By now you have probably heard that Duolingo’s Spanish and French courses are effective in developing learners’ reading, listening, and speaking skills. We’re excited to share new results about learners in our English course!

The goal of this study was to understand how well Duolingo is teaching reading and listening skills to English learners. The results show that completing the beginning sections of the course led to intermediate-level reading and listening proficiency! Learner scores also improved steadily from one section to the next.

Read on for more information about how we conducted the study and what the findings tell us about learning English with Duolingo.

Measuring reading and listening skills

This study investigated learners in Duolingo's English course for Spanish speakers. This course is aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), an international language proficiency standard that defines learning goals for Basic (levels A1 and A2), Independent (B1 and B2), and Proficient (C1 and C2) users. For this study, we tested learners in the A1 and A2 sections of the course. Learners at the A2 level can understand sentences and common expressions and can use the present, past, and future tenses to talk about work and professional life, travel and leisure activities, opinions, needs, and more.

Illustration of the 6 CEFR language proficiency levels: the levels are A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. Each level is represented with a colorful bar, and A1 is the shortest bar and C2 is the tallest. A1 and A2 are labeled as "Basic," B1 and B2 as "Independent," and C1 and C2 as "Proficient."

In order to focus on how much people can learn with Duolingo alone, the study only included learners who were not taking English classes or using other programs while studying with Duolingo. We also selected learners who said they knew no or very little English before they started Duolingo, so that we were sure that anything they learned was from our lessons. Using these criteria, we included a total of 263 learners from the end of the A1 section to the end of A2 and tested their reading and listening skills with a third-party language assessment, which gave us an objective view of learners’ language proficiency.

How much English did people learn?

For learners who are using only Duolingo to study English, how well can they read and listen in their new language? Our results showed that learners reached intermediate-level reading and listening at the completion of the A2 content. According to a commonly used U.S. proficiency scale (ACTFL), on average learners scored Intermediate High in reading and Intermediate Mid in listening. It's pretty common for learners to have higher proficiency in reading than listening, since reading usually doesn't have the same time pressures as listening.

Did scores increase throughout the course sections?

Now we knew that Duolingo learners who have completed the A2 content had strong reading and listening scores for their level; next, we wanted to see how that learning happens across sections. Are learners making steady progress, and are they continuing to learn throughout the course?

To answer these questions, we analyzed the scores of learners at different points in the beginning sections, A1 and A2 sections. Scores at the end of A2 were significantly higher than those at the end of A1 in both reading and listening! This progress, especially in the last half of the A2, shows the effectiveness of Duolingo's Basic-level content: The more lessons learners complete, the more they learn!

Bar chart of English Reading and Listening Proficiency. On the horizontal x-axis are the three Sections of Duolingo: End of A1, Middle of A2, and End of A2. On the vertical y-axis is the ACTFL levels, with the bottom third labeled "Novice", the middle third "Intermediate", and the upper third "Advanced". There are a pair of bars for each Section of Duolingo, representing listening scores and reading scores. For each pair, both bars reach into the intermediate range and the reading scores are higher than the listening scores. From End of A1 to end of A2, the bars gradually get higher, and the final bar for reading at end of A2, it reaches the highest part of the intermediate section.

What does this mean for the new course structure?

Recently, we redesigned our home screen to build practice and spaced repetition right into the learning path. Will Duolingo learners who study in the new design show the same learning outcomes as the ones in our study?

We think so!

In the original home screen, each section of the course was organized into a series of skills (those colorful circles), each skill had five levels of lessons, and the sections concluded with a "checkpoint." In the redesign, those levels are spread out in a specific sequence to help learners practice material in a way that maximizes learning and remembering it all.

Side-by-side comparison of the original Duolingo homescreen and the new course structure. On the left, the original homescreen included colorful bubbles organized into rows cascading down the screen, with one to three bubbles per row. On the right, the new screen shows units of little pebbles ordered in a single line wiggling down the screen.

Duolingo’s course structure home screen is transitioning to its new design. The left side shows the original design and the right side shows the new path design.

Because Duolingo’s course content is aligned to CEFR and the number of skills is the same across the two versions, we believe that the findings are applicable to the new course structure. Previously, although each skill offered five levels, learners were only required to complete the first level. As a matter of fact, many learners rarely “leveled up,” and instead completed only the required level! Duolingo's new path structure condenses each skill into three levels and puts each level directly in the learner's study path, together with practice skills and our reading feature, Stories. As a result, learners end up studying and reviewing more content in the new path, which leads us to believe that they will learn at least as much, if not more.

Our learners are making great progress!

We're excited about the progress beginning English learners make on Duolingo! You can read the full research report here. Next, we will evaluate how well we're teaching speaking and writing skills, and soon we'll be researching learners at higher levels, too. Check back soon to see the newest ways we're using technology to teach effectively!