Positive experiences with Duolingo Japanese?

Hey WKers! I’ve looked at this forum enough to know that Duolingo for Japanese is quite consistently disparaged here. I know there are good reasons for that, but I’m wondering if anyone here uses it anyway and likes it despite its shortcomings.

I got into Duolingo many years ago with French (for which I think it’s better suited, as an English speaker) and so it was where I started last year when I decided on a whim to try Japanese. It piqued my interest, but almost immediately I decided to learn kana outside of Duo, and then I found its way of introducing kanji/vocab pretty confusing and overwhelming. Before too long, I’d discovered WaniKani, and I put Duolingo aside.

Since then I’ve returned to Duolingo from time to time, though only sporadically. Now I know most of the kanji I see there, so that part is pretty easy. I find it a decent way to practice reading and writing full sentences. I’m aware that LingoDeer is a similar-but-much-better tool, but LingoDeer is a bit pricey while Duolingo is free.

The thing that irks me most about Duolingo is when you do the “click the individual word tiles to construct the answer” exercises, it says the words/phrases out loud as you click them and very often it uses some default reading for a kanji, but not the reading it should use in the context of the current word. Once you level up a unit enough, you can type in your responses freeform, which avoids this (and raises the challenge level in a nice way) but otherwise you just kind of have to ignore it. Since I know most of the words anyway from WK I can let this slide, but it’s a pretty bad flaw.

I’m curious if there are other major flaws that bother people. But moreso—does anybody here actually use Duolingo as part of their Japanese practice and find it valuable?


I started using Duolingo a few months ago to learn Irish out of curiosity and decided to check the Japanese course as well, and I like it!

I don’t know how good it would be for a first time learner. For context, I did 3 years of Japanese in University, but since graduating in Spring 2019 I fell off my studies. I’ve been using the Duolingo app as a way to do a bit of Japanese every day and not lose it completely. It actually motived me to start using Genki again and continue learning more formally.

I’d say, the one thing that bothers me with the app is the lack of furigana. I don’t mind if it’s not on the sentences, but sometimes I’ll click on a kanji word to figure out what it is and I have to rely on the audio to figure out the pronunciation. That’s inconvenient as sometimes I’m doing reviews on silent or the audio isn’t very clear.

I also find that sometimes the order in which notions are introduced are a bit confusing, as you’ll get a jumble of new things in one lesson. I imagine that could be confusing for a first time learner.

So yeah, I do use it in my Japanese practice, but more as a way to keep interacting with Japanese everyday in a casual manner and review content I’ve already seen in my previous studies.


I’ve used Duolingo sporadically in the past. In general, I am a believer that any exposure to your target language is beneficial. Duolingo is just really low on my list of things that are actually effective. It’s good for creating a daily habit of doing something in Japanese and arguably some of the exercises are decent listening practice. It certainly won’t hurt your language learning and if its suits you, that’s great! For me, most other resources I found were more beneficial (WK, reading manga, Genki/Tobira, watching anime and Japanese language learning YouTube channels, etc.)


My positive experience with Duolingo Japanese?

I am positive it was an absolute waste for me. (emphasis is on, for me, as others have better experiences)

Using the tile method to respond had me learn pretty much nothing. And that’s the part a lot of JP DuoLingoers don’t seem to accept. If you aren’t learning outside of DL, it’s unlikely you are learning; you are simply “learning.”

I found DL’s method difficult to retain anything and because it reads every tile to you, it’s far, far too easy to cheat or guess your way through things. Unless you are honest with yourself, then you can come away feeling like you know a lot more than you actually do. That to me is detrimental.

For the record, I was doing DL Japanese when it first dropped. I tried it again 2 or 3 months ago. It’s gotten better but that doesn’t mean it was worthwhile for me. I never saw anywhere that let me type freeform. If that was added, then that’s probably helpful. As long as people use it that way and ignore the tiles.

In the end, my experience will be different than other people. Any tool you use that helps you practice and keeps you motivated, IMO, is worth your time.

LingoDeer is much better but has similar issues with the tile method where it speaks the characters on the tile. However, there are type in sections which are where I feel like I really am learning something.


I actually started out using Duolingo on my Japanese learning journey. It was one of the first exposures I had with the language.

I stopped learning for a while as life got in the way but I had a pretty solid foundation for hiragana/katakana due to Duo, and I was familiar with the sounds of phrases that come up in anime like ‘good morning’, ‘mother’, ‘i’m off’ and ‘i’m home’ (all the slice-of-life greats).

I recently started back up with Duo after I discovered WK - WK has massively helped my learning experience on Duolingo, which is funny really.

I’ve noticed this is a major pain-point if you were to only use Duo for your learning, but I’ve found it to be quite helpful to use as a test for reading kanji without being able to look up the reading (since they don’t give that to you in many cases - it forces me to remember what I’ve seen here). And some very basic sentence structures.

So I guess I use it for the daily exposure and introductions to concepts. The leaderboard aspect kept me motivated in the beginning, but once you hit Diamond League, the reality is, you don’t have to do much to stay there so my activity there has dropped off, although I’m still keeping my ‘days streak’ active (currently on 117).

I do find the audio-only exercises beneficial for targeted listening - i think it gets close to a ‘normal’ speed of speech - so i think it has prepped my brain for listening to ‘real’ Japanese (like news stations and podcasts etc).

