Duolingo ABC is a free app that teaches children ages 3 – 7 how to read.
Did you get that?
That teaches children ages 3 – 7 how to read.
I love it.
It’s developed by learning scientists. This app includes over 300 fun, mini- lessons that teach the alphabet, phonics, and sight words.
And friends, kids love it.
Here’s the skinny. . .
Duolingo ABC — Learn-to-read app for kids 3-7
I think it’s important to note that I am by no means saying that you should hand your child a device with Duolingo ABC loaded on it and expect that in no time flat your child will read.
I’m not saying that using this app is the only way or even the best way to teach a child to read.
I am saying, as a Reading Specialist and educator for the past 20 years, that I am really impressed by Duolingo ABC and wholeheartedly stand by it as an amazing and worthwhile literacy skill-building app for children.
And in this world of ours, where apps are available by the thousands and our kids are surrounded by noise in every direction, this app is one of the best I’ve seen.
First, a little Duolingo ABC background
Honestly, I receive dozens of inquiries each week asking me to review this app or that, this new literacy-related software or that. But when I heard from my friends at Duolingo, I was intrigued.
Sure, I knew Duolingo from the language-learning app, but I had not known that Duolingo had created anything for early literacy.
“We created Duolingo ABC to tackle the global problem of illiteracy,” said Luis von Ahn, CEO and Co-Founder of Duolingo. “Teaching people how to read and write can change lives. By taking everything we know about how people learn languages, and how to keep learners motivated with gamification, we believe we can make a dent in global literacy rates.”
I. Love. This.
Duolingo has taken their expertise in creating a successful, accessible (and free) language learning system and turned their attention to literacy for early readers. As the country shut down this Spring to COVID-19, Duolingo worked feverishly to fast track and release its first literacy app to give parents more resources to teach their children ages 3-7 to read. In September, Duolingo greatly expanded the app to offer more complex lessons for 1st graders and refined it to include parents’ most-asked for features.
Find the app here: Duolingo ABC
Duolingo ABC is still in development. The app is currently only available in the App Store in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the United States. Duolingo ABC is only available on iOS, but there are plans to release an Android version in the future.
Our experience with Duolingo ABC
My 3-year-old niece, Cecilia, had the chance to try out the app, and she loves it.
I am over the moon thrilled that she’s using her screen time on something meaningful instead of passively consuming random video content. Duolingo ABC is a game that she has no idea is helping her build super-important reading skills.
Her mom—my sister—loves that Cecilia now has something to do while her older sister is doing her virtual schoolwork. And not just ‘something’ to work on–but an activity that is engaging, research-backed, and age-appropriate.
Duolingo ABC is an activity that will help our littlest learners get closer and closer to reading! How awesome is that?
And my 6-year-old niece, Ruby, tried the app. She loved it, too!
Ruby was able to breeze through the letter recognition, so we skipped to her settings and chose the middle level for her.
Of the three levels, we indicated that she was past a beginner and knew some letters and sounds—just not most letter sounds. We wanted to set her up for success from the start.
Ruby loved the combination of reading, writing, and playing, but by far her favorite was the short stories. The “Cool Cat” and “Five Fish” story made her giggle and smile big with pride as she read along, repeated sentences, and listened to the story.
I think it’s awesome that an app like this can work so well for multiple children in a family. I know Duolingo ABC would be a necessary and well-loved addition to any ECE classroom!
What we love about Duolingo ABC
We love most everything about Duolingo ABC, but in particular, we love that:
- the whole thing is built to feel like a game: learners earn stars and progress through the learning path
- it’s up-beat and engaging
- it’s intuitive even for our littlest learners
- the app is totally and completely ad-free (yayyyy! Nothing annoying or distracting as our kiddos play!)
- letter-writing activities include both lowercase and uppercase letters
- the personalized lessons actually teach names
- there are 300+ fun, bite-sized lessons teaching the alphabet, phonics, and sight words
- the app can be taken on-the-go in a 5 minute car ride and fit any busy schedule
- the whole app is aligned with Common Core standards and based on recommendations by the National Reading Panel
- it includes new first grade curriculum that includes 50 new lessons has been added this month
- up to 8 profiles can be added which is perfect for pod learning!
I love that the whole mission of Duolingo is to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available.
Q & A with Dr. Cindy Blanco, learning scientist at Duolingo
Dr. Cindy Blanco is a learning scientist at Duolingo and a former college instructor of Spanish and linguistics. She is an expert in language learning, bilingualism, and data analysis.
I had a chance to ask Dr. Blanco a few questions earlier this month. Take a look–
1.) Duolingo ABC is the first ECE app of its kind by Duolingo. What made Duolingo pivot towards this audience?
Our mission is to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available, and literacy is crucial to unlocking education and success at all ages. Having strong literacy skills unlocks not just access to reading, but access to math, science, information, the whole internet! Research has shown that students with low reading levels are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, repeat school years, or even drop out of school entirely. We see Duolingo ABC as part of this same goal of making the world more accessible and equitable for everyone. Our decision to develop Duolingo ABC was also influenced by our CEO, Luis von Ahn, and his experiences growing up in Guatemala, where the connection between literacy and access to education and job opportunities were especially clear.
