Listen for the missing word

We created a new listening exercise that prepares beginners for tackling harder exercises by challenging them to listen for a missing word.

My role

Lead product designer


Increase in pass rates


Duolingo takes off the training wheels a little too soon...

Duolingo’s current listening exercises ramp up the difficulty too quickly without properly training people. Because of the steep incline in difficulty,  people fail listening exercises more frequently and take out their frustration by skipping listening exercises altogether.

Ultimately, these issues lead to a drop in time spent learning on Duolingo (which is no bueno).

How might we ensure learners are properly prepared for harder listening activities?


A new listening acticvity made
just for beginners

Listen and select the right word to complete the sentence

Duolingo exercises are typically quick and snappy, but for this activity,  we needed to introduce friction to get learners to pause and focus on singular words and sounds. To nail this, we obscured the target word
using waveforms, which causes learners to have to rely on their ears to complete this exercise.

The science
behind the scenes

We built this experience on the learning principles of Sound Discrimination and Sentence Segmentation. Both are key in beefing up folks' listening skills early on.

Sound Discrimination is the the ability to tell different sounds apart —think telling apart your "j" sound from your "a" sound. Sentence Segmentation is the ability to breakin sentences into parts (nouns, verbs, things like that).

Dear Diary...

Many thanks to to thanks to my team and all the learners that helped test this thing! Tbh my brain is still doing backflips thinking about all of the science that goes into processing language.  This project taught me the value of prototyping an experience not just once, but several times.

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