How Useful is Duolingo to Learn Esperanto?


If you follow me on Instagram or Snapchat, you will have no doubt seen my recent studies involving Esperanto. I have 3 things in my life I’m using to help me learn: a small brown book from the 1950s, a dictionary that’s almost as old, and Duolingo. But how useful is Duolingo to learn Esperanto?

So, just how useful is Duolingo to learn Esperanto? With over 400k learners, Esperanto is growing. Click through to get your free starter vocabulary! >>

Having finished the course, I wanted to create a vocabulary list of the first starter vocabulary to share it with you. So here you go. Just click below to download your free Duolingo Esperanto starter vocabulary word list.

Before we begin, let me give you a little background as to my relationship with Esperanto.

I didn’t know about Esperanto until about 2 and a half, maybe 3, years ago. The idea of a constructed language that had been as successful as Esperanto had was interesting, but there were plenty of other languages that were more interesting to me. And besides, who would I use Esperanto with anyway?

Shortly before the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in 2015, I met Chuck Smith online, one of the key players in the creation of the Esperanto course on Duolingo.

Here’s a photo of me and Chuck at the Polyglot Gathering 2016. My face is blurry because I’m so starstruck to be meeting the guy on the magazine.

So, just how useful is Duolingo to learn Esperanto? With over 400k learners, Esperanto is growing. Click through to get your free starter vocabulary! >>

I was really intrigued by his love for the language and by this point I knew that I could probably learn it quite easily, but I was still polishing off my language degree, so didn’t have much time to devote to learning new languages.

And I’ll be honest, I still didn’t really want to.

But it wasn’t long before the course was added on Duolingo and the possibility to learn Esperanto easily suddenly became more of a reality.

The following summer, I picked up these books for Β£1 from a car boot sale.

We all have languages that we just can't wait to learn. But what is on your list? Click through to read mine (and read about a very special plan!)

So I knew it had to happen someday soon. And now it has. Yay!

Why Duolingo?

I’d never had the chance to really use Duolingo fully and engage with a complete course. Yet, I was always hearing new students say they’re using it, seeing it on the demo phones in the Apple Store, and waiting for Asian languages to launch (although Vietnamese is now in Beta and Hindi, Indonesian and Korean being created.)

Some people love Duolingo and others…not so much. You could say in that sense it’s the modern day Rosetta Stone. The Marmite of language learning.

But I’m not one to judge without a fair trial, so to speak.

And to be really fair, I decided to try Duolingo pretty much on its own. The only other thing I have used and that has given me any exposure to Esperanto is that little brown book. I haven’t really used the dictionary yet.

What’s it like?

The interface is cute. The app is simple to use. And the topics are seemingly well-structured and laid out. First impressions count for a lot, and here Duolingo scores highly.

I’m sure this next bit varies slightly from language to language but with Esperanto, there are 44 ‘Skills’ each containing 3 to 10 lessons. Each lesson takes just minutes to complete, which I think contributes to Duolingo’s popularity with our busy, busy modern lives.

When you first open the app, you only have the option to do the first lesson or two or test out the first 7 Skills, meaning that there’s a) no chance of getting antsy and skipping ahead, and b) a very rigid order of study that has been decided for you.

I think I like this feature. If I’m using Memrise for example, it’s very easy to get distracted half way through a course by another that seems more useful or relevant. It definitely helps to keep your focus when you open the app (or the website).

Each lesson then shows you a word to translate, sometimes with an image, sometimes individually, sometimes in a sentence, sometimes with audio, sometimes without. So there’s a little variety.

What do you learn?

The lessons start with the obvious and necessary content and they’re not afraid to integrate grammar from the start, which I really like. For example, the first 7 Skills in Esperanto are Basics 1, Basics 2, Phrases, Accusative, Languages, Colours, and Plurals.

I have mixed feelings about the content of the lessons. I quite like the order, and, side note, I LOVE Esperanto verbs! Past and future in the same lesson?! Yes please.

But as you go on, some of the content seems slightly random for Esperanto. For example, when am I likely to need to order in a restaurant in Esperanto?

That said, I can see why it’s there. Who want’s to be able to talk about Nature or Education in a language before they can ask for a coffee? I get it.

Am I fluent in Esperanto?

I decided to experiment and use Duolingo in a way that I’m sure many of its 120 million users do: use nothing else.

Now let me get one thing straight. That’s not a criticism against anyone who uses Duolingo and Duolingo alone to learn a language.

Duolingo brings language learning to so many people who may not otherwise know where to start or have the money or the resources to do so. I love that.

However, of course we know, using one resource is rarely a way to fully-rounded fluency, yet with so many fans of Duolingo, it was something I wanted to test as best as possible.

I can read Esperanto and I can more or less figure most stuff out. But with my knowledge of Romance languages that I had previously to using Duolingo, I wonder how much I could have read before.

