Why is 10 minutes of learning a day not enough to learn a language?

Are you using a popular language learning app? Here’s why you’ll never be successful.

In this article, you will learn why using what is currently the world’s most popular language learning app, Duolingo, can do more harm than good in the long run. Even despite the huge marketing success of this company (for which, without a doubt, they deserve great credit).

To get started, we’re giving you a six-month special deal to see for yourself what advantage you gain by using Taalhammer compared to other apps. Take advantage of this one-time offer and forget about monotonous grammar and impractical words.

This statement may be shocking to many linguists, but as practice shows, despite all the technological advances, learning languages does not come any easier to us than it did 30 years ago.  

Nowadays, many exercises and newer and newer apps make us believe that learning is quick and easy, while in the long run these methods completely fail us. 

Many reputable institutions, e.g. the Cambridge English Language Assessment (CELA), Education First (EF) and the Council of Europe, indicate that it takes about 600 hours to master a language fluently. This gives an hour a day for 2 years, or 2 hours a day for 1 year. 

How long would it take assuming we only learn for 10 minutes a day? 12 years!

Gamification based on (addictive) dopamine

The biggest shortcoming in popular applications of this type is that they are essentially more a form of gamification than actual language learning. 

The creators of Duolingo admit themselves that they were very much inspired by the mechanisms and algorithms of social media when creating their application. And it is well known by now that these are created by a staff of psychologists and marketers in such a way as to grab someone’s attention as strongly as possible and make them addicted to constant dopamine outputs.

Gamification features such as scoreboards, competition within various kinds of leagues and rewards for solved tasks cause people to strive to get another diamond or other reward. 

A feature called “streak” is particularly interesting. This refers to how many days in a row you are active in the application. 

And it actually works. Some people are willing to make an extra effort each day just to maintain their good streak. 

For example, did you know that Duolingo offers their users an opportunity to pay real money to extend their streak? 

Isn’t it incredible that the app officially offers a feature where adults pay to cheat the system?

As for gamification itself, there are studies that suggest it can lead to long-term demotivation, loss of self-confidence, concentration problems and addiction. 

All of this can spill over into other areas of life as well. 

Why “easy and fun” robs you of results

Despite so many things that on a marketing and PR level are done in a very skillful way, there is one fundamental problem with the model on which Duolingo is based. 

Unfortunately, while there are plenty of committed Duolingo users, there are just as many people complaining that the app is not producing real results, i.e. not teaching them the language. 

Why is this? 

Most importantly, the exercises in the app are too easy. In general, they consist of building sentences from given words in a foreign language, or matching pictures to words. In most cases, everyone is able to achieve good results in such an exercise. 

These “good results” cause us to get various rewards in the app, and this in turn increases our engagement and gives us the feeling that we are learning. That’s right…a feeling.

Unfortunately, this is very illusory because in real life, when building sentences, we do not get hints in the form of elements from which we can build a sentence. 

So it looks like the creators of Duolingo have bet primarily on the user engagement, who invest their time with virtual coins and diamonds, living in the belief that learning a language is going quite well.

Poorly designed repetitions  

Another problematic issue is repetition, which is inefficiently timed. Anyone who has used Duolingo and other similar applications has quickly realized that we are actually constantly repeating what we already know anyway. 

This means that the brain does not have the ability to forget material, which is paradoxically desirable. This is because recollection enhances long-term memory, as is well demonstrated by research on so-called Desired Difficulties.

The repetition algorithms in these applications are geared toward user engagement, but not long-term memorization. Not to mention that they lack interleaving of different categories of words, so-called formulaic language.

Of course, no one is saying that learning in this way is completely doomed, but progress is most often minimal. 

4 reasons why with Taalhammer the effort “pays off” 

  1. In Taalhammer, no one hides the fact that the exercises are more difficult. This is not just another app where you get the answers on a silver platter. Instead of exercises like “put the words in the right order,” you learn by searching for the answers in your memory. And we know from the theory of Desired Difficulties that this strengthens memory and boosts confidence when it comes to conversation. 
  1. Taalhammer uses so-called formulaic language, through which you learn not only words, but also phrases and sentences with their variants (e.g., questions and negations) containing those words.
  1. Unlike Duolingo, which often “quizzes” you on what you already know and doesn’t plan repetitions accordingly, our proprietary Spaced Repetition algorithm (i.e. staggered repetition) asks what you don’t know, thus stimulating your memory. 

In short, at Taalhammer, we have combined the most effective scientific methods so that they support long-term memorization and produce the fastest possible results in your learning.