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Rocket Languages vs Duolingo
A linguist's guide to how the language learning courses from Rocket Languages and Duolingo stack up
In the world of language learning apps, there may not be any two programs more different than Duolingo and Rocket Languages. Everything from the structure of their overarching course, to the style of their lessons, to their pricing model, is in complete opposition. So when the two apps you’re considering are this vastly different, how do you know which one to go with? In this detailed comparison guide, we explain how these language apps diverge, and which we think is better.
Given that this is a lengthy comparison, we’ve added jump-to links above so you can easily navigate to the section that most interests you.
Video Guide: Rocket Languages vs Duolingo
In the above video, John from the TPI team breaks down how the language learning apps from Rocket Languages and Duolingo stack up. He discusses lesson effectiveness, program quality, and a lot more. For more detail, simply continue reading.
To help provide some context for our thoughts on the Rocket Languages program, let’s briefly discuss how the Rocket program works, especially in terms of the structure and format of the company’s lessons.
To begin, the Rocket program is essentially comprised of two different types of lessons, each of which take around an hour or so to complete from start to finish. These two types include (1) interactive audio lessons and (2) language & culture lessons.
The interactive audio lessons are the primary lesson type, where a moderator speaking in English walks you through a conversation in your target language step-by-step. The moderator will start by explaining what the goal of the lesson is, why you’re learning it, and then set the stage for the upcoming conversation. Then you jump into the actual conversation where you listen to fluent speakers converse.
Every few sentences, the moderator will stop to explain what you just heard, provide pronunciation tips, and break down some quick grammar explanations. In addition, perhaps more importantly, he or she will ask you questions and have you engage and participate in the conversation. Thus, you can essentially think of these interactive audio lessons as guided conversations.
Once done with the primary audio-based lessons, you move into the language & culture lessons, which are sort of like interactive textbooks. You’ll read a paragraph explanation containing grammar rules or cultural insights, review a few examples to ensure you understand, and then jump right into another.
Then to finish out each lesson (audio and language), you review what you just learned through several short, quick-hit exercises meant to reinforce the material. These drills include flashcards, speaking exercises, writing drills, and quizzes.
Strengths Of The Rocket Languages Program
So now that you have an idea of how the Rocket Languages course works in terms of high level structure and lesson format, let’s get into the major pros and cons that I took away after testing this program.
Better For Conversational Skills
One of the clearest highlights I found with Rocket is that it is much better than Duolingo at developing your conversational skills. Instead of just listening to or reading an individual word or phrase, and then mechanically repeating it in order to learn it (like you do with Duolingo most of the time), the Rocket Language audio lessons are much more powerful and effective.
The lessons prompt you to use the vocabulary and respond to a native speaker in the context of an actual conversation. This helps to keep you from becoming a passive listener. You’re actively involved in tracking the conversation, and the moderator of the audio lessons keeps you on your toes since you need to understand what’s going on and respond at the necessary intervals.
In my opinion, this active participation is powerful at getting you to recall and use the language under pressure just as you would in real life situations. That’s likely the most important concept here – you’re getting simulated real world experience. This creates a better environment for learning a new language as compared to just listening to words and repeating them in a vacuum like you do with Duolingo. This is a huge advantage for Rocket users in that regard.
Learn Wherever, Whenever
As roughly 50% of the Rocket lessons are audio-based, I like that you can complete these lessons while you’re exercising, washing dishes, driving, whatever. It’s just nice your face doesn’t have to be buried in your computer or phone at all times like it does with Duolingo.
Learning a new language can be a grind at times, and having the ability to take a break from the computer and pace around the house while you’re studying is awesome. At least, that’s important to me as I have a hard time sitting still. In any event, I have to give credit to Rocket for how flexible their lessons are compared to Duolingo.
Grammar and Culture Emphasis
Another notable difference is that the Rocket Language courses really emphasize cultural insights and grammar instruction, while Duolingo does not. And the cool thing here is that Rocket actually accomplishes this in different ways.
