Of all the things to have spiralled out of control in the last few years–whether it be my sleep pattern, my student debt, or my ageing–the one thing I’m happy about is my Duolingo streak.
Currently standing at 1,543 days, it’s played a huge role in getting me hooked on language-learning.
So in this article, I’m going to make the case for why you, too, should consider building your own gargantuan Duolingo streak.
Repetition is the mother of skill.Tony Robbins
What is a Duolingo streak?
If you’re familiar with Duolingo then you’ll also be familiar with the streak mechanic.
For the Duolingo newbies, however:
A Duolingo streak represents the number of consecutive days you’ve hit your daily XP target.
Suppose you set your daily XP goal at 10 XP. That’s the equivalent of one completed lesson (not including any combo bonuses). So completing a lesson will count as 1 day on your Duolingo streak.
If you then complete another lesson tomorrow, that will count as another day on your streak, taking it up to 2 days.
However, if on the third day you forget to complete a lesson, your streak will reset to 0.
(You will also upset Duo the Owl, which you really don’t want to do. Seriously).
Therefore, to build your streak (and to keep Duo happy), you need to hit your daily XP goal every single day.
It really is as simple as that.
It is possible to buy things like Streak Freezes and Streak Repairs, which allow you to miss a day while keeping your streak intact.
However, in the interest of learning a language, I don’t think these features are particularly helpful. As a Plus member I have them automatically enabled, but I’ve never used them, nor do I intend to. I recommend you follow suit!
Why you should build a Duolingo streak
If you’ve read my article about how I got hooked on Duolingo, you’ll know this something I’ve questioned a lot myself.
When it comes to language-learning, Duolingo’s great for getting started and brushing up on vocab and grammar rules.
However, when it comes to speaking, comprehension, and the more advanced aspects of a language, Duolingo can only take you so far.
And yet, I choose to plod on with my streak.
That’s because I think it has a lot of value, particularly in three respects. I refer to them as the 3P’s: the Pump, the Practical, and the Pride.
Reason 1 – The Pump
This is perhaps the main selling point of Duolingo’s streak mechanism.
The idea being that the streak itself carries motivational qualities beyond our original reasons for learning the language (which we’ll discuss more in Reason 2). It meshes with our original reasons to create a super fuel.
And oftentimes this is really important. Because, let’s be honest, we all have days when we can’t be bothered to carry out even the most necessary tasks. Brushing your teeth, taking out the bins, washing the dishes. These are all tasks that, for me at least, require a lot of get-up-and-go. I regularly don’t feel like doing them, but they have to be done.
Fortunately, language-learning–especially on Duolingo–isn’t as mundane as all that. And yet, there will still be times that I have to really push myself to do it.
This is where the streak comes in.
In my case, the bigger my streak gets, the more I want to keep it. It’s become something of an obsession beyond actually learning languages.
Whether this is healthy or not is up for debate. But in the context of learning a language it’s super helpful, and, as a starting point, extremely powerful. It means that I’m going to show up and spend at least a little bit of time with my target language no matter what.
My Italian is definitely grateful for my addiction!
This is especially helpful for those whose original reason for learning a language isn’t particularly compelling, such as practising for a school test or moving to a new country for work.
There’s a similar idea when it comes to weight loss. That being that keeping daily photo diary makes you more likely to shift the weight. Being able to visualise your progress gives you the motivation to keep going.
Your Duolingo streak has pretty much the same effect. It represents your effort, your discipline and your determination. The bigger it gets, the more you want to keep it.
This is great for your language-learning prospects!
Reason 2 – The Practical
The Practical ties in with, and naturally follows on from, the Pump.
In the context of language-learning, this is probably the most important reason of the three.
The Practical feeds off the motivations that bring you to Duolingo in the first place.
Perhaps you’re going on holiday and want to know some basic words, phrases and questions?
Maybe you’re moving to another country and need to reach a conversational level in its language for vocational and social reasons?
Or maybe you just have a recreational interest in language-learning?
Whatever your ‘why‘, when it comes to using Duolingo we all have one thing in common: we want to learn another language.
And I believe the most effective way of doing this is to do a little bit every day.
Within the language-learning community, it’s widely accepted that your ability in a language is tied directly to the number of hours you spend with it.
I remember Steve Kaufmann discussing this in one of his videos a few years ago. Going by the US Foreign Institute’s Language Difficulty Rankings, it’s believed our ability in a language is in direct proportion to the amount of time we spend with it.
So for native English-speakers, it would take 24 weeks, or 600 hours, to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in languages such as Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
It would take 36 weeks, or 900 hours, to reach the same level in languages such as German, Indonesian and Swahili.
For Category 3 languages, such as Russian, Thai and Hebrew, it would take roughly 44 weeks, or 1,100 hours, to reach Professional Working Proficiency.
And for Category 4 languages, such as Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic, it would take a whopping 88 weeks, or 2200 hours, to reach Professional Working Proficiency.
Simply put, the more time we put in, the more we get out.
A lot of people talk about ‘hacking’ languages (Benny Lewis actually has some really interesting books on this) or spend ages looking for shortcuts. But, for the most part, there’s no substitute for time.
The “Bucket Effect”
How we rack up this time is entirely personal.
In theory, there’s nothing to stop you doing 10 hours a day. By the FSI’s rankings, that would mean arriving at professional proficiency in Spanish in just 60 days; German in 90 days; Russian in 110 days; and Mandarin in 220 days.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it’s wildly unrealistic.
Whether it’s work, school, family or other activities, we all have other stuff going on. Committing so much time to learning a language just isn’t doable.
But even without additional commitments, ploughing that much time into anything, let alone language-learning, will lead to burnout in most cases. And in the interests of learning a language, this isn’t exactly ideal.
Which is why I favour what Luca Lampariello, one of my favourite polyglots, refers to as the “Bucket Effect”. The idea being that a drop every 5 seconds can fill a bucket in a matter of hours.
So although a few minutes a day might not seem like much, over an extended period it soon mounts up.
I find this much easier than forcing myself to do loads at a time. Even the most pleasurable activities can grow laborious when done to excess. And this can result in giving up entirely.
Learning in tiny chunks, however, makes it much easier to show up every day.
Which is why your Duolingo streak is so important. A long streak means you’re working with your target language every day and racking up those all-important hours. This puts you in an excellent position to acquire your target language.
Soon enough, your bucket will be overflowing!
Reason 3 – The Pride
The Pride is a huge factor in why I continue to build my streak.
It differs from the Pump and the Practical in that it’s not directly tied to the outcome of learning another language. Rather it’s an outcome of the outcome. A beautiful byproduct of continued application.
Again, if you’ve read my article on my Duolingo addiction you’ll know I take great pleasure in telling people about my streak.
It’s not that I run through the streets disclosing it to anything that moves. But when a conversation moves onto the subject of Duolingo or language-learning, it’s something I relish talking about. I love sharing my story of how, thanks to Duolingo, language-learning has become a staple part of my life.
No matter who I tell, they all respond with the same shocked expressions. I’ve no doubt some (maybe all) of them think I’m a weirdo. But others are genuinely amazed, especially when they admit to their own language-learning difficulties.
Of course, it’s hardly the sort of thing I’d put on my CV. But on a personal level it’s something that really buoys me.
I’m aware this might seem extremely self-indulgent. And, well, that’s because it is. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the best side effects of showing up every day. It’s such a satisfying feeling, and feeds into that all-important motivation.
Sometimes I wonder whether my streak is more of an unhealthy obsession than something of actual value.
After all, it’s taken on a life of its own. Is it really my pride in the streak, or my fear of losing it, that keeps me coming back?
Maybe I’m just terrified of that bloody owl?
Whatever it is that compels me to show up every day, it can only have a positive effect on my desired outcome. Namely, to learn languages.
And it has. My obsession with building my Duolingo streak has helped get me to a comfortable level in Italian, and my Russian is lightyears ahead of where it was a year ago.
So if this is your goal, I’d say building a big Duolingo streak is one of the best, and easiest, things you can do. Not only does it have motivational and uplifting properties, but it also carries a ton of practical value that can spill into other areas of your language-learning routine.
I have a 36 day streak according to my phone!