Duolingo Russian Review: It’s Free But Does It Work?

By Ari Helderman
December 16, 2022

Summary Duolingo Russian review: Duolingo is an okay app. If you’re unsure whether you seriously want to study Russian, install it and follow it for 10 minutes per day for 3 weeks. You’ll learn the alphabet, a couple of basic words, and beginner grammar. After that, I recommend you follow a serious course such as Russianpod101. That’s because Duolingo is too basic after a couple of weeks, and doesn’t teach you real conversations.


If you’re into learning languages, then you have heard of Duolingo before. It’s the king of free language lessons and many people go crazy about how this simple program (or app) has helped them a lot to improve their Russian. That’s why today I’ve decided to write a Duolingo Russian review. I’ll give the ins and outs of the program, who the program is best, 5 things I liked about it – and finally some advice if you want to get more results from your Russian time (hint: this can be done with or without Duolingo).

Duolingo Russian review

For many people, Duolingo is the first step to getting around a new language. It’s a free app that teaches you new words, how they are pronounced, and new sentences – all done in a fun and easy-to-follow manner. This makes it extremely popular for learning virtually every language. Even my mom is using it right now to learn some basic Russian for her second trip to Moscow!

You can sign up for a free Duolingo account and then you can get started. First, you’ll have to do some basic tests (around 5 minutes), to see where your level is. Duolingo offers progressively tougher lessons – so you don’t want to start too difficult. After that you can start learning Russian right away – the program itself recommends starting with at least 5 minutes per day. That’s enough to do a couple of short lessons and if you can keep the daily streak up, you can learn a lot of Russian in several months.

This is me speaking Russian. My level is good, but I didn’t get there just by Duolingo-ing. It can be a valuable tool in your arsenal though 😉

Watch this video where I tell you in Russian (with English subtitles) 9 reasons why Russian is actually easy to learn.

5 Things I like about Duolingo Russian

#1 It’s free

If you’re just learning a language and are unsure if you like the language, or want to continue learning Russian for 1-2 years – then you don’t want to pay $500 for an extensive course. No, you want a good, structured program that will teach you the basics and give you an overview of the language. Even better if it’s for free. And that is a good description for Duolingo.

It’s one of the best ways to quickly get a feeling for Russian. Install the app, and do the daily lessons (5 minutes) every day for 2 months. After that you will know if 1) learning Russian is something you can do and 2) if learning Russian is something you want to do. And this knowledge is priceless. And all it took you was about 5-10 hours and exactly $0.

#2 Daily lessons keep you motivated

Already touched upon the subject, but Duolingo’s short daily lessons are great for keeping you motivated. Every day you complete a lesson the chain grows longer. If you’ve been doing lessons for the last 58 days – you’re not going to skip the 59th because you’re not in the mood. Heck, even after forgetting about it all day – I bet you’d get up from your bed at night just to do a couple of minutes just to not lose your streak.

What other Russian learning program would motivate you like that? Exactly. And your streak is shown everywhere in the app + visually. So that will make you think twice about skipping a day. Perfect for those who otherwise have trouble following through with self-learning.

#3 Gamifying makes learning fun

You win coins for good answers. Go up in levels for completing lessons. Heck, you even lose hearts for wrong answers and when you run out – you have to start the lesson again. I like games. And I like learning a new language. Get these 2 together and you’ve got a potent Russian earning machine.

Apart from those ‘fun’ things, there are a couple of really good things. For instance, you get instant feedback on your answer. That means that you will be able to learn faster. At every step, you know exactly what you did right and what you did wrong.

If you get all the answers after you’ve done an entire lesson (or worse, not at all), then you’re going to seriously handicap your learning capability.

duolingo russian
Duolingo Russian review: if you can make learning Russian fun – you will get far.

#4 Great way to learn Russian vocab and some grammar

The app shows you Russian words and phrases and you can then write what they mean in English. And if you don’t know it will show you. This means that it’s basically a large interactive flashcard list. Which works great for learning vocabulary. You can also do it the other way around – from English to Russian. You start with basic vocabulary such as learning how to say thank you in Russian, and then gradually improve on that.

Make sure to install the Russian keyboard on your phone. Here’s a short tutorial for that.