TL;DR - I find the gamification aspect great, but I mainly use it as a ‘get in the Japanese mindset’ rather than vocab learning.

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Hey, I have been using duo for about two years now. The Japanese course has come a long way from when I started and now I can’t recommend it enough.

A few tips for duolingo:

  • Use only the web (computer) version (it’s times better for learning than the app)
  • Write in your answers (don’t use the word boxes). This way you’ll instantly learn 4x times more.
  • Search up grammar. Duo doesn’t do that good of a job of explaining grammar but if you’re willing to search up on what seems confusing you’ll go a long way.
  • ctrl + space plays audio (you can thank me later)
  • Use google IME instead of Microsoft one

Also, one gripe I have with duo for Japanese is it automatically reading the sentences for me. This prevents me from trying on my own and memorizing kanji better. I made a user-script to disable automatic audio reading, but for some reason you have to refresh duo and only then it turns on. Haven’t had the time to debug it yet.


I use it occasionally just for a bit of fun and often pick up some vocab from it. Not sure I really ‘learnt’ anything, but rather just recognised what Japanese I already know? If that makes any sense. haha. As in, it seems to skip the teaching bit and moves straight to the testing !

I would say that one tool of many in your Japanese learning toolbox, it has some utility.

I would argue it would not be very useful as a primary learning tool for Japanese !

I am very positive about it though ! :slight_smile: It is free after all ! and I live owls.

One major critique - needs more costumes for the owl.



A few years ago duolingo Japanese was quite new and very bad, which left quite a sour taste in people’s mouths. However, the course is phenomenal these days and even teaches grammar pretty well. The explanation is clear and concise, and the sentences became more and more complicated. I use it mostly for sentence practice personally, but these days I sometimes even learn new stuff (currently halfway level 4)

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Duolingo has gotten a lot better in the last 1-2 years for Japanese, but still leaves a lot to be desired. That said, I am using it right now. It’s the only learning resource I’ve found where Kana and Kanji are used as they would be “in the wild” on day one, so I feel like I’m getting good practice reading japanese even though my grammar knowledge is very limited, and I’m learning vocabulary that is normally written in Kanji alongside vocab that is normally written in Kana. after duolingo, I plan to move on to something more formally grammar-focused, but the course structure has improved a lot and it’s helping me stay motivated.

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I prefer Bunpo or Lingodeer which are designed for Japanese (and for Lingodeer, other Asian languages) and I find it explains things much better rather than trying to build against an English translation.

Last I used Duolingo, it taught “Watashi wa, ringo desu” to mean “I am an apple.”

Lots of thoughtful replies so far, thanks!

I agree with the point that it’s nice to see a mix of kanji vocab and kana-only vocab right off the bat. I didn’t like the kanji vocab part so much before WK, but now that’s often “the easy part”. I can always use more practice with kana-only vocab.

I tried it in my first month of Japanese Learning back in December 2019. At first, I liked it because of the ranking system, but they immediately throw you into the deep end of difficult Kanji. Because of that I was turned off from learning Japanese properly for a good 3 months from January to March, because I thought that all Japanese textbooks and courses are like that as well- until I discovered Genki and WaniKani.

I use at as a sort of minegame on the side. I am not really a fan of it as a language learning system and have much more success and enjoyment out of textbooks, WK and reading books.

But as a companion on the side, why not?

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I struggle to learn grammar from text books for the first time- I find it much easier to read about grammar after I have already tried to use it. So I used Duolingo when I first started with wanikani rather than Genki etc. I enjoyed it and it definitely got me started. However if I was someone who could properly learn from textbooks and had the discipline to do the exercises my Japanese would probably be much better now.
But I have to face reality and it’s the gamifying approach of duolingo, wanikani and bunpro that have got me to where I am, rather than giving up with a textbook 2 years ago.

I tried it 6 months ago.

Positives: easy to learn kana from, ok for basic traveller phrases.
Negatives: hard to learn kanji from.

One of the first kanji words it throws at you is 銀行 - now maybe it’s just me but there’s a lot going on in the first kanji, and without knowing how to remember kanji, you just have to brute force memorize those two symbols for the word. The other two early words were 先生 and 学生, which to me 6 months ago, especially in a smallish font, looked pretty similar.

Compared to the hand (brain?) holding in WK, where you’d first learn the radicals, and then 金, 根, 銀, 行, 先, 生, and 学, and then “a bank is where the silver goes” (I know that’s not etymologically correct…) etc, the effort you have to put in is pretty large.

My daughter uses duolingo for Spanish, and seems to be getting along pretty well, so I think it is just that kanji roadblock.

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Duolingo helped me to finally memorize Katakana, because I am so lazy that I mostly do one daily Katakana lesson instead of progressing further. :wink:

So, it’s nice to have as an additional minigame. Some days I am strangely motivated and try to advance up in the different leagues. I am between the second and third castle at the moment.

To really memorize grammatical structures I prefer Bunpro and the “Dictionary of basic Japanese Grammar”.

I took a two month break from WK in November and December but kept doing my minimum of daily Duolingo to remind myself that I am still learning Japanese. It helped me stay connected to my goal.

And also: Owls are awesome, I could never disappoint Duo.


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