The first way they do this is through the interactive audio lessons, where the moderator regularly stops to discuss different grammar principles and verbally explain the reasoning behind them. You generally don’t get these short grammar interludes with Duolingo.
Then of course, the majority of the grammar instruction is delivered through the company’s language & culture lessons, which sort of the take the form of an abbreviated digital textbook. But don’t let the word “textbook” scare you there. Rocket does a great job breaking these lessons down into short, digestible chunks. Each section within the lesson is only about 4 or 5 sentences long, and within the lesson, there are dozens of break points where you interact with examples and pictures to keep you engaged.
So really, the language & culture lessons are more like a mix between a scaled-down digital textbook and an interactive assignment. Overall, I was just really impressed with the level of grammar and cultural insights that the Rocket courses provide, as well as how the company integrates this material into their lessons.
Rocket Is More Accurate & Natural
Next, I found that Rocket is better with using natural sentences and phrases. With Duolingo, this actually seems to be a recurring issue among users. In addition, I saw a lot of complaints of users online regarding incorrect translations with Duolingo as well, though I didn’t too much of this.
So it does seem like Duolingo has made strides to improve in this area as of late, but you still occasionally come across an awkward sentence or phrase that sort of stops you in your tracks, whether because it’s odd grammatically or just plain doesn’t make sense. A couple examples of unnatural sentences or incorrect translations I saw within the forums were “it called my fat” and “the bed is food.”
Honestly, t’s not a huge deal and it doesn’t happen all the time, but it can certainly disrupt and distract your learning process from time to time. So overall, the key takeaway here is that Rocket seems to be more consistent and accurate when it comes to using natural sentences and correct translations within its lessons.
More Flexible Course Structure
Lastly, Rocket just offers more flexibility than Duolingo within the context of bouncing around in the curriculum. With Rocket, you can jump around from level to level, or lesson to lesson. You’re not forced to follow a rigid progression, whereas with Duolingo, they dictate the order in which you complete modules.
New modules only become active once you’ve completed the previous one or you’re able to “test out” of it early. Maybe it’s not huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s just another advantage for Rocket.
Knowing what the Rocket Languages lessons are like, let’s get into our take on Duolingo, starting with an overview of their program.
With Duolingo, their lessons are shorter than Rocket’s. In fact, each one is only about 5 to 10 minutes long, and they go by super fast.
This is generally the case because each lesson is made up of a number of quick-hit, interactive exercises, including listening drills, fill-in-the-blanks, matching pairs, verbal practice, and writing full sentences.
And that’s about it. You work through a series of lessons one at a time, each of which is comprised of several short exercises that take around 5 to 10 minutes to finish in total. In a way, you can think of Duolingo’s lessons as similar to just the reinforcement drills of Rocket’s lessons.
So from a high level, that’s how the two companies’ lessons compare. The Rocket lessons take around an hour or so to complete from start to finish, include more detailed grammar instruction, and place a very strong emphasis on listening and speaking in the context of simulated conversations. Duolingo’s lessons on the other hand, are much shorter and include more variety in terms of drills and exercises.
Strengths Of The Duolingo Program
Now let’s get to the juicy part and cover the major pros and cons in favor of Duolingo, particularly in comparison to Rocket.
The Free Version
For people that aren’t looking to drop much money on their language learning (or any money at all), the fact that Duolingo offers a free version is awesome. I love that it’s completely free, and that their language programs are accessible to everyone.
However, the free version definitely has some drawbacks. For one, Duolingo’s free version is ad-supported, which can become really annoying. Secondly, the free plan comes with a limited amount of “hearts,” which are essentially just incorrect answers.
You start with 5 per day and if you answer a question incorrectly during a lesson, you lose a heart. In other words, they’re sort of like lives in a video game. When your five hearts are up, you either need to stop for the day or circle back to old lessons in order to earn some hearts back. In my opinion, this can make for a discouraging experience.