2.) How did the team decide on the types of activities and challenges in the app? Why is it coined “learning kids love”?
We really believe that learning should be fun and engaging, and so you see this approach throughout all our products. We want our learners to love uncovering more of the world, and to feel curious and motivated to keep learning! And this is especially true for our littlest learners, those using Duolingo ABC.
That’s why all the activities in Duolingo ABC have been created for the goal of learning, because we know that learning and playing don’t have to be separate. Our app doesn’t have any fluff, there are no games or gimmicks for the sake of a game or “break” from the work of learning; instead, our approach is to make every activity and every challenge engaging.
3.) What sets Duolingo ABC apart from the many other similar ABC apps in this category?
Duolingo ABC is uniquely committed to making every part of a child’s experience totally focused on learning, and all totally for free. Our curriculum development is rigorous in order to make sure every single activity has learning value and helps achieve a particular learning objective. Parents notice this right away – they tell us that after just one day, they can tell their kids have learned more than after weeks of using other apps.
The learning path is also straightforward and easy to navigate, so that kids aren’t overwhelmed by distractions and too many choices. We also rely on the expertise of our literacy experts not just for the teaching material, but also how to present it to children: we wanted every part of the experience to be manageable even for the tiniest of kids, who can’t yet read instructions, are still learning to use technology, and are developing fine motor skills. We wanted caregivers to download the app, set up the account, and then be able to turn it over to the child. It’s so satisfying for kids to have that control of their experience and their learning, and caregivers can be confident that their screentime is being well-spent.
4.) Duolingo ABC is advertised as a “fun, hands-on way for your child to learn to read”. What methods does this app employ to teach reading?
We start by first establishing specific learning objectives for each level based on decades of literacy research (e.g., What letters and sounds should a kindergartener know?), and then we create activities to achieve those specific learning goals. Our literacy experts are really sensitive to the particular conceptual connections kids need to make for each sound-letter pair, and to what makes sense developmentally at each age. Then we make sure the game elements are built right into the activities, so that the activities lead kids step-by-step along the learning path.
We also think of Duolingo ABC as a one-stop shop for reading skills: we incorporate phonics, decoding, sight words, and comprehension into our lessons. This comprehension component is really important because we want to show kids what a treat it is to read, so each unit starts and ends with a fun, silly story to really show what kids can do with the skills they’re building.
Our curriculum is also really mindful of the different stages of development children are moving through, so for example, 3- and 4-year-olds see limited game mechanics in the exercises and lessons to keep them from feeling frustrated and to help boost their confidence. For older kids, there are more gamified features to keep them engaged and motivated, like “hearts” and daily stars.
We’ve also thought about the physical process of writing and the motor skills needed to write squiggly little letters. So we scaffold writing, too: we know little fingers are still inaccurate when learning to tap buttons precisely, and we take that into account. This is also true for tracing exercises and tapping other buttons–we’re generous for younger kids, and the program’s expectations gradually change for older learners.
5.) How would you recommend caregivers use this app with their children? How would you recommend teachers use it with their students?
After you and your child set up a new account, you can let them take the lead! Kids can use Duolingo ABC totally on their own, with no grown-up help needed. The path, lessons, and functionality are intuitive and kid-friendly, and all instructions are narrated.
Our preschool and kindergarten lessons are already available in the app, and just earlier this week we added our first ~30 first grade lessons, too. There will be more first grade, and soon second grade, lessons to come later this school year.
Of course, caregivers and educators can use the app together with their children, too! It could be especially fun to read the stories together, where you can engage about the characters and pictures, and your child can impress you (and themselves!) with what they’ve learned.
Because Duolingo ABC is designed to be a comprehensive curriculum, teachers can use the course as a core resource or as a supplement to classroom instruction. The app also works as great additional practice or a reward! We can imagine teachers assigning a particular number of lessons or minutes of practice, and since the units are transparent in the learning path, teachers can opt to assign them by letter-sound unit.
Teachers and caregivers can also skip ahead in the learning path, if a child already knows some letters, so the grown-up has the control to unlock the right amount for each learner.
6.) If you had one thing to say to all families about Duolingo ABC, what would you tell them?
Duolingo ABC was created by literacy and curriculum experts to make learning engaging, approachable, and fun. It’s the best kind of screen time, because it’s interactive, driven by learning objectives, and creates opportunities for caregiver-child interaction. Caregivers are under enormous pressure to play all roles for their children right now, and it’s simply too much. Duolingo ABC lets parents do the loving, caring, and playing, and we’ll take care of providing excellent teaching.
Thank you so much, Dr. Blanco! These answers really helped me understand Duolingo ABC a bit better!
Now what should you do?
- downloading the app to try it out for yourself today
- sharing this post with your friends who have children ages 3-7;
- forwarding this post to your local preschool directors;
- giving information about Duolingo ABC to your MOMS Club, MOPS Club, playgroups, and chat groups;
- telling your neighborhood sitters about this app so they can try it with the kids they watch;
- sharing this post with your bus stop friends, your carpool, or your bffs.
I’d love to hear who you think would really love to know about Duolingo ABC, and I’d love for you to share this post with him or her!
Download the Duolingo ABC app today!
fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with Duolingo ABC, but as always, the thoughts and opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.