While the focus doesn’t lie much on grammar, you’re able to pick up quite some things just by doing the phrases. It’s almost a bit like Glossika. You can be sure that after practicing for a couple of weeks (or months!) you’re going to learn a good deal of Russian words. Plus when you turn on the sound you will hear the right Russian pronunciation. So the words will come to life and you’ll learn them both visually and audibly.

#5 Community behind it for questions

Duolingo has a large community behind it. People from all over the world are learning different languages. Chances are, if you’re stuck somewhere, that someone else has been there too. And maybe they posted precisely that question on the forum. And if they haven’t, then you can be that person. With all the people on the forum, you’ll be sure that some knowledgeable comments will be able to help you out.

Who will benefit the most from learning Russian with Duolingo?

In general, I think Duolingo is a great tool for learning Russian. Everyone can benefit from following the program. You’ll learn new words in a fun and easy manner. I even know of people who are just practicing new languages all the time on Duolingo just because they like the process so much. To see if you can benefit from using the program, I decided to add this section to this Duolingo Russian review. In my opinion, there are 2 types of people who can benefit the most from learning Russian with Duolingo:

  • People who have trouble motivating themselves – if a private tutor is too expensive but other programs don’t make you follow through. Then the gamification + streak feature in Duolingo can be very powerful to make you do daily lessons. It doesn’t feel like a chore (or an extra thing on your already too long to-do list for the day). Plus it’s on your phone, which makes it surprisingly easy to start a new lesson.
  • People who want to get an overview of Russian – if you’re unsure whether to commit to learning Russian or not, Duolingo is a perfect tool. Just sign up and do anywhere from 10 days to a couple of months. You’ll quickly find out if you want to continue learning Russian or not.

Click here to check out Duolingo 

The dark side of using Duolingo to learn Russian

It’s free. It’s fun. You’ll learn useful Russian vocabulary and grammar and pronunciation. You’ll be motivated every day again to at least do 5 minutes of learning. So why isn’t everyone doing this all the time to learn a new language? Well, the answer is simple.

I’ve seen it with quite some people. They’re all into learning a language with Duolingo. But that’s it. They’re just doing 10 minutes of Duolingo every day. Nothing more. That’s something I want to warn you about in this Duolingo Russian review.

Duolingo at times feels a bit too much like a fun and innovative game. And the reality of learning any difficult skill (especially learning Russian) is that you have to put in the time and effort. When you want to learn how to speak Russian, you’re going to have to practice speaking. Which is not something Duolingo can do for you. Yes, you can repeat all the phrases and words. But that’s hard. And you don’t get any points for that. If you take the gaming aspects a bit too literally you’ll end up completing Duolingo but not being able to have even simple conversations. Yes, you’ll recognize some words and can read Russian – but your conversational ability won’t be good.

What to do instead of Duolingo Russian?

So, please, go ahead and use it in the beginning stages to get a little grasp on the language. And to build some momentum in learning. But then start doing a real course. I personally prefer Russianpod 101, since it’s a very conversational program (it’s an audio course). The lessons are around 15 minutes each. And every lesson starts with a conversation in Russian, which is then repeated slowly (so you can understand everything better). After each Russian phrase is individually repeated with its English translation, so you’ll know what it means.

Then all the new vocabulary words are explained. After that, you’ll learn some of the grammar from the conversation. And in the end, some commonly used expressions are discussed. Throughout the lesson, you’ll learn a lot about Russian culture and the people. And in the end, the conversation is repeated so you can see what you’ve learned.

What should you do next?

Learning Russian does NOT need to be difficult. All you need is a solid plan that helps you improve the following things daily:

  • vocabulary
  • grammar
  • listening skills
  • speaking skills

That's ALL you need. If you can do this for a couple of weeks, you’ll already be making great progress in your Russian skills.

And the best part? If you improve a little bit every day, soon these practices will become daily habits.

And then you will start making progress on autopilot.

This means that learning Russian is now a part of your daily routine. So you won’t even need discipline anymore to get yourself to practice.

If you like the idea of this, but don’t know where to start, go here for more information.

About the Author

My name is Ari Helderman and I help people learn Russian through videos and blog posts where I share my experience.   I have been learning Russian since 2016. I often get mistaken for a native speaker these days, so I've learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn't if you want to speak Russian well.

Ari Helderman