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Duolingo: Where Your Language Dreams Come True (And Owl Haunts Your Nightmares)

By Veronica Melendi, Diana Reig, and Natalie Weker

Duolingo is the language learning app that has taken the world by storm. With its cheery green owl mascot and over 500 million downloads, the app is revolutionizing the language acquisition game. First released in 2011 on Android, it and its mascot Duo have amassed a cult-like following.

An evolution of Duo

In recent years, Duo has gained a reputation for being pushy, annoying, and threatening. 37.8% of respondents from a recent survey at Kent Place answered “Yes” to the question ‘Have you ever felt personally threatened by the Duolingo owl’ with another 32.4% answering ‘Please give me back my family’. Duolingo is especially famous for its push notifications, a strategy characterized by passive aggressive comments used to guilt learners into running back to Duo every time they try to move on with their lives.

One anonymous KPS student wrote, “The Duolingo owl has yet to pursue any aggressive tactics to threaten me into doing my daily lessons, but it has and continues to utilize emotionally manipulative and gaslighting techniques to subtly coerce me to keep that streak alive. For example, Duolingo has a tendency to send me an email featuring an illustration of a sobbing Duolingo owl if I forget to do a lesson (even if my streak is maintained by a streak freeze). I’m sorry I disappointed you, okay? We all make mistakes sometimes. Also, my iPhone Duolingo widget sometimes “glitches” and displays my streak as zero days instead of 358 days (as of 12/9/22), which shocks and terrifies me every time it happens. Upon clicking into the app the streak will display normally, which shows that Duolingo is a sadistic being who simply enjoys playing with my emotions. To add, Duolingo constantly sends passive-aggressive notifications with messages such as “That streak is impressive, I guess. Keep it going. Or don’t.” Clearly, Duolingo has mastered the art of reverse psychology and bombards me with it constantly so that I don’t even trust my own mind. Do I even want to keep my streak going? Should I delete the Duolingo app from my phone? I don’t know…”

Duo threatens a learner after they forgot to complete their daily Spanish lesson

Recent collaborations with other aggressive animated animals have also sparked curiosity. Back in 2020, Duo collabed with Red, the lead character of Angry Birds, and destroyed a bar (Duolingo X Angry Birds 2: The Team-Up). Another collaboration, with Scrub Daddy, also wreaked havoc on social media. This saw mascots sporting Duo and Scrub Daddy sponge costumes copulating, producing Duo shaped sponges. Duolingo seems to have mastered the fine art of controversial and viral marketing ad campaigns to reel in new unsuspecting victims on the app.

Duolingo has also updated the app in the recent year to make it more addicting. One way the creators of the app did this was by making competitions, such as “Leagues” and “Friend Quests.”

Veronica M. ‘23 is an avid Duolingo user. She is a part of the highest league of Duolingo and currently has a streak of over 1,275 days. When asked about her opinion on the app design, she stated, “I think the app’s new and innovative design definitely encourages me to play more. I want to win against my friends in the challenges and, of course, keep my Duolingo streak.”

Why are Duolingo streaks so important to people? Should Duolingo be treated as social media due to its addictive nature and pushy notifications?

Veronica claims, “I’d argue it’s different from social media, as it can help you learn a language, which is a valuable life skill that you won’t be able to find on social media apps like Instagram or Snapchat.”

Others, however, dislike the streak. One anonymous student says, “Several times I have been guilted into being forced to continue my streak against my will.” One anonymous student cries for help, saying, “He is everywhere. He follows me. He is holding me hostage making me complete this survey.”

Duolingo ABC and Duolingo Math App Icon

In addition to updating its original app, Duolingo has recently expanded to create Duolingo ABC, an app designed to teach youngsters how to read, as well as Duolingo Math. Although new, they have proven to be incredibly useful and successful, as Duolingo ABC has already won an Academics’ Choice Award. Although they do not have streaks, they are still captivating and create a sense of accomplishment.

However, can such early exposure to the Duolingo owl be a good thing? Could this simply be one of Duo’s new predatory tactics to coerce young children to follow the Duolingo lifestyle? We may never know. One anonymous KPS student claims, “I was so afraid I had to delete the app to get rid of him. His beady eyes and threats follow you in your dreams.”

Is Duolingo a threat to the KPS community? The world? The children? In a survey sent out to KPS students, only 6 out of 38 respondents claimed that they felt safe around the Duolingo bird.

Alarming to say the least. Save yourself. And your families.


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