Friday, May 23, 2014

Free Advertising for Duolingo

Sent to the Japan Times, May 23, 2014
Contrary to the impression given by The Japan Times's free commercial for Duolingo ("Duolingo chief shakes up language learning," May 23), there is no clear evidence that Duolinguo is effective in teaching foreign languages. The only research study done assessing the impact of Duolingo, which was funded by Duolingo, did not produce strong results: Forty-four percent of the subjects, mostly college graduates and many with advanced degrees, did not finish the 22-hour course and 25% of the subjects completed eight hours or less, with one subject doing only two hours.
In contrast, there are hundreds of published papers in respected scientific journals demonstrating what really does work in teaching foreign languages, and unlike Duolingo, these approaches do not require a computer.
For example, studies show that methods based on story telling and easy reading result in profound gains for beginners in English and other languages. For intermediate students, self-selected pleasure reading has been shown to be more effective than traditional methods for developing vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and writing style. Also, reading can be so pleasant that students are often eager to do it on their own.
Many of these studies have been done with those acquiring English as a second language in Japan, and they have been published in scholarly journals all over the world.  I hope that the Japan Times, its readers, and Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn (who has no background in language education research), will study the work of some of the prominent scholars in Japan who have done quality research in this area, including Profs. Beniko Mason, David Beglar, and Atsuko Takase. 
Stephen Krashen

Some Sources:
Mason, B.,Vanata, M., Jander, K., Borsch, R., and Krashen, S. 2009. The effects and efficiency of hearing stories on vocabulary acquisition by students of German as a second foreign language in Japan. The Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching, 5(1), 1-14.
Mason, B. 2011. Impressive gains on the TOEIC after one year of comprehensible input, with no output or grammar study. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 7(1). (
Krashen, S. 2014. Does Duolingo "trump" university-level language learning? International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 9(1):13-15.
Vesselinov, R. and Grego, J. 2012. Duolingo effectiveness study. Final Report.

Original article: Duolingo chief shakes up language learning


  1. This article is useful not only in Japan, and not only with Duolingo. Computer-company hype has educators scrambling to use computers wherever they can. But you don't acquire a language from a computer.

  2. I tried Duolingo to brush up on my French. There is no direct instruction. I gave up when I couldn't seem to go any further.

  3. Oh really, Established (American) modes of Teaching Foreign Languages really work wonders (psych) Is that why nearly 100% of Students after 3 years of study of a foreign language have nothing to show for it. Japan's Educational system may teach English Better, But Americans just don't learn from our teachers. Publish all you want. but Language learning needs innovation.