I've run into a problem that I imagine most Duolingo users have run into at some point in their language learning experience.

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Assume I'm in the process of reviewing already learned vocabulary (as shown in the image above). Say I can remember the definition of Unser and Kind, but not spielt. If only I had the definition of spielt so I could learn it for next time...

See those dotted lines under each word? By touching (or clicking) each word with a dotted line under it, Duolingo tells me the definition of the word, so I can use this to complete the activity.

This is where my uncertainty comes in. Every time I don't know the definition of a word, should I get the definition by clicking on it, or should I simply do my best? (If you get an activity wrong, then Duolingo tells you the correct translation, so I'll learn the meaning of the word in question anyway.)

This problem just comes down to positive vs. negative reinforcement in Duolingo. Should I use Duolingo to get the definition of a forgotten word, or should I get the activity wrong to learn the correct translation which has the definition anyway? Or is there no difference at all?

4 Answers 4


Type in what you know, then fail the question.

Duolingo uses spaced repetition for your review sessions, so you will tend to get questions involving words you are weak in. In order to do this, Duolingo needs to keep track of how well you know each word. One of the determining factors for word strength is how accurate you are in answering questions involving that word. By looking up the answer beforehand and submitting the correct answer, you bypass that process.

  • yeah, this is what I've been doing. Just wanted some clarification, nice answer.
    – fi12
    Jun 11, 2016 at 15:27
  • 1
    Are you sure that Duolingo doesn't take it into account when you look at the answer beforehand for the purposes of it's spaced repetition?
    – Christian
    Jun 16, 2016 at 9:57
  • 2
    Peeking does affect the decay rate of a word (see duolingo.wikia.com/wiki/Strength#Decay). but I assume that getting it wrong is a bigger hit than using the tooltip feature. Only the folks a DuoLingo know for sure. Jun 16, 2016 at 14:52
  • Since Duolingo records peeking and it influences word strength, peeking does not bypass the process.
    – Tommi
    Jan 11, 2018 at 13:20

DuoLingo's algorithm records when you use the hover-over hints, and accounts for this in deciding how well you know a word. If you repeatedly check the hint for a word, you'll see it more often, even if you never type it in wrong.

I personally find that looking up words repeatedly is one of the best ways to learn them, and one of the reasons why I think DuoLingo works so well for me is that it allows you to instantly look up word meanings with the hover-over hints. It's like having an instant dictionary at my disposal, but better than that, the algorithm notices what I'm looking up and adjusts my learning to this.

If I feel like I have a hunch that a word might have a certain meaning, but I'm not that sure, I still use the hints. If I feel pretty sure I know what it means but not 100% sure, I'll guess by typing it in. I've found this method very effective for me.

Usually once I've looked a word up enough times, I internalize it. I think this is a much more effective approach, for me at least, than getting the exercise wrong.


Every time I don't know the definition of a word, should I get the definition by clicking on it, or should I simply do my best?

In my experience, you must avoid to click, it's better to try to guess, and have the question again, that "cheating". But it depends on your learning project. For a reverse tree for instance, the language seemed hard to me the first time, so I used the "cheat" only when I tried to guess with no success, or when it was the first time I saw the word, or to try several synonyms. By the way, trying synonyms or alternative, is a very good method, I recommend it, trying all the synonyms you can to see if they are accepted, then discuss their uses in the forum.

That's obvious that some people finish their tree the faster they can, and click on every hints, so, at the end, they learned nothing or almost.

So, there's not really a unique answer for your question. You have to make a deal with yourself and to have a learning plan.

The best advice I can give you is: try several learning style, and see which one is the more efficient for you, have deals with yourself, and respect them, and don't use only Duolingo, the Duolingo efficiency is exponentially increased with Duolingo with other tools, as Memrise, etc...

Did you try to ask this question on Duolingo forum?


From http://gregreflects.blogspot.com/2014/12/how-to-make-gold-duolingo-tree.html:

To Duolingo, strength is about words, not skills. Strong words have a score of 100%, and they decay over time until they reach zero. All words are decaying all the time, but some words decay faster than others.

When you hover over word Duolingo algorithm decrease easy coefficient for word and after that you should see topic with this word more often.

When you uncover all learning tree it become annoying to make 5-10 lesson to remain all tree gold because on early stages you hover for word meaning.

In case you haven't hovered over words you will have 2-3 repetitions each day to keep all tree gold.

For this reason I checked word definition in external dictionary (Goldendict with C-Ins C-Ins keyboard combination).

More in depth information about word decay is at http://duolingo.wikia.com/wiki/Decay#Decay

  • The question is not about keeping the tree golden, but rather about learning.
    – Tommi
    Jan 11, 2018 at 13:21

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