[Last updated: March 21, 2022]
If you’re looking to take your language learning on Duolingo up a gear, but don’t want to break the bank, then you’ve come to the right place!
Over the years, I’ve used a ton of resources alongside Duolingo. Some great, many not so great.
By itself, Duolingo can take you surprisingly far in a language. Their goal is to get you to B2 on the Common European Framework — which, in many cases, is considered enough to be able to apply for a job.
That being said, I tend to favour a more varied language learning diet.
Duolingo is like my staple food group, around which I introduce resources that target specific learning areas, such as reading, listening, writing and speaking.
But the cool thing is that, just like Duolingo, you can actually get a lot of quality resources for free.
I’ve used loads over the years, and perhaps one day I’ll compile them all into one comprehensive article.
But for now, I’d like to share with you my Top 5.
These resources focus primarily on immersion — perhaps one of the most important parts of learning a language — and you can add them to your routine immediately to supercharge everything you’re learning with the owl.
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If you’ve never used Reverso then now is the time to start.
Back when I started learning Italian, Google Translate was my go-to tool for translation.
But, as you may have noticed, Google doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes it doesn’t recognise the word, or the translation just feels a bit out of place.
Usually, the problem is that it’s lacking context.
This is where Reverso comes in.
Like Google Translate, Reverso is a translator. Pop a word, sentence, paragraph or document into it and it will translate it into your target language.
However, Reverso goes one step further than Google Translate. If you want to translate a word or phrase, Reverso will give you their proper meanings. It will show you how they fit into actual sentences, so you can see how and when to use them.
This is pretty invaluable when I’m working through an article on LingQ and I just can’t get my head around a certain word combination or phrase.
But it’s also great for when you come across something on Duolingo and, no matter how much you look at it, you just can’t figure it out. When this happens, simply pop it into Reverso and, more often than not, you’ll come away knowing what the crack is.
It’s all about the context. Reverso has a dedicated context tool that also integrates with the translator, so you get a variety of translations, as well as different usage examples.
And it gets better.
You also get a Conjugation and Synonym tool for most of the popular languages on Duolingo. The conjugator is useful if you’re struggling with your verbs, and the synonym tool is useful for fleshing out your vocabulary.
Reverso locks some of their features behind the paywall, but in my experience, you get more than enough with the free version.
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My username is DCiiieee 🙂
(If the link doesn’t work then just type my username into the ‘Search for friends’ bar on the app)
Seriously, HelloTalk was absolutely brilliant for me when I was learning Italian. It made it super easy for me to find native speakers, and within minutes I could be in the thick of a conversation.
Think of it like WhatsApp but for language learning. You basically set up a profile (e.g. name, age, picture, bio, languages known etc) and you’ll be able to find and be discovered by thousands of other users who speak your target language.
The basic idea is that you help each other improve in your target languages. So if you’re learning French, for instance, you would look to match up with a native French speaker learning English.
Obviously it doesn’t have to be that rigid, but the main thing is that you can both help each other in the language the other is learning.
Getting back to the WhatsApp idea, the way you interact is pretty much the same. You can send basic text messages, voice messages, GiFs, memes and videos. You can also call each other, which is really useful for working on your speaking.
But it also has some more language-learning-specific features baked in, such as the ability to correct spellings and grammar in the other person’s messages, or the option to translate.
The cool thing about all of this is that all the main functionality is available for free. There is a VIP option — which works out at about £5.75 a month if you pay yearly, or you can get lifetime access for £109.99 –but I always found the free membership to be more than sufficient.
Stick with me on this one. I know you’re probably scratching you’re head. But trust me, when you put your mind to it, Wikipedia can be a game-changer for your reading comprehension.
Off the top of my head, there are at least three reasons for this.
The first is that it’s overflowing with content. There are more articles on Wikipedia than you could ever possibly hope to read through. And that means there’s a good chance it will have something that interests you.
Secondly, the writing style is fairly familiar and easy to get to grips with. After reading through a few articles you’ll find yourself getting used to the tense and structure, and this will give you an important sense of accomplishment.
And the third point is that there’s a Wikipedia for every non-fictional language on Duolingo. In total, they have a subdomain for a whopping 325 different languages.
Let that sink in for a moment.
18 of those languages have over 1,000,000 different articles. And the best bit is they haven’t been translated from English. They’ve been written from the ground up in authentic French, Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese etc.
So when you consider these three points together — interesting content, easy and familiar writing style, and authentically written in your target language — you realise you’ve found the perfect environment for improving your reading comprehension.
You could do much the same with news articles in your target languages from national news sites. However, I tend to find Wikipedia articles to be more meaty, interesting and have a greater variety of vocabulary.
A good trick if you’re using a computer or capable tablet is to have the Wikipedia article open on one side of the screen, and a translated version on the other. Focus on getting through a section or paragraph without consulting the translation, then check through to see how you did after.
If you want to take it even further, you can import the articles directly into a service like LingQ and read through them there. That way you can translate and save the words and phrases into your database and review them as and when you please.
The downside to this is that LingQ is a premium resource, so if you’re looking to keep things budget-friendly, it’s probably best to stick with the split-screen method.
One of the best ways to improve your listening comprehension is with music. And one of the best platforms to do so is Spotify.
There are plenty of music streaming services available these days. But, in my opinion, none of them really come close to the depth and personality of Spotify.
And for someone learning a language, it makes finding music an absolute doddle.
Their premium membership is definitely the way to go if you’re a real music buff, and at £9.99 a month I think it’s good value for everything you get.
But one of the many neat things about Spotify is that you can actually get a lot of their top features for free. You just have to put up with the odd advertisement here and there, and I think you can only listen to music on shuffle or something like that.
