An argument against streak freezes

This is a long and opinionated post about streak freezes. In short, these are the main points:

  • showering users with streak freezes (as Duolingo does) devalues the discipline of more serious learners and demotivates them
  • if streak freezes are introduced, they should be extremely rare so that you have to be tactical about using them
    • in other words, you should have to save them for days of sickness, not use them because you’re “a bit tired” today or had a “long day” at work
    • it just takes 1 freaking minute to maintain your streak, stop whimpering; if you can’t be bothered to invest even just 1 minute, you deserve losing your streak

I actually like that Clozemaster doesn’t have a streak freeze. On Clozemaster, if I see someone with a 800 day streak, that means that this person in fact really did practice every single day for 800 days. Really impressive. It’s not just a lie, where the person in truth wasn’t as disciplined as it seems and actually let their studies slip every few weeks because, why not? They have, after all, lots of streak freezes in the bank that will save them if they can’t be bothered to practice today, so why not use them?

My (unpopular) opinion: If you can’t be bothered to study today, then you deserve to lose that streak of X days. After all, you did not, in fact, practice for X consecutive days. A streak freeze devalues impressive streaks, and the discipline it took to get there.

Back when I used Duolingo, I had a streak of over 500 days before I switched to Clozemaster, but in truth I didn’t practice for 500 days. After a (very) short — too short — initial phase, I had so many streak freezes in the bank that I sometimes didn’t practice for three or four days in a row when I wasted my entire day watching TV, and remembered Duolingo only when it came close to bedtime, but then I would feel too tired to do Duolingo, even if it was for only 5 minutes. Despite letting my practice slip, I could nonetheless maintain the appearance of having practiced for 500 consecutive days, thanks to the abundant streak freezes Duolingo hands out in order to not lose the casual users. My current opinion is that I didn’t deserve that 500 day streak. A streak on Duolingo isn’t worth much. It doesn’t say much. I like that Clozemaster reflects the reality rather than devaluating the immense discipline of some users to protect the ego of other, less disciplined users.

So, you see, it wasn’t always the case that I like not having streak freezes. I had to learn to like it. It’s like with playing video games. A zombie video game like “The Last of Us” isn’t much fun if you have infinite ammunition and can simply shoot all the zombies, without any tactics. If you have only one or two bullets, and have to save them for the end boss, and have only knives for stealth attacks and your fists at your disposal, the game is much harder but that’s also what makes it more fun.

Now, I hear you in case you disagree with me. The streak is an immense factor in staying motivated and in continuing to learn. Losing your streak can be hugely demotivational. After losing a streak, some users might question themselves why they should even bother with continuing learning the language, now that they’ve been thrown back to the beginning. They’ve been hugely motivated for, let’s say, 50 days and then, from one day to the next, stop using the app entirely (be it Duolingo or Clozemaster) and quitting their language learning hobby. In my opinion, that’s why Duolingo is so generous with streak freezes.

I’ve been there myself. Last year, I lost a 120 day streak on Clozemaster because I had a long phone call in the evening, and when we finally hung up, it was 10 minutes past midnight. I lost my streak because I was 10 minutes too late. That was frustrating at first. I was a bit sad for half a day. I was searching for a way to regain my streak. But then I thought to myself: What is it that I really want? Is it some imaginary number so that I can feel good about myself and my ordinary life? Or do I want to be able to speak the language? If it truly is wanting to speak the language, then I’ll want to practice every day anyway, regardless of what the streak number says. You need to be brutally honest with yourself here. If you want to learn Russian because your girlfriend is Russian, or if you’re a Chinese-American who wants to re-connect with their culture, then you’ll have the desire learn the language nearly every day, no matter whether some imaginary number says 3 or 27 or 134. Your Russian girlfriend will be much more impressed with you if you can say “I love you” in Russian than if you tell her “This app from the internet says I have 134 days (and only because I used a cheat code every couple of weeks)”.

I myself do have the intrinsic motivation to learn the language, so after losing my 120 day streak, I transformed my thinking into the thought that I couldn’t care less if I lose my streak. So what? I’ll just start anew. (And that’s what I did, I started anew, and now I’m back at over 250 days. I didn’t let losing my streak stop me.)

And as with sports competitions: If everyone get’s a medal, a medal isn’t worth much. If the people with the intrinsic desire to become good want to have a medal (by being in the top 3), they’ll have to train every day. Now, if there’s no need to train hard anymore because you’ll get a medal anyway, some users will let their training slip. As I did, when I didn’t practice for 3 or 4 consecutive days and could still maintain my 500 day streak. Which meant that my language skills suffered because newly learned words didn’t make it from short-term memory to long-term memory. Showering the users with streak freezes might keep the casual users without an intrinsic motivation from quitting the app by providing them some external motivation. But since such users lack intrinsic motivation, they won’t come far on their language learning journey anyway. At least not until they develop an intrinsic motivation.

