep your target language at the forefront and it certainly gives your brain a reason to maintain the information, language apps are only supplemental.

Learning foreign languages is far more complex than spending an hour a day playing a game on your phone, unfortunate as that may be. With that in mind, here are some strategies to get beyond the app and some ways you can focus your energy outside of the apps on your phone.

How to outgrow your language application

The first thing that is important to recognize is when you've officially "outgrown" your app. This can look different to everyone, though there are some indicators you can look for to see if the time has come.

Duolingo, spanish, funny

1. You don't even want to open them

While it can be fun to think about going into an app every day and practicing your target language, even with game like lessons, there are times when you just will not want to open the app. That is okay and should be expected from time to time. Motivation will come and go, discipline carries the day. However, that does not mean you need to force yourself to appease the owl every day, there are other ways to go about learning the language and if you don't even want to open the app, it is no longer an asset to you. There will come a time when you are ready to go back and your language will be waiting, perhaps you'll have even chosen a new one to try out.

2. The lessons are too repetitive

Anyone who has ever used an app to learn a language before has likely recognized the amount of repetition involved. The primary reason for this is simple, the best way to learn a language is through repetition, especially when there isn't an opportunity for live feedback. Most people probably think the repetition is too much, but the reality of the situation is that without that repetition most people would not retain the information. Still, if you are feeling things are too repetitive and you really aren't making any progress, then that is a good sign it is probably time to move on or at least add in something new.

Language Memes For People Yelling At Their Duolingo App
grammar, mistakes, momentum

3. The app isn't driving you closer to your goals

One of the things you have to keep in mind when you are working on your foreign language acquisition is that you are doing it to achieve something. If your goal is to be able to hold a conversation, but you don't really care about the ability to read and write, a language app is probably not worth your time.

On the other hand, if your goal is to become well rounded in your language, to the point where you are mistaken for a native speaker on a consistent basis, then using an app alone will never be enough. It is imperative that you know what your goals are and what you can do to achieve them whenever you sit down for your foreign language study.

Irrespective of the reasoning, there will be times when apps no longer are appealing, and when that happens it is important to know what your options are. While these things would all enhance and accelerate your language acquisition when used in conjunction with a language app, they are also great for getting to a point where the app is helpful once again. The first is simple, read more. It may sound simple, but when you are giving your brain outside stimulus, the repetition within the app no longer feels quite as intense.

Read in your target language to expand your vocabulary

study, bilingualism, step by step

Someone I worked with who was learning French at the time never opened a language app. We worked together for months and we would read and write and message back and forth with me. He made an incredible amount of progress, all without ever even downloading any language learning apps. Eventually he did download Duolingo and it helped immensely, but more on that later. First, a look at how reading can rekindle your love for foreign languages.

Learn something new

As per usual, one of the things to look for when you are breaking into reading in your target language is material that interests you independent of the language in which it was written. Whether it's cars or woodworking or mythology, anything that piques your interest is worth investigating. The advantage to this is, in most everything, there are going to be levels to the skill you are looking at learning.

Starting with the easiest material won't just make it easier to understand conceptually, it will also make it easier to understand linguistically. You are far less likely to run into "industry terminology" when you are just starting out learning a new skill. That said, if you are reading up on something you are already proficient in, you may have an advantage in that much of the technical language will probably look and sound familiar.

Choose vocabulary to learn

English, learning, bilingual

In line with the above, if you are choosing to study things you already have a background in using your the language you are learning, it is probably worth it to be selective in the vocabulary you spend your time studying. If you are looking to maintain and improve by reading outdoors magazines, studying the words for the human anatomy probably isn't all that worthwhile.

As a learning adult, or even as a student, it is important to focus your study time on the things that move the needle the most. Unfortunately, what that means varies from person to person, but a good general rule is, "will the material you are studying give you the confidence to speak?" If the answer is yes, keep going. If the answer is no, evaluate why, think about things you can do that would get you closer to speaking, write those down, and get after it.

Develop a personalized learning method

Nailing down your goals is essential to developing effective language learning methods that work for you. You know your learning style better than anyone and developing a proper framework will give you everything you need to ensure long term language retention even as you work through the language at your own pace. Keep in mind, too, how you approach learning one language is not necessarily how you will approach learning a different language.

How to pick the right language to learn in two meme
target language, interests, funny

Your study material when you try to learn Spanish is going to be different from the material you are using when you try to learn French. You might choose to dive into a new culture or learn to order food and then make an entirely new style of cuisine. Maybe you choose to study how people who speak those languages view your home country by listening to real conversations on podcasts in your target language.

