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September 03, 2021 Friday 07:19:48 AM IST

Duo Lingo-The Game of Tongues, the Most Popular Language Learning App

Teacher Insights

Have you been learning a new language lately? Although learning a language can be fun, it can also be really frustrating, vague and often far less appealing, than indulging in an entire season of Money Heist. Motivating oneself to learn is very tough and learning a language is tougher, particularly when you are doing that online on your own. That is where Duolingo comes to your rescue. With over 150 million registered users across the globe, Duolingo is considered as one of the most popular language-learning apps. Duolingo offers assistance in learning 36 languages which includes little-spoken one like Hawaiian, Navajo and Gaelic. To state an extreme example, they even extend help to learning High Valyrian, the fictitious language from the successful series Game of Thrones which 1.2 million users are trying to master. 

How could Duolingo achieve this so called impossible feat in terms of user engagement? If you’ve have observed your friend playing Pubg, Grand Theft Auto or Fortnight,  — or really any of best video games from the past decade — you’ve likely seen the way in which these games have captured the imagination of the players. Duolingo has built their entire business empire by making language learning fun – even addictively so. They have adopted a gamification method to education, trying to make study and practice more engaging than a game of Candy Crush.It tries to encourage users to form a daily learning habit. Here are some of the ways Duolingo uses gamification to motivate language learners and keep them coming back for more:

Experience Points

User gets XP (experience points) when they complete lessons and take practice sessions. The user level up as they gain experience points in a language they are attempting to master. Learners are encouraged to choose a daily XP goal based on the pace they want to learn. Duolingo prompts user to achieve that goal every day and motivates user to reach longer and continuous learning streaks. Users can translate portions of the text or edit others’ translations, acquire XP as they move ahead. The more users get immersed in the process, the more XP they collect for translating, editing, and rating others’ translations, guaranteeing the incentive stays significant for the veteran translators, whose input is particularlyessential to the translation ecosystem.


To encourage its users to return daily, the exclusive Gamification team of Duolingo employed a basic streak design. When users achieve their daily XP goal, a fire lights up and displays for how many successive days user has kept the fire burning. User can’t afford to miss one day because that will lead to the streak resetting to zero. If the user is running out of time, the app will forward reminders to urge users to save the streak. Keeping their streaks alive is a great motivational tool for the users since it’s tied to multiple mechanics in the game, such as progression. Steak is a habit tracking instrument which (a) generates a visual cue that can prompt user to act, (b) is intrinsically appealing because users see the progress they are making and don’t like to lose it, and (3) feels satisfying every time they record aneffective instance of their habit.


In Duolingo, once user finishes a lesson, they get lingots as rewards. The more the user accumulates them, the more benefits they can avail of in the app. It is the expectation of a reward — not the realization of it — that inspiresusers to take action. There are lingot stores where users can use the lingots collected. Users can purchase two ‘power-ups’ for the purpose of keepingtheir streak going when they miss one day of practice. Also, app reward users with lingots for maintaining a seven-day streak. Users can use these lingots toacquire some fun bonus skills to add lessons to your skill tree.  Users can even spend lingots to buy diverse outfits for Duo, the green bird mascot that cheers them on.

Level System

Duolingo has distributed its lessons into multiple levels just like any other game. User can proceed to the next level only when they have completed the existing lesson. By passing the test, users can skip the level and straightaway jump to the next level. But to heighten user’s curiosity, the app displays the upcoming levels in restrictedmodes which stimulates them to finish their present level to move on to the next level. They are motivated to overcome obstacles, even if just for the fulfilment of doing so. Taking a task to completion can influence individuals to continue all sorts of behaviours.  Levels aredesigned in such a way that it is neither too easy nor too hard. According to Goldilocks Rule, individualsenjoyhighest level of motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their existing abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.


One key bottleneck faced by users on Duolingo is how rapidly they can stop performing once they've broken their streak.Badges are an outstanding tool for making individuals feel invested in a platform. The more users are involved in the app and finish their lessons, the more they obtainvarious badges based on their skills. These badges are displayed on their public profile, which enhances their esteem when any of their friends or relatives see it. One of the fundamental motives of human nature is to attain status and reputation due to which we wish to play games.

With the thoughtful use of game mechanics like achievements, challenges, and progression, Duolingo has made a tough and boring process of learning a language now more fun and stimulating. Easily said than done, Gamification is not easy to implement. From a design viewpoint, gamifying an app necessitates a careful blend and application of numerous game-like mechanics, synergizing to provide a ‘sticky’, game-like experience.

Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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