How teachers can use Duolingo to teach Spanish

Miguel Lira

Miguel Lira is a passionate language learner who likes to learn about behavioral psychology and digital tech. He is the founder of SpanishforYourJob.com, an online resource that promotes intercultural awareness by helping English speakers who want to improve their Spanish. Learn more and get free Spanish video lessons at SpanishforYourJob.com.

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Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning app out there, It is completely free and is part of an ambitious project to translate the web. It’s certainly is a great app, but it is also highly underutilised. In this article, we will go over a few useful tips teachers can use to help their students learn and practice Spanish using Duolingo.

But first, a quick overview…

Pros: Great for beginners; easy to use on mobile devices; vocabulary words are grouped by topic; you can listen to the pronunciation of words; students can compete with each other; you can check the progress of students in your groups; they can share their progress on social media; most importantly, it’s easy to use, fun and free!

Cons: Many vocabulary words are not used in everyday life; there are no ‘survival’ phrases in the initial lessons; the pronunciation of words uses an automated voice that sounds a little unnatural; there are no real-life conversations; it can feel a little repetitive after a while.

Bottom line: A great app to learn a little everyday, get the basics covered and practice on the go. One of the best language apps on the market!

Although it is often regarded as “just another language app”, Duolingo is much more than that. It is actually a real-life example of how online technologies can be used to empower individuals so they can learn and contribute to a good cause. Duolingo does this by aggregating little chunks of work and grouping them together to translate the web as you learn and practice a new language. All of this by itself, is a topic worth discussing in the classroom as you help students improve their Spanish along the way.

So, how does it work?

  • First, install the app and register via email, or using your Facebook / Google account (see screenshots below).
  • Then, select the language you want to learn.
  • Choose a goal (optional, but highly recommended).
  • Finally, choose a starting point (if you are not starting from scratch, take the placement test so you land on the right level).

Next, just get started and have fun! This is what beginner lessons look like:



In summary, Duolingo is an app designed to help students learn a new language by providing challenges and interactive games. Sounds good right? Well, it gets even better…

Duolingo for Schools (and the end of excuses as we know them):

“But I did practice, I don’t know what happened during the test!” Does this sound familiar? Excuses like this are on the way to extinction thanks to apps like Duolingo. The app has created a platform to help educators track and encourage the progress of their students. This is a powerful tool that is often overlooked, and it can be a great way to engage Spanish students who enjoy using interactive apps.

Educators can create different groups inside Duolingo and invite students to join using a customised link. It’s as simple as that! The app’s Online Dashboard has a detailed list view that shows how often your students use the app, how many points they earn, as well as how many lessons and skills they have completed.

Additionally, you can filter the list view by subgroups (know as ‘sections’, which are created by you) language, or time period so you are able to see the progress of a subgroup of students in the past week or the past month. Nice, huh? Admit it, you will probably miss how creative those excuses can be at times.This is what the progress of a couple of hard-working students looks like on the Dashboard:



Besides being able to track the progress of your students, you can also facilitate group interaction by using the ‘Classroom Practice’ mode, available inside the Dashboard. Using this option, Duolingo will design a series of exercises that match the level of progress of your students so you can solve them as a group. For example, a teacher may display the exercises on a big monitor in a classroom so students can share their answers out loud.

This is what Classroom Mode looks like in Duolingo:

Let’s see how you can get started…

First, visit the Duolingo Dashboard and login using your Duolingo account, or register if you don’t yet have one. Next, you will need to click on “Invite students”.

If you want to create a section to group your students by class, level of proficiency or language, you can create a one. This step is optional but very useful to keep things organised and simple.




After that, you will get a custom link your students can use to join the section you have created. For example, you could create sections such as: “Basic Spanish”, “Intermediate Spanish” or even something like  “Monday Spanish Class”, like this:



You also get many additional options, such as being able to control the Privacy Settings for your students as shown here:



You can also access online discussions with other educators by clicking on ‘Discuss with Teachers’ where you can share your questions and experiences.



To learn more about Duolingo for educators and access detailed instructions about getting started, visit their insightful help section. Alternatively, students can share their progress with you from their own Duolingo account. Just share your email address with them (the one you used to setup your account) and the section or class name they should join (as mentioned before, this step is optional).

A few tips to get the most out of Duolingo

There are many different styles when it comes to using Duolingo. Some students want to be efficient, others want to learn vocabulary, others focus on grammar and some just want to play. But, what's the best way to go? In this section we will cover a few tips to help your students get the most out of Duolingo based on my personal experience:

First, focus on having fun!

Encourage your students to have fun as they practice so they see it as a game and not homework. You can set daily goals, and recognise the highest achievers using the Duolingo Dashboard. Feel free to get creative and make things “divertidas” (fun).

Harness the Power of Competition

Create small groups of students who get to compete against each other (groups of 10 or less students generally work well; you can use ‘sections’ for this) and after you get the top two students from each team, they could compete against the top students from the other teams in your classroom. Like this, teamwork will propel language learning, even if it all feels like a game.

Understand why it’s wrong

Encourage your students to ask you, or a classmate, in case they are not sure why they got a question wrong. However, if they are at home and there’s nobody they can ask, they can also click on ‘Discuss Sentence’ and read answers from previous students.

Compete against the “student in the mirror”

As your students make progress and earn Lingots (Duolingo currency) they will be able to make purchases at the Duolingo Store. Encourage them to give the ‘Timed Practice’ option a try to make things more fun by using the power of Parkinson’s Law to their advantage. Still not convinced? Here is a short overview of how Duolingo looks on the iPad made by The Porter Perspective (the example is for French, but it is a good video):

YouTube Link


If you are curious about how Duolingo is working to translate the web, take a look at this TED Talk (it's very interesting):

YouTube Link

Overall, considering how fun and addictive Duolingo is, and the fact that it’s free, it is a great app to try. Additionally, teachers can use the Duolingo Dashboard to track student progress and encourage friendly competition among them by designing creative ways to work together. It’s definitely one of the best language apps out there, and you can download it here.

Have you used Duolingo in the classroom? Share your experiences below!

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