|Slogan||Free language education for the world|
|Type of site||Online education, Translation, Crowdsourcing|
|Launched||30 November 2011|
Duolingo is a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform. The service is designed so that, as users progress through the lessons, they simultaneously help to translate websites and other documents. As of July 2014[update], Duolingo offers Latin American Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Italian, and Dutch courses for English speakers, as well as American English for Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian, Romanian, Japanese, Hindi, Indonesian, and Korean speakers. It is available on the Web, iOS and Android platforms.
Duolingo started its private beta on 30 November 2011 and accumulated a waiting list of more than 300,000 users. Duolingo launched for the general public on 19 June 2012 and as of January 2014[update] has 25 million users, out of which about 12.5 million are active. In 2013, Apple chose Duolingo as its iPhone App of the Year, the first time this honor was awarded to an educational application. Duolingo has won Best Education Startup at the 2014 Crunchies.
Duolingo offers extensive written lessons and dictation, but it features less speaking practice. It has a gamified skill tree that users can progress through and a vocabulary section where learned words can be practiced.
Users gain "skill points" (XP) as they learn a language, such as when they complete a lesson. Skills are considered "learned" when users complete all the lessons associated with the skill. Up to 13 points are awarded per lesson, with three points deductible for mistakes. Users start with four "lives" on early lessons and three on later lessons, a "life" being lost with each mistake. A user must retry the lesson if they make a mistake after all lives have been lost. Duolingo also includes a timed practice feature, where users are given 30 seconds and twenty questions and awarded a skill point and seven or ten additional seconds (time depends on the length of the question) for each correct answer. Courses can teach upwards of 2,000 words.
Duolingo uses a heavily data-driven approach to education. At each step along the way, the system measures which questions the users struggle with and what sorts of mistakes they make. It then aggregates those data and learns from the patterns it recognizes.
The efficacy of Duolingo's data-driven approach has been reviewed by an external study commissioned by the company. Conducted by professors at City University of New York and the University of South Carolina, the study estimated that 34 hours on Duolingo may yield reading and writing ability of a US first-year beginners' course college semester, which takes in the order of 130+ hours. The research did not measure speaking ability. It found that a majority of students dropped out after less than 2 hours of study. The same study found that Rosetta Stone users took between 55 and 60 hours to learn a similar amount. It did not compare to other free or inexpensive courses, such as BBC, Book2, or Before You Know It.
Duolingo does not charge students to learn a language. Instead, it employs a crowd sourced business model, where members of the public are invited to translate content and vote on translations. The content comes from organizations that pay Duolingo to translate it. Documents can be added to Duolingo for translation with an upload account which must be applied for. On 14 October 2013, Duolingo announced it had entered into agreements with CNN and BuzzFeed to translate articles for the companies' international sites.
The Language Incubator
Instead of slowly adding additional languages, CEO Luis von Ahn announced on 29 May 2013 that they would create the tools necessary for the community to build new language courses, with the hope to introduce more languages and "empower other experts and people passionate about a specific language to lead the way". The result was The Language Incubator, which was released on 9 October 2013. In addition to helping the community create courses for widely-spoken languages, the Duolingo Incubator also aims to help preserve some of the less popular languages such as Latin, Mayan and Basque. The first course entirely created by the Duolingo community through the Incubator was learning English from Russian, which launched in beta on 19 December 2013. Other courses created by the Duolingo community include English from Turkish, Dutch and Hungarian, as well as French and Portuguese from Spanish.
The Incubator has three Phases. First, a language begins in "Phase 1: Not Yet Released," once sufficient interest to contribute to the program has been received from volunteers fluent in both languages (a requirement for application). The second phase, "Phase 2: Released in Beta," begins when the course has been fully prepared and is ready for open beta testing. Finally, "Phase 3: Graduated from Beta" is where all courses available offerings go once they are considered relatively stable. The reason complete courses remain in the incubator is that Moderators/Contributors can continue to tweak things to improve the course. For example, if a student gets a question wrong but notices there was an error on the program's behalf, which either misled the student or counted a correct answer wrong, s/he may submit a report detailing what happened. As of 16 July 2014, only six courses are currently available to the public from/in English: (in Incubator Phase 3) Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and (in Incubator Phase 2) Dutch. Coming soon to the English speaking world, recently added to Phase 1 of incubation are (in order of progression percentage towards completion): Irish (100%), Danish (100%), Hungarian (75%), Swedish (64%), Russian (33%), Turkish (17%), Polish (6%), and Romanian (2%).
The project was started in Pittsburgh by Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn (creator of reCAPTCHA) and his graduate student Severin Hacker, and then developed also with Antonio Navas, Vicki Cheung, Marcel Uekermann, Brendan Meeder, Hector Villafuerte, and Jose Fuentes. The project was originally sponsored by Luis von Ahn's MacArthur fellowship and a National Science Foundation grant and is mainly written in the programming language Python. Additional funding was later received in the form of an investment from Union Square Ventures and actor Ashton Kutcher's firm A-Grade Investments.
On 13 November 2012 Duolingo released their iOS app through the iTunes App Store. The app can be downloaded for free and is compatible with most iPhone, iPod and iPad devices. On 29 May 2013, Duolingo released their Android app, which was downloaded over a million times in the first three weeks and quickly became the #1 education app in the Google Play store. Duolingo released both a Google Glass App (glassware) and support for Android Wear. A visual history can be found here.
Levels and user experience
Students are placed at a certain level in the program, corresponding to how much they have studied that language. A user's level is indicated by a number displayed on a medallion which contains a depiction of the flag of the country where that language is spoken. The levels of all languages any user is studying are displayed publicly to other users next to their username. In order to level-up, a student/user must either earn sufficient points by progressing through the Duolingo lessons, or by translating actual documents and earning a set rate of points-per-word (which increases with each Translation Tier they belong to in that language). Lessons typically comprise 14-20 questions/sentences and last between 4–7 minutes. Each completed lesson earns 10 experience points (XP) plus a bonus for any remaining hearts at the end of the lesson. In order to reach the next level, acquiring a set threshold of points is required and the points-per-level increases with each level. At least 25 levels in each language exist.
As the goal of Duolingo is to get people to learn the language, each unit (typically comprising between 1 to 9 lessons embedded in each) has a "strength bar" which corresponds to the computer's estimate of how strong certain words or constructions still exist in the user's memory. After a certain duration of time, strength bars fade, indicating a need for a user to refresh/re-study that lesson, or to "strengthen weak skills." Doing "Real-World Translation," however, also strengthens words, as the program keeps track of all words a user encounters when using the "Immersion" option to translate actual documents from the internet.
- Language education
- Language pedagogy
- Computer-assisted language learning
- List of Language Self-Study Programs
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- "Translating the Web While You Learn". Technology Review.
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- "The Duolingo Team". Twitpic.
- "Online Education as a Vehicle for Human Computation". National Science Foundation.
- "Learn a language, translate the web". NewScientist.
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- Todd, Deborah M. (3 July 2012). "Ashton Kutcher backs CMU duo's startup Duolingo". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- "The Daily Start-Up: Kutcher-Backed Language Site Duolingo Finds Its Voice". Wall Street Journal. 19 June 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
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- Farber, Dan (2013-07-11). "Duolingo brings free language courses to the iPad". News.cnet.com. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
- Official website
- Official blog
- Duolingo on Twitter
- Duolingo on Facebook
- Duolingo Intro on YouTube
- Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration on YouTube — by "TEDtalksDirector" channel, uploaded 2011-12-06.