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SpanishPod101 vs Duolingo
See which program is better for learning Spanish in this comparison of the apps from Duolingo and SpanishPod101
Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps in the entire world, and has historically been the go-to program for Spanish beginners. However, popularity doesn’t always translate to effectiveness when it comes to learning Spanish. In this article, we stack Duolingo up against another popular Spanish app, SpanishPod101, so you can decide which one is the better fit for your budget and learning style.
Let’s kick this off by directly comparing how these two Spanish language programs work. This will help to provide context for my thoughts on these apps from a personal perspective below.
How SpanishPod101 Works
In terms of program organization, SpanishPod101 revolves around what they call “pathways.” It’s a fancy title, but these are in essence just collections of lessons.
When you land on the SpanishPod101 dashboard, they will assign you a recommended pathway based on your learning level. Typically, this will be the Level 1 Spanish pathway if you’re a newbie. No matter, once on a pathway, the lessons are all lined up in a nice, easy-to-follow path, which you work one at a time with a quiz every few lessons.
Now, to be clear, you don’t have to follow the company’s recommended pathway. You are allowed to pick your own pathway and jump around; however, I’d suggest sticking to the recommended pathways.
Regardless of the path you take, the lessons themselves are built around podcast-like audio lessons. These are the backbone of this program (which is not incredibly surprising given the name of the app is SpanishPod).
In any event, these podcast-style lessons last anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes depending on the topic and learning level, though the majority fall in the range of 6 to 10 minutes.
In terms of format, these audio lessons all generally follow the same pattern. Two hosts will introduce themselves and the topic of the lesson. They will then move into short dialogue in Spanish, followed by a slower version of the same conversation, and then a breakdown of that dialogue in English.
Following this, the hosts will then introduce and discuss any relevant grammar or cultural insights related to the topic at hand. Then lastly, they will wrap up with a quick recap and review of the vocab in the lesson.
Moreover, while the audio plays, below the controls, you can review the dialogue from the underlying conversation, the target vocabulary, the lesson notes, grammar explanations, and a full word-for-word transcript of the lesson.
With these tools, if you miss something the hosts say, you can quickly find it onscreen. Plus, following the lesson, you can take a short quiz to test yourself.
Additionally, there are some short video-based lessons in the SpanishPod program as well, but generally speaking, there’s far fewer of these. Plus, between the two formats (audio and video), it’s clear that the audio lessons are the focal point of this course.
There are far more pathways with audio lessons, and they are (in my opinion) better produced than the lessons with video. The podcast-style audio lessons are at the heart of the SpanishPod101 program.
How Duolingo Works
Duolingo diverges from SpanishPod’s framework and takes a pretty different approach to teaching. They also employ a learning path for organizing their materials, but that’s more or less where the similarities end.
Rather than using audio or video as the basis of their lessons, the Duolingo lessons focus on short-form, hands-on exercises. The typical Duolingo lesson takes just 5 minutes to complete and is built on a set of rapid fire drills, such as listening drills, fill-in-the-blanks, matching pairs, verbal practice, and writing full sentences, among others.
Their lessons go by very fast, and often you’ll end up doing two or three Duolingo lessons in the time you would take to do one SpanishPod101 lesson. In short, Duolingo’s lessons focus much more on gamey, interactive drills. In a way, the lessons from these two companies are almost opposites of each other.
To be fair though, that’s also not the entire story, as Duolingo’s program is also fundamentally divergent from SpanishPod101’s framework. Let me explain.
Duolingo isn’t just about lessons. Their program is also intended to be like a game or social app (think Words with Friends, but about language learning).
With Duolingo, you connect socially with friends, earn XP points, keep your streak going, compete in leagues against other users, and buy things with gems from the store. It’s much more game-like and social than SpanishPod101’s program.
From a high level, that’s how the two Spanish apps generally compare. Stepping back and recapping, the key takeaway is that the SpanishPod101 lessons place a very strong emphasis on developing your listening skills with their podcast-like audio lessons, while the Duolingo lessons are much shorter and intended to be like a fun game or social app.
Pricing & Subscription Options
Before we jump over to discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each app, let’s quickly talk about cost.
Everyone knows that Duolingo has a free version. However, while you can get by with the free version for a while, there are limitations. For example, there are a bunch of ads in the program, you’re limited on how many mistakes you can make on a daily basis, and navigating new and old lessons is somewhat restrictive.
Thus, if you want to upgrade to get rid of those drawbacks, you can upgrade to Super Duolingo, their premium version. It costs $84 for an annual subscription (i.e. $7 on a monthly basis), or you can sign up for the family plan if you care to split with friends or family. That costs $120 per year, or $10 on a monthly basis when broken down.
Now, SpanishPod101 has three different subscription levels: Basic, Premium, and Premium Plus. These plans range from $4 per month on the low-end for the Basic Plan up to $47 per month on the high-end for the Premium Plus Plan.
The Basic Plan includes access to all the audio and video lessons. The Premium Plan gives you the same lessons, plus additional features such as flashcards, word banks, vocab lists, and audio dialogues. Then lastly, the Premium Plus Plan includes 1-on-1 access to a Spanish teacher and hand-graded assessments.
Comparing the two, SpanishPod’s Basic Plan is cheaper than Super Duolingo (by roughly $3/month), while it’s Premium Plan is basically the same price, and the Premium Plus is more expensive.
