What to Do After Duolingo

Recently, a reader named Stefan asked me in the comments, “What do I do after Duolingo?”

It was a good question, and one I imagine a lot of people have.

Swimming Pool in Luxor, Egypt By Przemyslaw "Blueshade" Idzkiewicz [CC 2.0] - Image Source

Swimming Pool in Luxor, Egypt
By Przemyslaw “Blueshade” Idzkiewicz [CC 2.0] – Image Source

If you’ve finished a Duolingo skill tree, congratulations! That required a lot of commitment, and by now you are likely able to do some things in your new language. But maybe you’ve realized that while Duolingo is a great program, using it alone didn’t quite get you to where you want to be.

So if that describes you, then here are six things to try.

1. Keep your momentum.

Finishing a skill tree requires weeks and months of persistent effort. You’ve developed some great language-learning habits. Keep them! Don’t lose your momentum.

Pay attention to what your schedule was. Did you study (or, if you prefer, play) for an hour straight, once a day? Five minutes at a time spread throughout the day? Whatever you did worked for you, so keep it up.

2. Try another app.

If you’ve had more success with Duolingo than with classes or other methods, there’s a good chance you enjoy using apps to learn. It stands to reason, then, that you should try another app.

Babbel is good. It will cover a lot of the same stuff you’ve already learned, but from a different perspective.

ReadLang is a great way to take your language to the next level and expose yourself to more challenging texts.

I’ve never really got into Memrise myself, but other people swear by it.

Not every app will be for you, but give several a try and maybe you’ll find something else you really like.

3. Segue into authentic texts.

Duolingo has an “Immersion” feature. I’ve used it in the past, but I’m personally no longer crazy about it. Many of the texts are from Wikipedia, which I believe are too hard for language learners. And the focus is entirely on translation, a skill that I think is important but one that shouldn’t replace good old fashioned reading and listening altogether.

Look for books, articles, stories, YouTube videos, and TV shows that you can reasonably understand. (If you’re having trouble deciding what to listen to, check out this recent article.) After Duolingo, you should be able to pick out individual words and glean the general meaning of most texts.

Really, you should have been doing this all along. But I know that some people felt safe, comfortable, and motivated working entirely within Duolingo’s confines. At some point, though, you have to think outside of the app and take your language into the real world.

4. Have conversations.

Why did you want to learn a foreign language in the first place? If you’re like the vast, vast majority of people, it’s because you wanted to speak to other people.

So get out there and speak. Language exchange at a site like iTalki is a good way to meet people for conversation and practice. Or maybe look for a MeetUp group in your area. Or, if you have the budget for it, hire a tutor.

You might be surprised at how much you’re able to say after finishing Duolingo. (You might also be surprised at how much you’re not able to say.)

There’s no better way to improve at something than to get out there and do it, and speaking is no exception.

5. Find an intermediate course.

What proficiency level are you at when you complete Duolingo? I’ve heard wildly divergent claims, ranging from advanced beginner (A2) to upper intermediate (B2).

It’s really hard to say, though. Yes, you’ll have received instruction in topics way beyond the beginner level. But did all that stick? Did you see the language in enough different contexts and use the language enough to really be at an intermediate level?

I think to be on the safe side, you should find a solid intermediate course. A self-study course is your best bet, but a test prep book or a college textbook might be useful as well. The idea is to get some of the more difficult points down before progressing to the next level.

6. Review your skill tree.

Finally, if you’ve finished your skill tree in Duolingo, you’re not really done.

A vital part of the program is revisiting completed lessons again and again. Review old lessons often to keep them “gold.” It keeps words and concepts fresh in your mind.

Again, though, don’t spend all your time reviewing Duolingo. Branch off and give other techniques and methods a try.

Duolingo is a great springboard into the language pool, but now that you’ve dived in, keep swimming.

  • http://allthetongues.hol.es/ Roman Shinkarenko

    I imagine this question is like: “What to do after tutorial?” Play, of course. I’m not a fan of such type online courses (the fact that most of busuu is accessible only to premium users doesn’t add fancy). For a Luddite like myself the static book is the trusty pardner.
    My newest post: http://allthetongues.hol.es/uncategorized/diglot-weave-for-russian/ That post has no definition of “Diglot Weave”, but I think anyone will understand the concept.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Diglot Weave! Looking forward to checking that out.

