1000 Days of Duolingo

I recently hit a 1000-day streak on Duolingo’s Mandarin course, so I’m joining in with many other people in writing up my experience.

Here’s the tl;dr:


  • My vocab, grammar, speaking, and listening all improved.
  • I can now have a basic conversation in Mandarin
  • Duolingo is fantastic for habit-forming; it may not be the best way to learn, but it’s easy to stick with.


  • Content and UI is often reorganised which often breaks the way you use the app
  • No new Mandarin course content
  • My reading/writing skills are not as good as I had hoped


  • Duolingo is “minimax language learning”: you will make at least some progress every day.
  • I’m better off having done it than trying (and giving up on) another method.

The Good

If you decide to build a long streak in Duolingo, the app makes it very easy to form a habit. The gamification has had a lot of effort put in, and it’s very addictive. I noticed definite improvements in vocab, grammar, speaking, and listening after finishing the course, and I was able to start having simple conversations with my in-laws, who are native Mandarin speakers. They also remarked that I’d gotten noticeably better. (I will say however, that actually having these conversations significantly improved my proficiency in a way that just using Duolingo didn’t)

I’ve also tested my reading and writing ability by doing HSK sample tests; I can comfortably complete a HSK2 reading exam with a 100% score, and can scrape a pass on HSK3 writing. However, HSK3 reading is a real struggle.

The Bad

Unfortunately, there are some things I really dislike about Duolingo. Most annoying are the frequent changes to UI, course structure, and various features which break a “workflow” you may have settled into with the app. For example, recently I’ve been practicing writing (i.e., by drawing the strokes of characters), which I’ve found also really helps my reading. However, a recent update means I can no longer practice just writing- sometimes, the app will force me to do easy tasks, like match a character to its pinyin. This is much easier, and basically just wastes my time: I’m trying to learn how to write!

Generally speaking, it feels like Duolingo sometimes thinks it knows better than you. It can force you into doing things a certain way, even if you’ve found a way of learning with the app that works well for you.

Also irritating are the progress resets, which force you to go back and redo lessons you’ve previously finished–although this typically happens with content you already know, so it’s generally easy to “test out”.

Sadly, it also seems like the Mandarin course is somewhat abandoned- it doesn’t seem like any new content has been added for years.

Lastly, Duolingo is advertised as teaching you the vocab and grammar necessary for HSK3 (and some of HSK4). While this may be true, it’s a little misleading; my experience is that Duolingo lessons are easier than “real” reading and writing, even with pinyin turned off. HSK3 reading exams feel much harder than the hardest course content on Duolingo.

Worth it?

A friend remarked to me recently that the best diet is one you actually stick with. I think Duolingo is exactly this. It may not be the best or fastest way to learn a language, but by gum you will learn something.

That said, I don’t think it’s enough by itself – what helped me most is supplementing Duolingo lessons with actively trying to practice speaking with people in Mandarin. This is obviously hard if you don’t have access to native speakers–I’m hoping apps like univerbal will help here.

tl;dr: Use Duolingo. It’s a pretty good (but not perfect) way to get better at a language.