Therefore, it really turns on which SpanishPod101 plan you need and how long you want to pay for in advance. Generally speaking though, if you’re going with the standard Premium Plan and sign up for one year, as you have to with Duolingo (they only have annual plans), it’s essentially a wash.
However, one thing worth noting is that while Duolingo isn’t big on discounts, SpanishPod101 does seem to regularly offers sales and special promotions, and you can usually lock in a lower rate. So do make sure to check for coupons if you decide to go with them.
Why SpanishPod101 Is Better Than Duolingo
Having covered pricing and how each program works, let’s move into where I see each program being superior to the other, beginning with SpanishPod101.
Engaging Audio Lessons
The first major win for SpanishPod101 has to be their podcast-style audio lessons. These lessons are simply awesome, and I think that they’re the real highlight of the SpanishPod program.
Not only is the content within the lessons spot on, but the rotating team of hosts are really fun and engaging. These audio lessons are unlike any other I’ve reviewed from other language learning companies (like Rocket Spanish and Pimsleur).
The short lessons are legitimately entertaining. The hosts tell stories, crack jokes, and even weave pop culture into the lessons. They do an excellent job keeping things light and fun, and it didn’t even feel like I was there to learn something.
Variety of Spanish Content
The next advantage for SpanishPod over Duolingo is the variety of their lesson content. Not only do you get you the option of how you want consume the content (with either audio or video lessons), but there’s also a ton of diversity in their lesson pathways.
For example, if you’re learning Spanish because you plan on taking a trip or moving to Costa Rica, in that case you can take a course that is all about Costa Rican Spanish. Then even within that course, there’s a bunch of content diversity.
Essentially, SpanishPod101 offers learners a ton of learning options based on learning level, preferred learning format, and personal interests or goals. It’s really cool.
Helpful Grammar Explanations
The third highlight of the SpanishPod101 program is how they integrate grammar into their lessons. In my opinion, it’s a very effective framework.
During audio lessons, there’s a dedicated part of every session where the hosts will stop to explain grammar rules and principles from the underlying dialogue in a very natural and high-level way.
Though this portion is higher-level, if you want more detail, you can always jump down to the Lesson Notes section for a more thorough explanation.
This stands in stark contrast to Duolingo, which I’ve always knocked for being weak on grammar. Duolingo only gives you a little grammar guidebook at the start of each unit, which is very cursory and superficial. It’s a major weakness in their program.
My final win for SpanishPod101 revolves around the bonus learning tools included with the Premium Plan. This includes tools like spaced repetition flashcards, core vocab lists, word banks, key phrases, and assessments.
These tools aren’t off the charts amazing, but they do make the program feel more well-rounded and offer a chance to drill on the stuff you learn in the lessons, which I like. Duolingo doesn’t offer such supplemental tools.
And it legitimately is a fun, addicting app. It’s sort of like an adventure game, and you get sucked in with all of the competition.
You earn XP points with every lesson; you can do quests with friends; you can spend gems you earn on new features; you compete in leagues against other users; they neg you up about keeping your daily streak up, and a lot more.
It’s just a really fun, motivating environment for learning, and I love that about Duolingo.
Second, I actually really like how Duolingo has integrated a review function into their program through practice sessions. Basically, every few stepping stones on the path, Duolingo will have a group of “practice” lessons.
These lessons cover vocabulary from old lessons, thus acting as a recap to give you spaced review on previously learned items.
Now, some people might not like this, because these stepping stones do contribute to the Duolingo program feeling really repetitive. That’s been one of the biggest knocks on Duolingo since their major update, and these practice sessions don’t help to mitigate that compliant.
Yet, repetitiveness aside, I do really like this natural review function that they’ve built into the program. It’s highly effective for internalizing vocabulary.
My last win for Duolingo is how short the lessons are. The Duolingo lessons are just ultra bite-sized.
On average, lessons take less than 5 minutes, and honestly, a lot of times, if you’re moving fast, you can finish one in under 3 minutes.
It’s just really easy to rip off quick study sessions with Duolingo because the lessons are chunked out into bite-sized pieces. For busy, on-the-go people, or those who don’t have time to kick back for 30 minutes at a time for a lesson, they’re great.
Verdict: SpanishPod101 or Duolingo To Learn Spanish?
Time for some final thoughts. Should you choose SpanishPod101 or Duolingo to learn Spanish?
To be honest, I like Duolingo for what it is, but SpanishPod101 is a much more effective learning platform. Duolingo is great for having fun and learning some basics, but in terms of developing your ear for Spanish and learning to speak, I have to give the edge to SpanishPod101.
Their podcast-style audio lessons are super engaging and effective; the short videos are helpful for visual learners; and the supplemental tools they provide are great. Therefore, if you’re serious about getting to an intermediate level of fluency, I would recommend going with SpanishPod101.
Which Spanish app is better, Duolingo or SpanishPod101?
After testing each program, our team thinks SpanishPod101 is clearly the more effective tool for learning Spanish. Duolingo is fun and cheap, but SpanishPod101’s program is much more comprehensive.
How do Duolingo and SpanishPod101 compare?
The two programs are actually very different. SpanishPod101 prioritizes their audio lessons and grammar instruction, while Duolingo tries to gamify the language learning process. In other words, their learning frameworks are near opposites.
What is the main difference between SpanishPod101 and Duolingo?
Lesson format is the biggest difference between SpanishPod101 and Duolingo. SpanishPod101 is known for their podcast-style audio lessons, whereas the Duolingo lessons are essentially just a bunch of practice drills and exercises grouped together.