An important part of learning is feedback: getting information about what you communicated well and whether you said something wrong. For language learning, feedback might be about how you used a new word, how you changed a word's ending, or how you pronounced something.

One of the newest ways we give Duolingo learners feedback is through smart tips. These tips pop up right when you make a mistake and give an explanation of the grammar rule or pattern to help you get it right next time.

We recently performed an experiment to check whether smart tips are effective at improving learners’ understanding of grammar. In this post, we'll tell you more about smart tips and how we know that they're helping you learn!

How do smart tips work?

Smart tips are explanations that appear in a lesson after a learner makes certain types of mistakes, like putting words in the incorrect order in a sentence. Because mistakes are a natural part of language learning, we designed smart tips to give you personalized feedback to help you learn from your mistakes.

Our courses pay close attention to each mistake, and after a learner makes a specific kind of error, they might see a smart tip. With the mistake fresh in the learner's memory, the smart tip provides helpful information, and the learner gets to practice applying the rule.

Learner mistake Smart tip explanation
Screenshot of a Duolingo exercise with the character Vikram saying in English Screenshot of a Duolingo smart tip that says 'In English, we say a black cat, but in Spanish, it's a cat black!' The adjective

For example, in Spanish, smart tips may give the learner more information about the order words go in (like in the smart tip above), how to change verb endings (so many endings!!), common word confusion (like ser and estar), and word gender (masculine and feminine). Smart tips don't show up after every single mistake because we don't want learners to feel overwhelmed -- it can take time to learn grammar rules! -- and because we know some errors are typos or accidental mistakes.

Learner mistake Smart tip explanation
Screenshot of a Duolingo exercise with the bear character saying in English Screenshot of a Duolingo smart tip that says

We designed smart tips to be simple, straightforward explanations, encompassing four dimensions that research shows are important for feedback. Duolingo's smart tips are:

  • immediate: they pop up right after you make a mistake.
  • personalized: our machine learning algorithm analyzes the exact kind of error you made.
  • explicit: they state what to pay attention to and what the rule is.
  • elaborate: they show more than just "incorrect" so you can better understand the pattern.

Do smart tips improve learning?

To be sure that Duolingo's smart tips were working as designed, we wanted to test if they actually improved learners' understanding of grammar. So we ran an experiment!

We tested whether learners who saw smart tips made fewer mistakes later on than learners who only received regular feedback ("correct" or "incorrect"). We tested more than 100,000 learners in our French course for English speakers. About half of these learners didn't see any smart tips, and about half were randomly picked to see smart tips after their mistakes. Would the smart tips group learn more than the group that didn't see smart tips?

Answer: oui ! That is, yes! Learners in the smart tips group made fewer subsequent errors than learners who didn't see the extra tips. It’s worth noting that this was only true for the kinds of errors we have smart tips for; seeing smart tips helped learners make fewer errors for the grammar topics covered in smart tips. The smart tips group really did learn exactly, specifically, what we taught them!

We were also pleased to see that learners found the smart tips helpful. After all, just because something is good for learning doesn't necessarily mean that it feels good. Learners in the experiment rated 90% of smart tips with a thumbs up, so we know we're on the right track in how we write and design them!

Learning with Duolingo is even smarter with smart tips

Smart tips are bite-sized grammar explanations that appear right when you’re most ready to learn from them. Designed through collaboration between our teaching experts and machine learning engineers, smart tips are an effective tool for helping learners understand language patterns.

You can find smart tips in many of our courses, and if you don't see them in your course yet... stay tuned!