Duolingo’s “Worst Update Ever”

Interview with Madison Harrah, a Duolingo user.

The boss of the language app, Duolingo, has defended changes to the company’s product.

The company launched this new update to all users on the 1st of November.

Luis von Ahn told NBC “We do think that the new system is better. 

“And, you know, for us, having to maintain two separate systems is pretty difficult.

“This is why we decided to do this – to simplify Duolingo and also to make it so that new users understood how to best use Duolingo.

Duolingo is a language learning app that offers over 100 courses in 40 different languages to over 500 million registered users. 

The company is well known for its social media presence, used as an example of success by social media management companies.

Before the changes, users used a ‘tree’ system, where branches focus on specific aspects of language learning, and they could choose the lessons they wanted to complete.

But in August a new update meant some users had to use a ‘pathway’ system, which meant they had to complete lessons in the order given to them. 

Further comments online from the company said that the new update is science based and is the best way for people to learn a language. 


Some customers do not agree. 

Tobi Fondse lives in the Netherlands and has been using Duolingo consistently for over 500 days. 

He made the Twitter account @Duo_is_sad to complain about the new update, and to promote a petition asking for the update to be reversed. 

“In seconds everything changed… I feel I have the right to finish the course I paid for and invested a lot of time in, I’m angry they won’t let me finish what I started,” 

Fondse likened language learning to a diet: nobody eats perfectly all the time, and having some flexibility makes it easier for people to make progress without being disheartened. 

Comments on the petition have a similar opinion: 

“The new update limits learning and treats adults as if they were toddlers,” wrote Carole Anne Andrezejewski.

“Worst update ever. Derailed my progress. I’ve uninstalled the app,” Stacey Lane commented.

Madison Harrah has a language barrier with her grandparents and has been using Duolingo to try to overcome it. 

She said the new update “takes away a lot of our autonomy”.

“I have ADHD so being able to navigate lessons on my own was really helpful in keeping my attention span.

“I would like Duolingo to listen to their customers.

“It makes me feel like they don’t care about me as a user of their app.”

Tasha hasn’t got the update yet but feels differently about the response she’s seeing online. 

“So many people are talking ill of the update because it’s interrupting their flow of learning, but honestly, people complain about everything at first. 

“Just look at Twitter, people have been up in arms about every Twitter update, but they settle and get used to it.”


Sarah C. is deaf and is struggling to use Duolingo with the new update.

She wrote on Twitter “ALL my descriptive text is gone & my practice hub is forcing listening sentences.

“The #duolingoupdate encouraged me to look at other apps & I consequently broke out of my comfort zone by actually doing listening/speaking exercises elsewhere”

There is a setting to bypass listening or speaking exercises, but this doesn’t appear to be working for Sarah since the update. 

Simon E. isn’t upset by the structural changes in the update, but he said he is also experiencing bugs.

“When doing a lesson in Duolingo it presents a French phrase and a tap to speak button. 

“When I tap the button, it immediately says ‘That doesn’t sound right’

“I have reported via the report button on the question. 

“This doesn’t stop me from using Duolingo for French, it just means I don’t get any speaking practice. 

“It all works well for listening and other exercises.”

Duolingo’s CEO Luis von Ahn told NBC “I think it’s important to realise that people are change averse.”

UEA Journalism contacted Duolingo for comment, but it has not responded. 

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