But for the people with intrinsic motivation, there is the danger that they will start letting their practice slip. Don’t get me wrong: The streak as an external motivation is a great tool to keep you coming back to your daily training, if this external motivation is in addition to your already existing intrinsic motivation. Because I’m now at 250 days, I don’t want to fall back to zero if it’s in my control to avoid that, which is part of what motivates me. But if the external motivation is the only motivation you have — because you lack the intrinsic motivation — introducing streak freezes might do harm to the more serious learners. And I believe that (compared to Duolingo) Clozemaster is more for the serious learners who have outgrown Duolingo.

Without streak freezes, if I see someone with an 800 day streak, I think that this is truly impressive. This person in fact studied 800 days. I want to be like them, and also achieve such an impressive streak. Now that is what motivates me. It motivates me because it’s hard, and not everyone will achieve it, and if I achieve it, I will have done something truly special I can be proud of. That motivation would be completely destroyed if the streak is devalued by introducing streak freezes. I’m not so much motivated by a number that doesn’t mean much, because I can maintain it even if I don’t practice.

As John F. Kennedy said:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

I know there will be days when you are absolutely sick and cannot practice. Losing your 800 day streaks because you had COVID-19 or were in the hospital would suck. I’ve just been there myself last weekend, when I caught a cold. But I did my practice anyway. I gave myself some slack and did only 10 sentences instead of 100 sentences or whatever number you usually do. But I showed up. Doing 10 sencentes takes less than a minute, you can do that even if you have a cold. If there are streak freezes, I’d want them to be really really rare, so that you really really have to think if you want to use one or not. You’d really have to think like: “It’s already 10 PM and I’m tired. Do I really want to spend my rare, rare streak freeze just because I’m lazy? What if I get sick next week, after all it’s freezing cold outside today? Nah, being lazy today is not worth it catching a fever next week and not having a streak freeze left, let’s practice for just 5 minutes today.” I’d want streak freezes that rare and precious.

This is just my personal opinion. And as with video games such as “The Last of Us”, I personally like playing on hardcore mode. I dislike if things are too easy because it devalues the achievements of more serious users. I know that most users will have a different opinion than me, and not introducing streak freezes would definitely cost the app some casual users. It doesn’t even have to be so hardcore as “don’t introduce streak freezes”. There are middle grounds with which even the hardcore users would be happy, such as “make the streak freezes really, really rare” so that you have to be really tactical with them, same as with the bullets in a stealth shooter video game.

What do you think about my arguments?

P.S.: I like this quote by Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that.” As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more than a whine. “I find that offensive.” It has no meaning. It has no purpose. It has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so f***ing what?

If you didn’t practice for 45 days in a row, what makes you think that you’re entitled to having a number on your profile that says you studied for 45 days in a row?


I’d like to think that for most people, the strongest motivation for playing Clozemaster is to want to reach a level of achievement that cannot easily be measured by statistics (streak length, ranking against others). To use one of your examples, this could be along the lines of wanting to communicate with a partner at a certain level of ease/depth. Playing Clozemaster is a decent, but imperfect, proxy for the process of learning a language sufficiently well to achieve such a goal. Maintaining a long streak in Clozemaster is an even less ideal measure for a commitment to continuing to challenge yourself to learn more. There are plenty of ways to “game the system” by achieving an impressive statistic while failing to learn, such as playing below your ability, for too little time, or in too passive a mode (say, multiple choice when text input would be better for you).

Of course, maintaining a streak can serve as a measure of something else: your perseverance. Granted, it’s perseverance in a limited sort of way: You’re not forcing yourself to speak and understand a foreign language for hours on end, as an immigrant might. And you can set your goals as low as you want, which is actually what you’re doing if you can satisfy them within a minute a day. But nonetheless, it’s important for people to prove that they can set themselves a goal and adhere to it, and fulfilling your own promise to spend at least a minute a day in a particular activity certainly has value.

But life intrudes, in ways that differ from one person to the next. Sometimes it’s an obstacle that makes Clozemaster more difficult but not impossible to play (a cold, in your example), and sometimes it’s one that makes it impossible. It sounds like you almost never are in a position where it’s absolutely impossible to play. This is a blessing, and I’m similarly blessed, but I can’t imagine that everyone is. However, everyone has the chance to decide for themselves what sort of motivation they are going to use to drive themselves. Someone who is intent on learning a language but has a child with special needs, with time commitments that cannot be predicted from one day to the next, can simply decide that they are going to ignore how long their streaks last, and play when they can.