Whatever it is you choose to do, make sure it is something you are happy to come back to and learn more about; and if you ever get tired of it, make sure you know what other options you have. If you need some help with this, and you are learning Spanish, check out our Spanish Resource Newsletter!

Practice your language skills with native speakers

  • Look into cultural immersion programs

If you are going to spend the time and make the effort to learn a language then it is probably because you want to use it to speak with people who speak that language natively. Cultural immersion programs are perfect for facilitating this. Since I already covered language immersion programs, I won't spend too much time on them here. You can find those articles here:

Language Immersion Programs
Language immersion programs are among the best ways to learn a language. However, there are some important things to keep in mind when choosing.
Immersion language learning: The best way to learn a new language
Immersion language learning: The best way to learn a new languageHow to immerse yourself in a language most effectively

If you have any other questions regarding the resources available to you or you need help in tracking down new resources, please let me know and I will see what I can do to help enhance your language learning experience!

group, friends, explore
  • Connect with hundreds of millions of people

Another phenomenal way to start practicing your new language is by getting involved with online communities where that language is prevalent. Whether that means exploring game servers, changing the settings in your social media apps to show you more content in the language you are studying, or getting out to some well known international hotspots (national parks come to mind), it is easier to find things when you look for them. It is all but necessary to be resourceful as an adult student, especially when you are learning a new language, and with the internet at your fingertips the options are endless.

  • Stay motivated and learn alongside other aspiring polyglots

Having tried the above, or not, and decided it isn't what you are really looking for right now in your language learning journey, you might consider practicing with other aspiring polyglots. Everyone is going to make mistakes when they are learning a new language and it can be daunting to make those mistakes in front of native speakers who can, sometimes, speak the language perfectly.

Luckily, there is more than one way to practice and we have a growing community of people learning several popular languages and some lesser known. If you would like to join that community and practice speaking with people who are going through the same things as you, consider joining our Discord! But don't forget, sometimes language learnings apps can be useful, even for those who are more advanced in their language studies.

Why Duolingo is worth revisiting from time to time

Duolingo meme
language app, french, funny

The importance of interactive tools in a language course

Something many language learners run into after school is an inability to find interactive study materials. Live classes have a lot wrong with them, but there is something to be said for the ability to get live, real time, feedback from someone who, in theory, knows what they are talking about and can help guide you.

While Duolingo is certainly no top tier educator, it does have the ability to reinvigorate your desire to learn a language all while filling in the blanks that may have revealed themselves as you went about solo studying. This is especially true if you took the time to go read and speak and write and really just develop your language proficiency outside of the app.

Fast Language Learning

When you are putting tons of time into learning a new language, it is more than likely that you run into the issue of finding things too repetitive. Over time this can cause you to spend time focused on things that may stop you from taking the repetition piece of language learning as seriously as you should. Introducing an app back into your routine can help cover some of your blind spots and force you into repetition when you are lacking.

Not only that, but if you have taken or do choose to take time off from the app, it is more than likely that you come across all kinds of new vocabulary and grammar rules that you don't quite understand. The language apps can take these concepts and break them down into consumable, bite sized lessons, that will fill in all the blanks for you. But whether you choose to go back to work with interactive tools or to nail down a concept you recently learned and don't quite understand, don't forget to plug into the community offered.

Me convinced I'm learning Chinese 4 times faster | Learn chinese, Funny  chinese, Chinese lessons
chinese, memrise, anki

Connect with learners worldwide through the global community

Over on Duolingo our group is rapidly approaching 100 people and most of us have over a 30 day streak, some up to 1000 days!! Having that many people working toward the same goal, even in a different language, can provide the motivation you need to get through the days you really don't want to study.

When dozens of other people are doing it, suddenly finding five minutes to listen to some language lessons suddenly doesn't seem so daunting. If you are going to take the time to learn a foreign language, it is worth the time and effort to find and build a community with whom you can progress and, eventually, speak with when your proficiency permits.


It is impossible to learn a language by using an application alone. If you want to become fluent you will need to read and write and speak and read some more then develop your writing skills by writing more, then build solid speaking habits so that when the time comes to speak you are not caught up and stopped by brief challenges. Most importantly, though, it is imperative that you do not dismiss them outright simply because they are only a supplement.

If you are going to work on getting fit (learning a new language) then you shouldn't skip the protein (language app) supplementation. You never know what you might learn by loading up the green owl or any other language learning app. Besides, according to language experts, language learning apps are better for your brain health than social media.

Learning a language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.

Be sure to check out Second Language Strategies to catch up on anything you missed, find me on Twitter or Instagram for some short form content. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, join our Discord! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.