Learning a language with games (apps?): Duolingo, Lingodeer, etc

So, I’m trying to learn some super-basic Japanese before an upcoming trip to Japan.

I started out by downloading Duolingo, and worked my way through the basics, but got increasingly fed-up with how terrible it is at teaching you concepts instead of just memorizing specific structures (or specific answers to the same question repeated over and over).

I’m now using Lingodeer, a similar app (game?) designed specifically for Asian languages. I’m liking it a lot so far. The exercises are designed better, dictation sounds better, and the learning is paced better. More importantly, it also includes short textbook-style explanations with each lesson that really help you understand the concepts. And, in almost any area of the UI you can tap on a character for a tooltip with the meaning and hear the pronunciation. It really feels like it was written by someone with a solid grasp of how to teach the language, and designed by someone with a solid understanding of game UI. Also, each lesson has an optional timed “challenge mode”, which is more fun than it has any right to be.

A friend also gave me a textbook that I’ve been referring back to, but so far I’m making more progress in the game, and referring back to the textbook for clarification and more detail about grammar, etiquette, etc.

Is there a better word than “game”? “App” feels too general. “Learning tool”? “Edutainment”?

Anyone else playing (using?) these things?


I like Lingodeer as well. I don’t currently have it installed, but I got reasonably far in its Korean progression and played around with the Chinese and Japanese ones a tiny bit since they happened to be there. Later on in the Korean lessons there were occasionally weird errors where the spoken and written words wouldn’t always match up, but those were usually at least easy to identify as bugs.

I think Lingodeer is one of the better options out there, other than maybe getting a flashcard app like Anki and either making your own cards or finding a set. I’d imagine there’s a lot of other resources for Japanese learners, but I’m not too familiar with them. For Korean, talktomeinkorean.com is pretty good, though it’s not very “game” oriented.

I also have a copy of Influent on Steam which I haven’t touched in ages. It’s a game where you walk around a room in a first-person perspective and click a bunch of objects to get vocabulary words. Based on that premise, I think it’s mainly good for learning words for things you’d find lying about, which is not necessarily the most useful thing in language learning, though they do also try to associate objects with verbs and more abstract concepts.

There was also some tabletop RPG system based on using Korean to cast magic or something along those lines. I think I have a digital copy of the rulebook for that somewhere, but I’ve literally never played it.

Nothing really compares to learning a language by talking to people and studying lots of media in that language, but that edutainment apps are pretty good for drilling rote memorization, which can be useful.


Agreed that the standard learning progression on Duolingo (which originally I think only had EFIGS-y stuff) isn’t brilliantly suited to learning something like Japanese (where, coming from English, you’ve also got the characters/sounds to learn before you’ve even got the ability to parrot text).

I’m not sure what they were thinking directly copying their existing process for the Japanese stuff because it really doesn’t feel like a valuable introduction and also isn’t really that great even as just a reminder/refamiliarisation process.

There’s a quick drag & drop exercise for characters here (which I used some time ago) but I’m guessing you’re already past finding that particularly useful. Maybe it’ll still be handy.


I went through all of Duolingo’s Japanese course. More and more of the lessons are incomplete as you go deeper, ignoring words that it promises to teach you and just forcing you to type in the same one or two sentences over and over until your progress bar is full. Community reports on errors also seem to be largely ignored, if the discussion pages for the lessons are any indication. I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m trying Lingodeer now, haven’t made enough progress yet to give it an evaluation beyond “better”.


I used to use Duolingo a lot a few years ago. Went through the Spanish Tree completely, and since I couldn’t wait for the Japanese course, I ended up just taking the English course for Japanese speakers. Paired with Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese for grammar and other random sources, I was able to eventually get through it. Tae Kim’s Guide helped clear up misconceptions the course could give.

When the actual Japanese course was released I was able to go through it pretty quickly by testing out of everything. I feel like it didn’t teach much if I was able to get through it so easily, since my understanding of Japanese is beginner, maybe intermediate at best.

Outside of those, I’ve started the French, Chinese, and Vietnamese trees, but didn’t get too far in any of them. Maybe I’ll eventually go back to finish them.

I started Lingodeer at one point, but didn’t go past the introductory lessons. I should probably use this instead of Duolingo for Chinese since I’ve heard it was much better and from what others above are saying it’s true.