I feel that there’s going to have to be a certain amount of guesswork (in addition to surveys) to narrow in on the “sweet spot”: making streak freezes hard enough to obtain that the people who would otherwise use them to defeat themselves can’t do it, while making them easy enough to obtain that people don’t simply give up on Clozemaster from the outset or resent that Clozemaster makes it impossible for them to deal with even rare events that interfere with their streaks. Identifying such a range is not effort that I would be eager to put in, but if that’s what it takes to attract people and keep satisfied, I’m glad someone else is doing it.

As for the idea that amassing a long streak has some value in impressing others, and that its value is weakened if it’s too easy to obtain: personally, I don’t know anyone else’s streak length except my own, and I’d be happy to keep things that way. :slight_smile:


I agree that streak freezes should be rare, and I think it would be a good idea if people earned a streak freeze. It shouldn’t be too easy. For example, they earned X number of points in one month, or maybe did X number of text input sentences, and so they get a streak freeze to have a day off if they want. Or they could save it in case for some reason they aren’t able to practise, but don’t want to lose their streak - that would indeed be demotivating for some people.

Different people have different styles of learning. Some prefer to do little during the week and save most of their learning for the weekend. For them, streaks probably won’t work as a motivator. Others prefer to do a little each day, for which streaks are great. In real life, as a student, one wouldn’t necessarily study every day; at some point you’re going to have a holiday, you might get sick, or work hard during the week so as to have more time off during the weekend. Earning streak freezes through working hard would reflect that.


Even though I’ve been a proponent of the streak freeze, I’m now indifferent to the whole concept of streaks: if people want them, let them have them, but don’t shame them if they miss a day or two.

My concern is that scarce engineering resources are spent on building a streak-freeze feature that could be better spent on other enhancements, such as improved tools for handling the review queue.


i think another thing to consider is that not everyone has internet available all the time. what if someone travels a lot, and there are days where they have no access to the internet? streak freezes would be useful in those cases.

still i don’t think it’s that big of a deal either way. like what really matters is being able to learn, speak, understand, and read a new language. i’m in a lot of duolingo groups on facebook, and often people are proud of their 3000 day streaks or whatever, yet they still don’t know much of the language they are learning, they can’t even communicate in that language to a native speaker. then there are people who reach near-fluency in a new language after just a few months of intense study. so working long and consistently at something doesn’t actually mean you get good at it. 5 minutes a day for 5 years is going to get someone exactly nowhere in learning a language. whereas 2 hours a day for 5 months would be enough to reach a fairly high level in a language.

i do like that clozemaster has ‘hours played’ as a metric, unlike duolingo. i wish it’d give you awards based on that, not streak. like what’s more important, to have used clozemaster 5 minutes a day, every day of the year, consistently, or to have poured 100 hours into it in january but done nothing in february, and then poured in 80 more hours in march?

edit: although actually, i don’t seem to see that metric anymore. did they remove how many hours you put into clozemaster from the profile pages?

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I don’t know whether “hours played” was ever present on the profile pages, but “time” is one of the items visible on the leaderboards (per-language and overall).


The fact that you can maintain a streak by doing a single cloze (taking roughly two seconds) means it isn’t a meaningful competitive metric. As such, it wouldn’t bother me if it was controlled completely by the user just like Daily Goals. It’s just a tool for habit-forming and personal motivation. Save the competitive spirit for the leader boards. Perfect attendance is the least impressive academic achievement I can think of; in fact it often signals a dearth of alternative enrichments: I wouldn’t even list it on an application.


I’m thinking there must be even better ways of measuring one’s progress (or lack thereof). My personal experience is that as I’m working through my recurring reviews, I sometimes fail a cloze and have to start the cycle again, and sometimes I choose to mark a cloze as “forever mastered”. I wish these choices could be reflected in some kind of progress indicator. In other words, I wish we had a metric that actually helped us reflect on our progress, so we could make the necessary adjustments if we’re not satisfied.

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I’m not much motivated by streaks. Which is a good thing, because having had a broken ankle, followed by flu, followed by bad stomach infection, there is no way I would have been able to manage even a minute on some days…

I think the review queue is more important. I think more reviews need to be included in the standard mix, because you can build up an enormous backlog of reviews.

I’m currently working through Reviews only, in order to shift part of the 600+ I have piled up.

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Just for context for other readers: If you play rounds of 100 sentences per round, the best you can do is to play 50 reviews and 50 new sentences per round. So every additional round will mean 50 additional reviews (until you played 100% of the collection at least once). This will pile up very quickly.

If you don’t want your reviews to pile up, you have to use the small “Review” button under the “Play” button every now and then, to play only reviews. And even using that “Review” button, you might need to play multiple hundreds of sentences a day if you want to reduce your pile, to account not just for the 50 additional reviews coming in every day but also for the 50%, 75% and 100% stages of previously played sentences coming up for review. This can produce an enormous workload.

If I understand you correctly, you don’t want two separate buttons? You want a better behavior of the “Play” button, so that you don’t need a second button (and an enormous time invest) to “clean up the mess” produced by the first button?