  • Stefan Malic

    Thanks for the article Ron. Some people like to do reverse tree. You study English through your target language. Essentially you just switch the languages.

    I found some beginner texts here: http://www.learnpracticalspanishonline.com/beginner/beginner-readings.html

    Word of caution though: the texts are NOT what you’d expect. There’s no “hello, my name is Maria. I am X years old”. Instead you read texts such as the one about a guy who woke up without his pants after a party, only to realize he wasn’t even in his own house. While the texts can get weird, even depressing, I like to believe that they help with vocab learning and retention.

    While I have around 40 more lessons to go through on Duolingo, I think I’m at maybe A1 level. When it comes to most simple texts, I can understand a lot. However, reading El Pais or CNN en espanol is not an option just yet. And I can’t wait to come to the point where I don’t have to study vocabulary actively, just pick up the words based on the context instead.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hahaha, that website you linked to looks great. Definitely a good resource, even with some of the weird content.

      Yeah, El Pais or CNN at this stage would be tough. I was able to read “People” magazine in Spanish well before I hit news articles though. I never got really comfortable with Spanish news in fact (but could understand sitcoms and TV shows pretty well).

      Oh! One thing for you to try, specifically–the podcast “Notes in Spanish.” It’s Castilian Spanish, but even if you’ve been studying Latin American Spanish, I think there’s enough crossover. The podcast is very well put together and reasonably easy to follow if you select the right level. You could probably start that now.

      I remember my Spanish reading progression as being the book “Easy Spanish Reader”…then some random stuff online…then People…and finally, I was able to understand some CNN, but not all.

      • Stefan Malic

        Yeah, I think weird content helps with memorization. We’re more likely to remember the things that stand out.

        I’ve tried reading “CNN en espanol”, and the only thing I learned was that “sin” means “without”. Time well spent haha 😀

        Thanks for the “Notes in Spanish”, I’ll definitely give it a go. While I mostly learn “proper” Spanish, I do know some words from the Latin American Spanish. Doubt it will be of much use, but it’s better than nothing.

        While it would be nice to understand CNN, understanding day-to-day conversations is my main priority.

        It just seems so far away :(

        • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

          Try out some different strategies and check back in 3 months. It won’t feel so far away by then.

        • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

          Update? I started studying Spanish again, so wondering how you’re progressing.

          • Stefan Malic

            Hey Ron.
            At one point I missed a day of Duolingo, and I forgot I didn’t have streak freeze set up. Due to this, I lost my streak and got pretty demotivated.
            Since, I haven’t really studied much, but it’s simply because I’m not that enthusiastic about it. However, I do have some solid basic knowledge.
            I follow a few pages in Spanish on Facebook(El País, HuffPost in Spanish, Orgullosos de ser Madrilenos, etc) so I sometimes read articles in Spanish, but mostly just the titles 😀
            I found this resource the other day: http://www.lonweb.org/, it might be helpful to you.

            Overall, I can understand basic Spanish, which is awesome. As I said previously, I’m not terribly enthused with studying Spanish. Even though I like the language, I’m having a hard time finding anything that would make me get immersed in the language.

            A good lesson from this would be: if you want to learn a language, find an aspect of the language that will make you stick to it!

            I learned English because I wanted to use my PC and understand everything on it. Later I discovered US TV shows and movies, so I wanted to understand that too.

            I once talked to a man who learned English by playing Final Fantasy and having a dictionary next to him at all times so he could figure out what the game was asking him to do.

            So yeah, I definitely recommend you find something specific about the language that you like since that will probably be the thing that will carry you through your language learning journey.
            It could be: music, movies, historical texts about Spain/Mexico/Colombia/etc, poetry(e.g. http://www.poemhunter.com/miguel-de-cervantes/), etc.

            If you find something interesting, do let me know 😀

            Above I mentioned: “that will probably be the thing that will carry you through your language learning journey”. And when I say “carry” I mean it.
            Motivation level, as much as we’d like it to, doesn’t really seem to be easily manipulated.
            But when you do something that’s fun and interesting, AND teaches you the language throughout the process, you don’t have to worry about motivation.