I can understand spoken Esperanto to some extent. But again, I attended talks in Esperanto both this year and last year at the Polyglot Gathering and was surprised both times by how much I understood, again, in my pre-Duolingo days.

I can write in the language. Without the help of my dictionary, grammar books or even Duolingo, I wrote this:

So, just how useful is Duolingo to learn Esperanto? With over 400k learners, Esperanto is growing. Click through to get your free starter vocabulary! >>

Beautiful. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done that before.

But how about the mother of all skills? The one everyone craves to be pro at from day one? Speaking.

With a 38 day streak on Duolingo Esperanto and with very very little former speaking practise, I present to you taken directly from Snapchat, my spontaneously spoken Esperanto.

It’s Snapchat, so expect filters and a little Korean at the start. (You can follow me on Snapchat at ldlanguages for more strawberries and language mistakes)

As you can see, it’s not too bad but not great.

Did it help?

The thing that I knew at the start of this little experiment was proven true: successful language learning doesn’t come from one source. It doesn’t come from one book, app, or tool.

Just using Duolingo will not make you fluent in a language. But don’t let that be a reason not to use it. Don’t dismiss it.

Duolingo helped me to process the early stages of Esperanto with very little “study”, in the typical sense of the word.

Like I said at the start of this post, it’s cute, simple to use, and well-structured. And there’s no reason not to use it alongside other resources and methods and tools.

In fact, now I’ve got my mega streak, I’m going to keep using Duolingo to learn a little Turkish and Russian too. Woohoo!

Do you use Duolingo? Have you used it to learn Esperanto? What do you think?

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About Lindsay Williams

Why hello there! I'm Lindsay and I do Languages. I blog, vlog and teach all things language. I blog about languages right here at Lindsay Does Languages, and about travel over at Mundo Trundle. If you're looking for language learning inspiration then stay a while. You might find just what you're looking for. :)
  • Benson

    The creators of the Duo Esperanto course are very up-front about the fact that you should be using more than just their course. They’re not making a dime off it, they just want to help people learn Esperanto.
    Also, I suspect that you will learn much more Esperanto from the introductory course than from an introductory Duo course in any natural language, precisely because Esperanto was designed to be learned. My memory of grade school Spanish and French is that they didn’t even teach the past tense until the second year…whereas, as you know, in Esperanto the present tense is -as, the past is -is, and I’ll throw in the future for free: -os. Bam. You can now conjugate every Esperanto verb in three tenses. So I think the fun, “gamified” approach of Duolingo works especially well for Esperanto.

    • Definitely agree they’re upfront about that! πŸ™‚ I even contacted one of the creators after I finished and got sent to http://www.afterduolingo.com – so they’re awesome! πŸ˜‰

      Also, yes. Love the tenses so much. πŸ˜€

  • SRB

    It seems to me Duolingo is a great way to get started in language learning – it gives you a goal (to complete the tree) and tries to gamify the process a little bit at least. I’m nearing the end of the Esperanto tree and wondering what, if anything, to do next with Eo.

  • Ooo, thanks for that link! πŸ™‚ Yes, it’s really interesting, especially coming from a Romance language background, Bea. You’ll find it super easy! πŸ™‚

  • LΓ©o Bourdon

    I haven’t started on Esperanto yet, but I’m a big Duolingo fan. I think it’s probably the best tool out there to reach a lot of people who will learn languages and adapt themselves to a busy life schedule. But of course, like anybody out there, I found that it is what it is: a tool, not a magic trick to get you to be fluent in languages.

  • Bono95

    I’m a satisfied Duo lingo user (I have to space it to avoid the auto-correct). Its advantages over Rosetta Stone are that it’s free, it’s set up like a game, and you can connect with friends or other people learning the same language(s). But Rosetta Stone is more thorough and has more language options, at least at the moment. Duo lingo is the backbone of my Portuguese knowledge, and Portuguese is now my second best language. I started with and continue to use the Duo lingo lessons, along with Memrise, Quiz let, Youtube videos, and songs.
    I had good results with Rosetta Stone for French years ago. I never used my French for anything, so I never got fluent, but I remember a lot of vocabulary and grammar still. Had I kept learning or used my French, I could now speak it at least as well as I can Portuguese.
    Have fun with future Duo lingo courses. If I may ask, what is Esperanto used for? Who speaks it? I hope I don’t sound cynical, I just don’t know any Esperanto speakers or much about the language. πŸ™‚

  • Aveline Lover

    Um did u use the app or go in the website on your device. Cause Duolingo has tips on website not app. Sorry just wondering πŸ˜›

  • Artie Duncanson

    Just like learning Latin is often “justified” because it will make learning the other Romance Languages easier since they stem from it, do you think that your knowledge of Esperanto will provide a good foundation that will make it easier for you to learn future languages?

    • Interesting question. I think so, yes. Even since learning a little, it’s already come in handy as the word for now is ‘nun’ and in Icelandic, which I’m studying a little right now, it’s ‘nΓΊna’!