What Happened To Duolingo?

November 14, 2022

If you have ever tried to learn a new language, you have probably had experience or encounter with Duo - the green owl.

Who is Duo, and what happened to him? Did the brand identity take a sharp turn?

Duo is the official mascot of Duolingo. He is a green owl, similar to the spectacled owl species in the real world, and is meant to symbolize knowledge, wisdom, and learning.
The Duolingo green mascot owl, hand-drawn by Nikoleta Angelova.
The disappointment in his eyes when you don't finish your daily lesson. Hand-drawn by me, without tracing.

Having my profile since 2015, Duolingo was the application I had on and off in my phone app library. It was great when I was in a flow of learning and managing to do my daily stakes (in-app metrics for success and progress), but whenever I missed a lesson or two, the push notifications would pile up on my screen one after another. At one point, it got annoying, and I decided to have the app only when I am consistently studying since all the overall progress is saved to my profile anyways. For some time, I decided to use only the desktop version and minimize distractions while learning. Here is where user retention can vary. For some users, gamification, badges, community leader boards that encourage competition, and daily stakes are enough for them to keep using the app.

Duo is our mascot. The only thing he loves more than Duolingo is seeing our learners succeed. He's their #1 fan and biggest cheerleader. He's also very persistent. Duo isn't shy about checking in or laying on a guilt trip. He's like a parent: you never want to disappoint Duo. The shame is real, and very effective for open rates and retention. Duo is social, a great communicator, and rather emotional. In a word, Duo is extra. And people love him for it.

When it comes to brand identity, I do indeed love Duo for being extra in the app or even on social media for that matter. The mobile app evolution and the character development as part of the gamification I think it makes learning more accessible and fun, especially for visual learners, which is what won my heart. One of my favourite features is the stories that are presented in separate episodes with very diverse and sometimes surprising plots and characters. And since I have been learning Spanish for the longest, the dialogues ultimately remind me of the telenovelas we used to watch as we were growing up. The combinations between visuals, motion interactions like sliding puzzle pieces of sentences, and vocal pronunciation make learning much easier and more memorable.

Many also would argue that sentence structures are weird, not useable, or sometimes created as inside jokes, but I believe that with each update and feedback from the users, they are being slowly taken care of. I also encourage every user that sees something wrong with an app or website to submit it as feedback, for those who care about their users, will listen to them. If you are curious, check out the submitted memes related to the topic.

I have recently researched Duolingo's Instagram account and searched for more information about the TikTok account. I was not surprised at all to find out that it was run by a creative Gen Zer called Zaria Parvez. You can read a very interesting interview I found of hers here. In the comments of the social media posts, you can see for yourself that there is also a division between people who like it and get it, and of course, those who think the posts are just cringe (adjective. slang.: so embarrassing, awkward, etc. as to cause one to cringe: cringe-worthy; a cringe moment). Some of the loyal fans or worshippers of Duolingo, as he calls them, agree that the unhinged behaviour of making fun of the brand itself is bringing it closer to its users and making the whole experience much more enjoyable with a sense of community and sharing an inside joke.

I got you bb ?? #duolingo #duolingomath #mathproblems #maths

In the Play Store and Apple Store, there are also lots of comments from loyal old-school users that do not appreciate the new update of the app or feel confused about the split personalities of Duo within the app and on social media. Also, as with any other human, change is initially frowned upon, and other users even claim they would like to have the old functionalities that were available before the recent update.

For some years and even now for me, the most impressive thing about Duolingo is the gamification of completing a language-related task and the detailed animated interactions. Visuals and character development also are taken to a whole new level with the "Welcome back!" video intro of what has changed. Would that make you install the app and check it out for yourself? Probably it would.

To recap, Duo is just unhinged and 2021 was the start, as it seems. First was his TikTok account, and his crazy behaviour there transferred to Instagram. Following audio trends, making jokes about its users, and of course, his crush for Dua Lipa are just a few of the pillars of Duo and his other personality. I can't wait to see what else he got prepared for us.

Thank you for reading/listening! Gracias por leer/escuchar!

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