In my experience these apps can help you quickly learn super-basic Japanese (like you said), but then the learning slows down drastically and they often only teach you vocabulary without much grammar to string it all together. Though I’ll give Lingodeer a look since I haven’t heard of it before. When I was first learning Japanese I used an app called Memrise, and that one was better than Duolingo in my opinion. Now the only software I use is Anki flashcards.


So, I know this is a thread about threads but having tried to learn Japanese 3 times and finally sticking with, I can say I feel the “Genki” textbooks are by far the most effective I’ve worked with. They have an app that’s about three dollars and works really well in tandem with those books. If you can find them at a library or something I recommend them!!

Truth be told I’ve only dabbled a little in these apps or programs but I’ve always felt like… I don’t know, they feel very limited in their scope of use. It feels very much like “language-games” where the act of using the language is just a vessel for associated actions. And that doesn’t quite appeal to me perfectly because my relationship with language is very much about play and creation. So I have a lot of trouble with endless recognize/recall puzzles. Though, honestly, I could probably use a fair dose of it in my learning at this point guhhhhhh

I never heard of Lingodeer but I oughta check it out I guess


Yeah, Genki is the textbook that I’ve been referencing. Textbooks really aren’t my preferred way of learning, but it seems pretty good and I’ve heard a lot of people recommend it. I expect to be using it more when I eventually reach the end of Lingodeer’s content.

How useful is the Genki app? I glanced at it, but it seems like it’s mostly just flash cards. Lingodeer already has a built-in flashcard practice mode that’s pretty good. There’s also tons of other flash card style practice apps for Japanese and other languages.

Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that you can find the Genki books on archive.org.


Yeah, I came into this topic to say that I’ve found Duolingo to be a bad way to learn a language with fundamentally different grammatical structures (based on my experience with it and Japanese, specifically). I tried Duolingo out after having taken a few years* of Japanese in high school and college, so I was able to use it well enough to brush up on some vocabulary stuff. But that’s only because I had enough of a framework of stuff like “why the -te form of these words just end with -te, but this one ends with -tte and THIS one ends with -nde” and “what the fuck is a “-te form” of a word?”

It’s weird, because for Japanese in particular (maybe other languages, but I don’t have any experience with other languages), I feel like this sort of “here’s how you say _______” without any explanation of WHY that’s how you say it leads to a false impression that the language is a lot more complicated and arbitrary than it is. Not to say that it isn’t a complicated language (it is) or that it doesn’t have its fair share of bullshit exceptions to rules (it does) or that it doesn’t have its own specific baffling shit (I’m looking at you, counter words) but I would say it’s ultimately a lot more structured than a free-for-all of a language like English.

*Again, I don’t have THAAAT much experience with the language, so my impressions about its complexity could very well be entirely off the mark

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I’ve found the iOS/Android Dr Moku apps to be brilliant (and free!) tools for learning Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji .

I’ve been teaching myself French. I also got frustrated at Duolingo’s shallowness. I found the combo of Duolingo for vocabulary and Babbel for grammar and concepts to be a good balance. Babbel actually walks you through conjugation and sentence structure. It’s blatantly geared towards business travelers, but the couple times I’ve been to Paris were for work so it’s not entirely inappropriate.

As someone who knows French and thought it’d be a fun idea to go through Duolingo’s French lessons, I can guarantee you that it makes other languages feel weird and arbitrary in ways they’re definitely not. I can tell that if I didn’t already know French I’d have been suuuuper frustrated with, say, trying to memorize all these different ways that individual verbs work because my only option for learning rules is to infer some rather than actually being taught any. If it was actually interested in teaching users anything they’d have some resource in the app for learning some of these stupid simple rules but instead they lean too hard into the idea that people will learn if they feel like they’re doing something that’s not learning so they don’t even really bother teaching.

I dunno, the best I can say about Duolingo is that it can be helpful for memorizing vocabulary and giving you a regular excuse to think in the language you’re learning, but that’s hardly unique to it.


Hey! Xefjord here, I help run the Lingodeer subreddit and discord server. If anyone has any questions about Lingodeer feel free to ask me. I will try to address as much as I can.

If you encounter mismatches between the language you hear and the language you are reading then at the end of each exercise when it shows the mascot on a red or green banner? At the top right of that banner is a little paper airplane, you can tap that and send a report to Lingodeer to have the issue fixed. Also remember that for Korean specifically, they have some pronunciation exceptions in specific cases where the letters are not pronounced the same way you would expect when ordered in a certain way. So be conscious of those as well. If you have any general issues or can’t find the paper airplane, you can just send an email to support@lingodeer.com.