Lastly, free users have a limited amount of “test outs.” Essentially, within the Duolingo program, if there’s skill or topic that you already know well and you’d like to skip ahead to keep learning new material, you can take a short quiz to “test out” of that particular topic and move on to the next lesson.
The issue here, however, is that free users only have a limited number of “test outs” available, so you can get stuck in their fixed learning pathway. Again, it’s just another annoying aspect of the free account.
A major advantage for Duolingo is that their lessons are shorter. They go by super quick (just 5 to 10 minutes each), which is great for working professionals, students and busy parents. In this respect, their lessons are much like Babbel’s.
I recognize that not everyone out there has a spare hour everyday day to dedicate to learning. Sometimes 20 to 30 minutes is all you have, so it’s nice that you can knock out 2 or 3 lessons with Duolingo in a short time frame and still feel like you’re being productive.
Tons of Extras
Finally, my last notable callout for Duolingo is all about the extra resources they provide. These include short stories to sharpen your reading and listening skills, forums so you can connect with other learners to discuss tips, experiences and get answers to any questions you may have, a podcast with regular episodes, and a translation dictionary.
But perhaps my favorite resource of all is the series of online events they offer where you can directly interact with other learners face-to-face via Zoom. These sessions allow you to practice speaking or just discuss whatever is on your mind. These are all great, free resources that learners can take advantage of with Duolingo.
Before we get the final verdict, let’s quickly touch on pricing as that can be a significant factor for folks. With Rocket, their courses range from around $150 to $450 for lifetime access, depending on how many levels you want to purchase. That may sound like a lot, but to be fair though, that $150 to $450 range is a little deceiving. And that’s because Rocket Languages is almost always running some sort of deal or special promotion. I usually see those packages discounted by at least 10% to 40% off, if not more. So be sure to check for discounts before buying if you go with Rocket.
Duolingo, on the other hand, takes a slightly different approach with their pricing model. As mentioned, they actually offer a free plan. Recall though that the free plan does come with some serious drawbacks as discussed above. And for folks who don’t want to deal with the flaws of the free plan, Duolingo offers a Plus Plan, which is a paid subscription. It costs $84 per year, or $7 per month.
So from an overall cost perspective, Duolingo is obviously the more affordable option. That said, it’s really hard to compare the two as it’s sort of an apples to oranges comparison. On one hand, you have Duolingo which offers a free course that is a little bare bones, and on the other, you have Rocket which offers more premium language courses. In any event, I should mention though that Rocket Languages does offer a free trial as well as a 60-day money back guarantee so you can always test the waters before fully committing.
With the detail in this comparison out of the way, let’s get to the final verdict. Should you choose Rocket Languages or Duolingo?Well, after using and reviewing each program, I actually don’t think it’s even close. Rocket Languages is clearly the winner. They just offer the more complete language courses from top to bottom. Duolingo simply can’t compete with Rocket’s interactive audio lessons or the level of grammar instruction they provide.
So I suppose the decision here really boils down to what you’re looking for. If you’re just looking for a free or cheap course to get the basics of a new language before you head off on vacation or do a little brushing up here and there, then I think Duolingo is a great option. However, if you’re truly really serious about learning a second or third language, and you don’t mind paying to do so, then Rocket is the way to go. Their program is much more comprehensive and effective, and wins in my book.
Rocket Spanish vs Duolingo, which app is better for learning Spanish?
Without a doubt, after a thorough review of each program, our team believes Rocket Spanish is better than Duolingo for learning to speak Spanish. The Rocket lessons are deeper and provide much more verbal practice, helping to develop your speaking skills.
Thoughts on using Rocket Languages and Duolingo together?
Using Rocket Languages and Duolingo together isn’t a bad idea. I would suggest using Rocket Languages as your primary learning resource since it’s more robust, with Duolingo as a free supplemental tool to keep things fun and fill in the cracks.
Which is better - Rocket Italian or Duolingo?
Having used both programs, I can say without a doubt that Rocket Languages is better than Duolingo for learning Italian. The Rocket program is insanely more comprehensive and doesn’t have such a gimmicky feel like Duolingo.