Duolingo Japanese Review: When to use, and when to avoid

In this Duolingo Japanese Review, we will be breakdown the pros and cons of using Duolingo as a study application. We will look at five areas of the application and give you our insight into how it can help you learn Japanese, as well as its strengths and weaknesses as a Japanese study app.

Our Review of Duolingo Japanese

Overall verdict – a great way to learn SOME Japanese:

Duolingo is a good study solution to have fun, continually motivate yourself, and learn new vocabulary.  It is a great way to dip your feet into Japanese learning and learn several key concepts that the language needs to teach you. 

It is not a one-stop study solution for learning Japanese. You cannot simply use duolingo to learn Japanese, but if you treat it like a game and use your spare time to complete the course and use it as a trainer, it can teach you new words and train your ear / understanding of certain sentence patterns in the language.

A good mix of sound, sentence building, kanji.
Covers hiragana and katakana learning
Covers a wide range of topics

Not comprehensive study solution for grammar or kanji.
Not leveled or suited for JLPT Study
Does not drill you / give you opportunities to speak
Does not ask you to memorize stroke order of Kanji

What does Duolingo Japanese try to teach you?

What it tries to teach you:

  • Listen for and understand Japanese sentences.
  • Be able to construct sentences in Japanese
  • Be able to read hiragna and katakana
  • Be able to understand grammar through context and comparing translations

What it avoids teaching you:

  • The stroke order of Kanji
  • The grammar usage rules of grammar points
  • Grammar constructions outside of example sentences
  • Kanji Radicals

The good. Duolingo has a very cool and fun interface. It seems more like a video game than a learning application. There are even leader boards for learners so when you practice – you gain pointson the leader board. 

The leaderboards are progressive with levels that you can ascend.  The top 10 of each learner level will move up the leaderboard You are also on a leaderboard competing with other winners.

The bad. Duolingo is not a comprehensive learning tool as it does not teach you specifically about verb conjugation – which is a very important part of learning Japanese and being able to create sentences for yourself. 

Without verb conjugation – you will be able to learn the sentence patterns in the app through memorization – but you may have a hard time creating your own sentences in a real conversation.

Aside from this – it is still a great way to learn kanji and vocabulary, as well as many example sentences.

Types of Learning Practice in Duolingo Japanese

Duolingo has several ways in which it quizzes you and tries to teach you Japanese.

They include:

Matching the Japanese kanji meaning to the English meaning.
Matching the Japanese kanji meaning to the Japanese pronunciation (audio)
Translating a sentence word by word from Japanese to English and vice versa

These practices are integrated – normally when you see the reading and you select an option – you will then hear the Japanese being pronounced by the app.

With a wide range of practice types and exercises it is hard to get bored with the app. The practice modes are mixed progressively and there is a review component as well as a “smart feature” that tracks which concepts you have trouble with.

Later – you can review these problematic concepts and try to troubleshoot your Japanese sticking points.

One frustrating aspect of the sentence builder mode is that as the sentences get more complex and there are more grammar components – you cannot isolate and fix the part of the sentence that you answered incorrectly.

When the question is presented again – you have to construct the sentence from the beginning and it doesn’t show you specifically which part of the sentence you misplaced.

The duolingo practice modes are generally useful in quizzing you on Japanese in context, however – we did find one technical issue in the design.

You can hear the pronunciation simply by clicking on a choice, but before you submit it as your selected answer – which means you can kind of cheat from time to time while using the app to learn the Kanji reading.

For example – clicking on the character for き - you could hear ki pronounced before you confirm your selection and submit the answer.

So when you are matching the kanji to their pronunciation – if you select the kanji first, you can always pass with a perfect score.

Other than that, we found the practice modes to be helpful and fun.

Is Duolingo Japanese paid version worth it?

In the app version of duolingo – when you run out of hearts you can no longer practice and you either have to wait for your hearts to refill or watch an ad to get new hearts.

If you buy the paid version of the app you can have unlimited hearts – which will allow you to gain more points faster and study for longer periods.

The desktop version of the app does not have this feature, which is fully featured and free.

The paid version will allow you to access several features that are not accessible to free / regular users such as a mastery quiz and trying to unlock new skills / bypass the levels by passing skills tests.

If you primarily use the app on your phone and want to do intensive study with the app – we would recommend buying the premium version out of convenience, otherwise you will have to sit through a large amount of ads repeatedly. 🙂

But if you do not use the app version and you are only a desktop user – there is no point in buying a premium subscription. Your progress will sync from the desktop / browser version to the app based version.

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