Duolingo is Gay! And It Could Be Gayer!

Duolingo exists to teach me French – supposedly.

The year after I studied abroad I used it every day like a meditative practice. It didn’t improve my fluency but it helped me maintain where I was at as I hoped to someday get back to France. Then I missed a day and – after weighing the likelihood of upcoming international travel – I didn’t open the app for five years.

When I decided to start using Duolingo again last month it wasn’t because I thought I’d be going to a French-speaking country anytime soon. It was literally just to displace my impulse to check Twitter during a stressful election. I was trading the blue bird app for the green bird app.

The most delightful change to the language learning tool in my absence was the addition of a section called Duolingo Stories. These simple narratives that gradually introduce new vocab remind me of the Bob Books I read in pre-school. This way of learning a language makes way more sense to me than the sometimes very random sentences in the main part of the app.

ALSO they’re funny, surprisingly progressive, and even gay???

That’s right. Story #6 titled “Honeymoon” is very gay. Not with a Disney-style exclusively gay moment, but with some actual textual Le mot L dyke drama. (According to IMDb it was just called L Word in France but let me have this.)

The story begins with Sophie dans un taxi and the cab driver is like bonjour or whatever and she’s like take me to the airport, s’il vous plait. Not reading her vibe the driver is all chatty and asks if she’s traveling for work. Now if you’re a new French speaker this might be difficult because travail means work, not travel, but I am not a new French speaker so I was just like cab driver her tone did not imply the desire for conversation please stop talking.

ANYWAY. Sophie is in a state and so she’s like, fine you want to talk let’s talk. I have a ticket to Toulouse – I have DEUX billets pour Toulouse. The cab driver still not reading her tone is like I love Toulouse and Sophie doesn’t skip a beat to say that actually she’s on her honeymoon!

The cab driver is nosy AND heteronormative so he asks where her husband is. Sophie is like actually MA FEMME and also that’s not even the issue here because my gay wife isn’t coming with me! Finally, Sophie admits this has not been a good day!!

The cab driver apologizes and it’s like yeah dude this is why you need to learn to read tone!

They arrive at the airport and at this point I’m on the edge of my seat. What happened with Sophie’s wife?? Why is Sophie still going on her honeymoon??

We do not learn the answers to these questions BUT Sophie’s wife Marie is at the airport. She says she’s désolée. She’s says je t’aime. Sophie says je t’aime aussi. And then they’re off to Toulouse!

I’m so glad these two worked things out. I’m sure they’re going to have a great marriage.

I’ve finished the first three sets of ten stories and so far this is the only one that’s explicitly gay. But there are SEVENTEEN sets and I see no reason why there can’t be more of this much needed representation. Here are some of the titles I’ve yet to unlock and what I’m hoping they’re about.

“It’s My Ex!” – The options with this one are endless. My guess is une jeune femme and another jeune femme have just started dating and things are going great. But then they start talking about their most recent exes and UH OH it’s the same person!

“The New Teacher” – This one must be a coming-of-age story about a little baby lesbienne who falls hard for her professeure. She’s so distracted by her teacher crush she doesn’t realize her best friend is in love with her!

“A Very Bad Movie” – I’m imagining a couple of dykes go see the latest buzzed about gay movie only to be disappointed that it’s just two femme femmes having male gaze make outs and then one of them dies.

“Long-Distance Relationship” – I’m thinking a classic love story between a queer in the US and a queer in France who meet on Instagram and it ends with them deciding to move in even though they’ve only been together in person once. It was a magical week! Ne juge pas !

“Camping” – No description nécessaire.

If I needed an excuse not to check Twitter during the election, I certainly need it during a global pandemic. Maybe you do too. And if along the way we improve our language skills? Well, that’s great! And if the stories are gay?? Encore mieux !


Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. We will never put our site behind a paywall because we know how important it is to keep Autostraddle free. But that means we rely on the support of our A+ Members. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you’re able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?

Join A+

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 177 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. I’ve completely forgotten the stories! But! They have, in the regular lessons, a woman’s voice (and tiny person) say “Minha esposa cozinha um ovo.” and I am THRILLED that it’s not just a *nudge,nudge,wink,wink* situation!
    Loved your description, too!

    • Yes, the little characters in the regular lessons seem to say things randomly with no regard for gender and I love it!

  2. I was so pleasantly surprised and delighted by that story too! I missed a day after an almost 180 day streak so I haven’t checked the app in ~2 weeks so this is clearly a reminder to get back on.

  3. I am incredibly proud of my 126 day Duolingo streak that I’m going to lose in two weeks for Passover, and one of the best things about it is the surprise gay moments. I’m learning Spanish, and they had the same story about going to the airport for the honeymoon and the heteronormative taxi driver, and it was delightful. Earlier this week, it taught me how to say “my husband is very smart” and the speech bubble came from a cartoon with a distinguished mustache.

    Yesterday, it taught me “you are sick and you need to sleep more,” which I felt was maybe a little too on point.

  4. THIS IS EVERYTHING MY LAPSED FRENCH BRAIN NEEDS DURING SHELTER-IN-PLACE
    THANK YOU

  5. OMG I loved this, thanks so much Drew! Kind of makes me want to go back to Duolingo!

  6. This was the most fun, queer, and effective advertisement for Duolingo I’ve ever read, and I’m looking forward to learning/brushing up on as many languages as the quarantine requires!

  7. Also the podcasts!! The Spanish one at least has some LGBTQ content, as I was pleasantly surprised to discover, as well as LOTS of other great episodes on different marginalized communities. In general the people who run Duolingo just seem to be super progressive and awesome.

    • They have podcasts?
      Maybe now is a good time as any to brush up on my Spanish!

      • Yes, for French and Spanish! They’re at an intermediate level so not for beginners, but there’s a narrator who chimes in in English now and then, and there are also online transcripts to follow along if you need them.

  8. In “A Drawing In The Park,” a man assumes a woman in the park is drawing him and she’s like no dude I was drawing your dog. So.

    • Ahhh! I just chose that for the header because it was next to “It’s My Ex!” which didn’t even turn out to be gay! I will play “The Song” right now.

    • “The Birthday Present” in Set 5 also features a gay couple and their daughter!

  9. this was great, and does make me kind of want to try some francais encore.

    but like, what i really voudrais are updates on Sophie and Marie. i mean, how was toulouse? comment did the processing go and did it take up beaucoup of your honeymoon activity time? or did you just decide to let it ride and travail through the fight once you got back home? ou sont the pictures?

  10. Possible that they released some more stories! “Une Grande Famille” is about a person introducing her girlfriend to her entire family (think mom, dad, brother, grandparents, someone’s wife…) and it ends with Mom welcoming the girlfriend to the family. so sweet!

  11. Jason Harding-Swale

    Lesbian and gay characters are peppered through the Spanish Duolingo course too. As a gay Dad (two adopted daughters) it’s great to have this positive representation for my daughters, who also use the Duolingo app 😊

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!