On August 28*, 2019 Duolingo announced its Latin course for English speakers.

Out of curiosity, I subscribed, but I'm just starting to peek into it.

My question is (if anyone has tried it in depth already), what can be objectively said about it? Is it good for learning Latin? What are the ups and downs? Why?

Note: the course is—as of the time I'm writing, still in August, 2019—in beta, and maybe the answer will change with time.

*: by chance or not, feast day and anniversary of the death of St. Augustine of Hippo, a relevant author of late Latin literature

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    I read an article about it in The Times (of London) today. They mention some examples from the course, e.g. Psittacum ebrium et perfidum habeo or Forte stercus sordidum est in ponte.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 14:29
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    @AlexB.: That is rather nice.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 17:10

5 Answers 5


I have used Duolingo for other languages, and I've now briefly tested it for Latin. There are two major issues:

  1. It goes way too fast. If the course has to be short for practical reasons, I would much rather have it stop early than go fast.

  2. The system is too inflexible at accepting translations in both directions. I am not sure if you can even reasonably enumerate all possible phrasings of a complicated sentence. As VladimirF mentions in a comment, Duolingo does not have the capacity to understand structures more flexibly. (This feels similar to the issues with Google Translate which appears to have no structural understanding.)

By the second lesson you encounter the first three conjugations, datives, vocatives, ablatives, several pronouns, and more. I don't think you're given enough time to understand the structures before new ones are thrown at you. You don't necessarily need full theoretical understanding to move forward, sure, but the pace feels counterproductive to me. First handling basic structures with care would be great; I would be happy to see only first declension feminines for the first two lessons. It appears that the rate at which new grammatical ideas are introduced is very high at first but then declines.

Errors in spelling and minor details will probably vanish in time. What can be much harder to cure is the acceptance algorithm. There can be many ways to interpret a phrase, and the program can force a narrow and possibly unnatural wording. I have seen this with other languages, but I already got the feeling that it will be worse with Latin. For example, Quid agit Marcus? had to be translated as "How is Marcus?" whereas "What does Marcus do?" was wrong. Similarly, Me male habeo is allegedly "I feel poorly" but not "I feel unwell". (This changed after my feedback. To improve the system, flag your good answers that should have been accepted.) And as cnread comments below, the system can force a word order in Latin when it is free and the forced one might not even be very natural.

I think the Duolingo can support studying Latin, but it seems to make a bad only teacher. I just completed the entire course (I wrote the first version of this answer after a couple of lessons), and I must say I am quite unhappy. In addition to the two major issues I discussed, I dislike the focus. The vocabulary is weird and often unnaturally translated, and the focus on modern United States feels very artificial. The sheer amount of poop and drunken parrots shows bad taste to me.

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    I went through the placement test and noticed that the program was also very intolerant of legitimate alternative word orders. It wouldn't accept, e.g., Minerva sapiens est as a correct answer; I would have had to enter Minerva est sapiens to get credit for the question.
    – cnread
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 21:35
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    @cnread I purposely skipped the test to see how the course starts. Those word order issues are sad but not surprising. I updated the answer a bit.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 21:42
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    @cnread I had the same issue. I flagged the result as "my answer should be accepted" and after a few hours I received a feedback email saying my answer was now considered good
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 23:22
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    There is a misconception that the accepted Duolingo answers are generated by some algorithm or even artificial intelligence. That is not correct. Volunteer contributors have to add each one manually using certain templates (one entry can generate multiple sentences with variant forms). Therefore "I don't know if Duolingo has the capacity to understand structures more flexibly. (This feels similar to the issues with Google Translate.)" does not make that much sense. The immense number of possible word orders is a pain. (I am a DL contributor, but for Czech, not for Latin). Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 18:49
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    @Rafael That happens when a contributor adds certain answer and then clicks on the reports that proposed that form. A nice summary can be found in forum.duolingo.com/comment/33996642 (Trofaste does contribute to Latin, among other languages). Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 18:52

Besides the issues found by Joonas, I'd add a few features not necessarily bad, but worth knowing in advance, for those willing to try the course:

  • Pronunciation is consistently reconstructed.
  • The examples are somewhat US-centered. Like Novum Eboracum est urbs Americana. Judging from other examples by the same collaborators, this apparently means America = United States, which IMHO is an idiom that should not necessarily be universal in Latin, just as it is not in some Romance languages like Spanish and Portuguese.
  • The choice of subjects and vocabulary is weird. For example, 1) for some reason parrots (psittaci) appear very frequently, and 2) studeo means consistently to study (which according to L&S is post-Augustan)
  • Recordings could be improved (some include unnecessary noises, for example)
  • They are not flaws. The course in in beta, so the other examples of non US city will be added later.
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 15:48
  • @Quidam, thank you! As I said in the question, the answer is expected to change as the course evolves.
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 18:29
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    Okay!That's fine (impossible to just write "ok!")
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 22:21
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    Parrots are a joke, this one is really enjoyed by many users, but they need to add other jokes. Could you make a comment about the "studere" being post-Augustan in the course's forum?
    – Quidam
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 2:19
  • @Rafael With everyone else owning their own answers and no one else adding to this one, would you like me to remove the community wiki status?
    – cmw
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 12:21

Duo keeps updating the Latin course. The company reviews comments and sends notifications that variations in certain answers have been accepted. I get one every couple of weeks. The Latin course was created by volunteers. Now the course has been moved in-house, according to Duo. So a longer and more intensive addition to the course is expected.

  • Great news! I'd definitely like to give it another try once it's been updated.
    – Adam
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 0:27

I have completed the entire Latin course. Along with Joonas's answer, I wanted to add that sometimes answers were straight up incorrect and misleading. I do not have any true gauge of my own Latin skills, but I often have told my friends that DuoLingo doesn't teach me Latin—I teach DuoLingo Latin. Such is the frequency of the rigid and misleading translations.

One example is how it counted me incorrect for translating "Brothers and sisters" as Fratres soreresque instead of Fratres et sorores.

Another occurrence was when contorquere was used to say "hurl" when "parrots" was the object, even though it only means "hurl" when speaking of words or discourse hurled out violently.

Hopefully it's gotten better since I last used it. I will have to test it again to see if it has improved, though I doubt it has.

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    The constant parrot “jokes” sound very off-putting. I do think they're right about contorquere, though, while hardly the obvious choice (that would be iaculari, I think), it is occasionally used with hasta, telum, cuspis, etc. Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:23

I don’t like how the subjunctive and infinitives are handled.

Psittacos tibi pulsare placet would be translated ‘you like striking the parrots’ instead of ‘it is pleasing to you to strike the parrots’

  • Welcome to the site! There are similar issues with other languages as well. It would really help to make a distinction between a fluent English translation and a translation that tries to capture the target language structures.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 12 at 4:13
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    I also welcome you to StackExchange, and hope you stick around. SE though is a bit different from other sites, in that it's more focused on Q&A than discussion. Your opinion is shared, certainly, but this reads more of a comment on the question than a true answer to it, which seeks objective reasons why Duolingo might not be good for Latin. Your example is illustrative, but doesn't really answer the question. If you could edit your answer to expand on it, offering up some context and further explanation for why you hold your opinion, that would be very helpful.
    – cmw
    Commented Jun 12 at 6:04
  • Let us know (ping us by placing the @ sign in front of our name when replying to a comment or join us in chat) if you would like some advice on this.
    – cmw
    Commented Jun 12 at 6:05

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