I LOVE Duolingo. I can’t recommend it enough for people who want to start learning a new language.
Ever since I first tweeted about it back in 2015, I’ve been using it pretty much daily. First for a little bit of Spanish, and now for French and even a little bit of Vietnamese!
However, I have a few bones to pick, especially with some of the more recent changes, both as a user and as a UX professional.
Lingots vs. Gems
Back in the day, Duolingo used “lingots” to reward users for things like having a long streak of practicing, allowing them to “buy” things like extra lessons or even costumes for Duolingo’s owl mascot. This was consistent between the web application and the mobile app.
But sometime in 2017, the mobile app switched over from lingots to “gems”. I remember seeing a nice notification after that switch that explained to me why the change was made and what it meant to me. No harm done.
The weird thing: The web app didn’t switch over. I thought this might just be a temporary transition, but several months later and it still hasn’t. So one one device I have gems and on the other I have lingots.
I really have trouble keeping track of the difference between the two. I wish I didn’t care about these fake internet points but when my 650+ day streak is riding on them, I can’t ignore them.
My suggestion to Duolingo: Follow Jakob Nielsen’s heuristic of “Consistency and standards”.
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.
Choose one: gems or lingots. Then get rid of the other.
The Double-Tap Bug
It may be because my iPhone 6 is no spring chicken, but I’m regularly frustrated by the following behavior on Duolingo’s iPhone app.
On “listen then type” questions, when I tap the field to start typing, nothing seems to happen. So I tap again. The keyboard then appears (due to my first tap) then immediately disappears (due to my second tap). So I tap once more and all is well.
Confusing? Here’s a gif I made to illustrate it.
The bad thing is that this doesn’t seem to consistently happen. Sometimes when I tap the first time the keyboard immediately appears so there’s no problem. Sometimes I tap, then wait patiently for the keyboard to appear, resisting the urge to tap again, only to be staring at my screen for several seconds like an idiot, apparently because the app didn’t actually notice my first tap.
The problem seems to be that there’s a delay in registering the first tap, possibly due to the phone working hard to play the audio. I wonder if it’s possible to ignore a tap to close the keyboard if it happens immediately after the keyboard was opened.
Also, perhaps make the tappable area larger on these questions? That would prevent the “staring like an idiot” scenario above.
On the iOS app, after my first five questions of the day then again after about ten, I get a message. Instead of letting me continue on in my French flow, that damn owl pops up and gives me an infuriating pat on the head.
Yes, maybe when I start learning Japanese and am getting frustrated with the first few lessons, this might be a welcome ray of light. But not when I’ve devoured all the French content that Duolingo has to offer and I’m just reviewing a few old words. In that case, it’s just annoying.
As I said in my tweet, maybe these messages should just be for beginners. Or better yet, why not add a “Stop showing these messages” button to allow for opt-out?
But it’s not all bad!
With that being said, I still love Duolingo and will probably continue using it for years to come. And not all of their new stuff is bad.
I love Duolingo’s new stories feature, which seems to only be available on the web app under the “Labs” tab or at stories.duolingo.com.
These are short, enjoyable stories with words on screen and voices narrating, these are a great way for intermediate to advanced learners to get comfortable with how a language is spoken. They’re interactive to make sure you’re paying attention.
And best of all, they’re entertaining. The stories usually have a nice little twist at the end.
Keep doing what you’re doing Duolingo!
For the gems vs. lingots, I’m guessing that either I’ve run into an edge-case bug or that there is some kind of constraint that I’m not aware of.
For the messages, I know that I’m now turning into an edge case. There are millions more beginners on your platform than people like me who have consumed all content for a given language, but still, with a couple of small changes, you can keep me preaching about how awesome you are without alienating your new customers at all!
For the stories, please make them mainstream! They’re such a great, entertaining way to learn!
Want to talk Duolingo with me? Find me on LinkedIn!