But this doesn’t really matter in the interest of improving your listening comprehension. All we’re interested in is finding awesome music in our target language and getting immersed in it. And you can achieve this very easily with the free plan.
There are a few ways you can do this.
One way is to head on over to the charts section for whatever country speaks the language you’re learning (e.g. if you’re learning German then you could check out the charts for Germany or Austria). Tap a country and hit play.
When you find something you like, save it to your liked songs. This will communicate to Spotify that this is the sort of thing you’re into. Over time, the algorithm will get to know the sort of music you like, and will create special playlists for you — what they call Daily Mixes — with even more music in your target language.
Alternatively, you can create a ‘Radio’ based on the song you’re listening to. A Radio, in the Spotify sense, is basically just a custom playlist built around the song you’ve selected. It’ll pull in a load of similar songs, and within seconds you’ll have even more songs to listen to in your target language.
You won’t necessarily understand everything you hear, especially if you’re into a slangy genre of music, but simply immersing yourself in it will naturally develop your ear.
5. Videos/blogs from top polyglots
This final resource differs from the rest in that it isn’t focused directly on immersion, nor will it necessarily focus on your target language.
Yet, in many ways, it’s one of the most important resources of the bunch.
Watching videos and reading blogs from renowned polyglots — people who speak multiple languages — will give you the tips, motivation and direction necessary to overcome the difficult periods in your language learning journey.
The advice I picked up from the likes of Steve Kaufmann, Richard Simcott and Luca Lampariello was indispensable when I was learning Italian.
Even though my reason for learning was compelling, I still needed a kick up the backside every once in a while, and their videos and blog posts were great for doing that.
So below I’ve put together a little list of some of my favourite polyglots, with all the relevant links with where to find them.
- Steve Kaufmann – Probably my go-to polyglot. Steve’s videos were indispensable when I was learning Italian. I used to binge watch them on a regular basis. The guy speaks over 20 languages — and is STILL learning! He’s also the founder of LingQ, one of my favourite paid resources to use alongside Duolingo. He posts on his blog and uploads to his YouTube channel on a regular basis.
- Blog – The Linguist
- YouTube – Steve Kaufmann – lingosteve
- Richard Simcott – Richard is a language-learning phenomenon. He speaks over 16 languages fluently and is thought to have studied over 50 during his career. He offers some invaluable advice in his blog posts, and I’ve always enjoyed his videos and talks. He’s impressively articulate when it comes to explaining the more complex aspects of language learning, which, needless to say, is a big help when you’re starting out.
- Luca Lampariello – I first discovered Luca in a YouTube series he recorded with Steve Kaufmann (you can watch the first video here). In addition to his native Italian, he speaks 11 languages. In his videos with Steve, I was immediately struck by the quality of his accents and the broad array of topics he was able to discuss. Some of Luca’s tips and advice — such as the Bucket Effect and insights into stage fright when talking — have had a profound effect on my approach to language learning.
- Benny Lewis – Benny’s a really engaging character. He speaks 7 languages at a B2+ level, and is able to hold conversations in many others. He’s very much of the Tim Ferriss school of working smarter, not harder. His Language Hacking books — available in French, Spanish, German and Italian — are among the best I’ve come across when it comes to speaking.
- Lindsay Williams – Like Luca, I discovered Lindsay through one of Steve’s YouTube videos. She teaches English, French and Spanish, and is an avid language learner. She’s very down to earth and relatable. Her videos are always a good combination of informative and entertaining. She posts regularly on her blog, Lindsay Does Languages, and offers some great advice on her YouTube channel.
Honourable mention: Audible
Although it doesn’t make my Top 5, I’ve still gotta mention this as it’s just too good not to.
Over the years, I’ve found one of the best ways to improve my listening comprehension has been with audiobooks.
I always seem to be doing something, so being able to pop in my earphones and listen to an audiobook is just really convenient.
Whether you’re washing the dishes, taking the dog for a walk, driving to work — whatever it might be, an audiobook is a great way to immerse yourself in your target language when you’ve got your hands full.
This is where Audible comes in: the largest library of audiobooks on the internet, available on pretty much any device you can think of.
They’ve got audiobooks in all the top languages on Duolingo, so they’re sure to have something that will tickle your fancy.
Harry Potter was my go-to when I was learning Italian, and I’m pretty sure it’s available in a bunch of other languages as well. I couldn’t always understand what was going on. But the neat thing about Audible is you can dial back the playback speed and skip back in 30-second intervals, so if you miss something you can just go back over it.
Plus, if you pick a book that you’ve already read in your native language, it will make things a lot easier as you’ll already have a sense of what’s going on.
The more time you spend with it and the more immersed you get, the more familiar it all starts to become. And this, ultimately, is the place we’re trying to get to — where we’re familiar enough with the language that it starts to feel comfortable.
Why it doesn’t ‘officially’ make my top 5
The reason it doesn’t ‘officially’ make my top 5 is that Audible isn’t technically free.
Right now they’re offering a 30-day free trial — and the best bit is you get to keep whatever you download in the 30 days.
So you could pick up that Harry Potter audiobook and keep it forever — completely free.
All you have to do is sign up for the trial, then cancel before the end of the 30 days so you don’t get charged. If you choose to remain a member, it costs $7.95 a month.
It’s good value if you’re going to be listening regularly.
However, since this article’s all about free resources, my recommendation on this occasion would be to take advantage of the free trial and then cancel. But of course, it’s entirely up to you!
Have your say!
So there you have it. My Top 5 free resources to use with Duolingo.
However, they’re by no means the only resources I use, and I know many of you will have found other awesome resources that have helped you on your Duolingo journey.
If so, be sure to share them in the comments 🙂