            Personally, I realized that language learning isn’t a priority for me. It’s a “nice-to-have”, but not crucial for me really. For now I’m pausing my studying of Spanish, but I plan to really learn it some day, as I’ve learned a bit of the language and I like it, it’s become dear to me.

            Hope this helps. Good luck with your studies! 😀

  • Bryan

    After Duolingo or any other beginner program I highly recommend reading books at and just above your level. One series I really liked for Spanish were the A1 and A2 level books by Paco Ardit ( http://www.amazon.com/Paco-Ardit/e/B00N64TWVK ). Each book is helpfully marked by which level it is. Add in the Kindle popup dictionary for unknown words and it makes reading easy.

    Reading out loud and then summarizing each short chapter in Spanish, in your own words, is an excellent way to practice your speaking and pronunciation too.

    I think it’s easy to stay in the comfortable surroundings of courses. I made this mistake for a long, long time. But to really get your new language to take off, books and other native material are a must.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Awesome tips, Bryan, thank you. I agree, and it’s something I have to remind myself of with my Tagalog project. I’m a week in and forcing myself to watch cartoons and listen to music and struggle with it because I know I’m getting something out of it.

      I’m going to try that summarizing drill. That’s a really, really good idea.

  • http://www.5minutelanguage.com/ Agnieszka Karch

    Great tips, Ron! That’s exactly something I’ve been wondering about myself. I’ve finished a couple of Duolingo courses recently and will definitely put your suggestions into practice. The thing about Duolingo is that it’s not as ‘real’ as we think it is. We really need to expose ourselves to some real language rather than just staring at our smartphone screens :)

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Thanks, Agnieszka! I agree. I stare at my phone all the time. Need to get some language via other media as well.

  • http://www.gospeaky.com/ Ludovic Chevalier

    Many of our users on Speaky have used Duolingo before or use it in parallel. I believe that learning new words and being able to use them in context right away with native speakers is the best way to actually make those words stick. That’s the all purpose of having language partners and I think point 4 in your article is in fact the more important (and the cheapest) :-)

    • http://lahijadelsol.com/ Cat Ramos キャット ラモス

      Hi! Still no Hungarian course on Duolingo — I’ve been waiting since last year! :( I am a Speaky member and I love it. I found many Hungarian language partners within a week of signing up. I think I have over 10 now…^^;; Mostly I chat with my friends, and I have yet to try the video call feature — a bit difficult because of the timezone differences. But I highly recommend it!

      • Triumph104

        February 25, 2016 Duolingo’s Hungarian course should be available in a few days.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hi Ludovic. I registered with your site, but I need to give it more of a look. Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://www.protoclassic.com Peyton Bowman

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks for another interesting article. I had a kind of similar ‘crisis’ when I completed the Pimsleur courses for Japanese (back before there was even a Duolingo.)

    I think a nice thing to focus on when you finish up one of these courses is on really getting your self-intro down — and then using it (perhaps along with some of the ice breakers you wrote about earlier) as part of your point 4 above.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Yes, great idea on the intros! I didn’t think of this until after reading your comment, but it seems like a good strategy would be to segue from Duolingo’s approach to more “communicative strategies.” I hinted at that in the article, but didn’t really think in those terms until your comment. Thanks!

  • Triumph104

    For beginners I recommend: Mango Languages (need a US, Canadian, or Australian library card). Book2 50 Languages http://www.goethe-verlag.com/book2/EM/

    Intermediate/Advanced: GLOSS Languages https://gloss.dliflc.edu/

    Download and listen to the GLOSS podcasts intensively with Audacity or WorkAudioBook. You can repeat sentences and phrases on a loop until you completely understand.

  • Sebestyén Balázs

    I’ve just completed the tree in 9 days. I’ve been learning English for dacades, and started using Duolingo for improving. I definitely love it, it’s the best learning app I’ve ever seen. But now I’m a bit disappointed. Why Duolingo stopped at that level? I think the method could be used in any level. I don’t want to go back to the textbooks…

  • JoeCushing

    I friended about 50 native Spanish speakers on Facebook. I try to read what they say and I pick up several words along the way. Then I use Google Translate to try to get the rest. Duolingo says I’m at 8%. I also started listening to Spanish music. Getting the lyrics and reading them is also a help.