Now let me clarify that I am a volunteer and that I don’t work for Lingodeer and don’t get paid by them, so this next part is entirely my opinion and from my experience

I used to be a HUGE fan of Duolingo’s teaching style and have advocated Duolingo for years. But the languages I am passionate about and interested in learning have always been the East Asian Languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese). I cohost the 1500+ member Unofficial Duolingo Discord Server and was thrilled when they announced they would be adding East Asian languages. Well when the courses first came out, I wasn’t incredibly impressed, but i still recognized the potential of the Duolingo platform and tried to defend the new courses regardless of the criticism. But I was admittedly a bit disappointed myself. Duolingo has a very bad track record of communication with the community as well which made it even more disheartening when I felt like they were making poor decisions (Like trying to make a Japanese course without grammar notes)

Then Lingodeer came out. Lingodeer IS similar to Duolingo and has a lot of the pro’s that Duolingo offers, but they worked hard to adapt the system for Asian languages and to fix a lot of the flaws in Duolingo’s system. Offering in-app grammar notes, flashcard reviews, dedicated lessons towards teaching the sound systems and writing, and now it even offers stories to read to help close the gap between the App and traditional textbooks. Most importantly, the company is AMAZING when it comes to actually listening to users and implementing feedback. They respond to most reviews personally and seriously consider every suggestion tossed their way. This alone adds on so much more potential that Duolingo just doesn’t have anymore because they are averse to change and listening to their users. (Although they have slowly gotten better, I think most Asian language learners have already bailed ship to Lingodeer).

I have gone about halfway through the Duolingo Japanese course, and I have also completely finished the textbook Genki 1 for Japanese. Lingodeer currently teaches about all of Genki 1 in material and has a “Coming Soon” at the end of their tree to signal that they may even extend their existing trees and add significantly more than what they offer right now. Vietnamese has been confirmed to be on the way for Lingodeer and may be added any day now (It was slated for Spring 2018). They are constantly working to improve the app, etc. The TTS for Duolingo sucks and traditional textbooks like Genki don’t even have a whole lot of audio available. Meanwhile Lingodeer has full native audio and also has full grammar explanations for a wide variety of grammar points all the way up to the very last skill in each tree. So they will not skimp you on grammar at all. Please give Lingodeer a fair shot and if you have any feedback; negative, positive, suggestions, etc. Shoot it our way. Thanks! :smiley:

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For the record, I definitely did submit some feedback back when I was using Lingodeer and it’s entirely possible those things have been fixed. It wasn’t a matter of pronunciation though, I knew what words were being said and what words were written and there were some definite mix-ups. I think the app was still pretty new at the time, so there’s a good chance that the ones I reported have since been fixed.

Gamifying learning is a really good way to teach vocab and maybe the basic meaning of grammar points, but from my experience it’s not a great way of learning how to use them.

For Japanese specifically, I really love WaniKani, which is purely a kanji/vocab flash card review site. That got me a good base of vocab and of how words are constructed.

I was rubbish at Japanese until I moved to Japan though. If you’re serious about learning Japanese, find yourself a language partner. Languages are tools for communication after all.


I just finished up Genki II last semester, and I highly recommend it, though I think any textbook is harder to go through on your own without having a class and homework keeping you on track. I haven’t used the Genki App yet, but I imagine the advantage over lingo-deer is that the Genki flashcards would line up with the lessons in the textbook.

Lingodeer has its own built in flashcards/review feature that line up with everything taught in the lessons/course as well.

I’ve been using Duolingo to brush up my Spanish and learn German. But yes, I’ve been facing the same problem. It only teaches you vocabulary, not concepts.

I prefer to use flashcards for the difficult verb conjugations. Duolingo somehow doesn’t work well for me when it comes to verbs. I use cram.com. It’s a free site with lots of pre-set flashcards, but it also allows you to create your own sets. I find creating my own cards much more helpful, though.

I’ve been using Duolingo to learn Dutch. As a native German speaker who also is fluent in English, this is the single most easy-to-learn language in existence, so I’ve been breezing through the course. I’ll probably stick with this app for related languages.

I also want to learn Chinese and can echo the sentiment that Duolingo is not great for that at all. After trying out a few alternatives the app that seems to work best for me is called HelloChinese. I made good enough progress in a few weeks of not very intense learning that I could impress my date, who is from China, by writing a simple but complete Chinese sentence using a pinyin keyboard :wink: