I love Duolingo. But I really dislike the heart system.
For the uninitiated, hearts are essentially lives; get a question wrong and you lose one. Given that you can only have a maximum of 5 at any one time, it’s easy to guzzle through them. And this leaves you unable to work through your Duolingo tree.
Duolingo claim that the heart system is designed to “discourage binging”. And while I agree that binging, in the sense that Duolingo refer to it, certainly isn’t helpful, punishing users for making mistakes isn’t much better.
Imagine learning how to ride a bike, but only being allowed to fall off 5 times before the bike is taken off you.
It’s counter-productive, discouraging, and, as far as I’m concerned, inconsistent with Duolingo’s mission to make language learning “free, fun and accessible to all.”
Sadly, however, it looks as though the heart system is here to stay.
The next best thing is to adapt and to look for ways around it.
The workarounds we will explore apply specifically to iOS users (iPhone, iPad etc) but should also work for Android users as well. The heart system is not used on the desktop version.
These suggestions won’t be to everyone’s liking. But, for the time being, they are the only effective workarounds available.
I’m also aware that some non-Plus mobile users don’t get hearts. I’m not entirely sure why this is. It could be that they’re using an older version of the Duolingo app, or perhaps there is something specific to their account or device that means they don’t receive them. For these lucky lemons, this article won’t be of much use.
But if you find yourself among the frustrated majority, here are my six suggestions:
1. Practice sessions
Diving into a practice session is probably the most productive way of getting around the heart system. Yet, surprisingly, a lot of Duolingo users still don’t know what they are or how to access them!
To find the practice sessions, simply tap the heart icon at the top of the screen. You’ll be presented with at least a couple of options–one of which being to complete a practice.
The great thing about the practice sessions is that you don’t need any hearts to start or complete them. You can make as many mistakes as you want without the fear of losing your ability to work on your target language.
Better still, at the end of your practice session, you’ll unlock a heart, allowing you to hop back into the main tree and pick up where you left off.
There’s no limit to how many practice sessions you can complete, so you can restore your full complement of hearts while still working on your target language. It also contributes toward your daily XP.
2. Watch ads
I know: ads suck.
For me, there’s nothing worse than getting pumped for some language learning, only to have to sit through a 30-second ad for yet another mobile game I’m never going to play.
But, if you can grit your teeth and tough it out, it’s an easy, guaranteed way of unlocking a heart.
To my knowledge, there are at least two ways you can do this.
The obvious one is before you start a new lesson. If you start it without your full complement of hearts, then you should get the option to watch an ad.
However, I think there’s a limit to how many times you can do this. So if you’re down to your last 2 hearts, you should be invited to watch an ad before your first lesson, but you won’t for the lessons thereafter.
Another opportunity is at the end of a practice session. After completing a practice, if you still don’t have your full complement of hearts, then you should be given the chance to watch an ad to unlock an additional heart.
The beauty of this is that not only do you gain a heart from the practice, but you’ll get the chance to double it with an ad as well.
I appreciate that ad-watching isn’t ideal, but it’s one of the easiest ways of filling the tank and getting back into your Duolingo tree.
3. Spend Gems/Lingots
There isn’t much we can spend gems (or lingots, depending on your platform) on. A few costumes for Duo, a couple of bonus lessons, and streak freezes seem to be about the only things available in the Shop.
Beyond that, we can also use them to buy hearts.
It currently costs about 350 gems outside of a lesson to refill your hearts. If you lose them all in a lesson, it’ll cost slightly more (I think it’s about 450).
That said, I appreciate that not everyone will have a mountain of gems to dip in to. It could be that you’re already using them to buy hearts, in which case this tip will be about as useful as a Russian dictionary in a Mandarin lesson!
But if you find they are piling up, then a heart refill is probably the most practical thing you can spend them on.
If the questions are getting tough, your hearts are running low and you don’t have enough gems to refill mid-lesson, then using a translator to assist you might be worth considering.
This will give you a better chance of getting the answer correct, allowing you to preserve your hearts and complete more lessons.
Google Translate and Context Reverso are my go-to tools for this kind of thing.
To be sure, this won’t always work, especially if Duolingo requires a specific or idiomatic answer. But it’s a good way of reducing the frequency of your incorrect answers, and thus gives you a better chance of holding on to your hearts.
This isn’t something I recommend you do regularly. After all, I suspect you’re using Duolingo because you want to learn a language. Simply plugging every question into Google Translate isn’t going to do much for your language learning prospects. Some might even consider this to be cheating.
However, one of the most important things in language learning is exposure. The more time you spend with a language, the more familiar it will become. Unfortunately, the heart system makes this difficult. So if using a translator every once in a while means you can spend more time with your target language, then don’t hesitate to do so.
5. Switch to desktop
I noted this in my introduction. For some reason, the guys at Duolingo decided against adding hearts to the desktop version.
I have absolutely no idea why. It would appear that ‘binging’ is only a problem if you’re a mobile user…
In any case, if you’re tearing your hair out because of the heart system, then the desktop version might be ideal. Though I only tend to use the app, the desktop version does appear to offer a much more comprehensive experience.
The downside, however, is that it lacks the convenience of the mobile app. When you’re out and about, it’s much easier to whip out your phone than it is your laptop or your desktop PC!
A nice balance might be to complete lessons on the mobile app until you run out of hearts. Then, if you’re still eager to work through your tree, you could hop onto the desktop version when it’s convenient.
6. Duolingo Plus
If all else fails—you’re fed up with the heart system and the workarounds, but you’re determined to stick with Duolingo—then I would seriously begin to consider subscribing to Duolingo Plus, as this gives you the option to get rid of hearts completely.
I managed without Plus for a good three years, and regularly vowed I’d never subscribe to it.
But it got to a point where I was so sick of the heart system and having to watch ads that I decided to take the plunge. I‘d been using Duolingo every day for over 1,000 days at that point, so I knew the investment wouldn’t go to waste.
And while I think the current price is still a little steep for what it is, I can’t imagine going back to the free version. It gives me the freedom to make those necessary mistakes, and the time I spend on Duolingo is now exclusively focused on language learning.
That said, I’m aware that, for the vast majority, Plus will be a no-go. And that’s absolutely fine.
But if, like me, you’re Duolingo-obsessed and hate the limitations of the heart system, then a Plus subscription might be the way to go.
If you need help deciding, then be sure to check out my Duolingo Plus review!
What do you think of the heart system?
The heart system sucks. I really hope the guys at Duolingo can come up with something better in the not-too-distant future. Otherwise, I fear it will discourage a lot of newbies from committing to learning their target languages, or may simply drive them into the arms of other language-learning apps.
But, for as long as it’s around, I hope these workarounds go some way to helping you.
I’d love to get your views on the heart system.
What’s your experience with it?
Do you think Duolingo should keep it, tweak it or scrap it altogether?
What would you replace it with?
Is there a workaround I haven’t considered?
Let me know in the comments!