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Duolingo logo.png
Duolingo Logo
Web addressduolingo.com
SloganFree language education for the world
Type of siteOnline education, Translation, Crowdsourcing
Available language(s)
Launched30 November 2011; 2 years ago (2011-11-30)
Current statusPublic
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Duolingo logo.png
Duolingo Logo
Web addressduolingo.com
SloganFree language education for the world
Type of siteOnline education, Translation, Crowdsourcing
Available language(s)
Launched30 November 2011; 2 years ago (2011-11-30)
Current statusPublic

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.[1][2] As of December 2013, Duolingo offers Latin American Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian courses for English speakers, as well as American English for Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Turkish, and Hungarian speakers. It is available on the Web, iOS, and Android platforms.

Duolingo started its private beta on November 30, 2011 and accumulated a waiting list of more than 300,000 users.[3] Duolingo launched for the general public on 19 June 2012 and as of January 2014 has 22 million users, out of which about 8.5 million are active.[4][5][6] In 2013, Apple chose Duolingo as its iPhone App of the Year, the first time this honor was awarded to an educational application.[6]

Education model[edit]

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.

"A screen-shot from the English to French Duolingo
A screen-shot from the English to French Duolingo

Users gain "skill points" (coins) 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.[7] Courses can teach upwards of 2,000 words.[8]

Duolingo uses a heavily data-driven approach to education.[9] 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 that data and learns from the patterns it sees.

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 first-year 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.[10] The same study found that Rosetta Stone users took between 55 and 60 hours to learn a similar amount.[11] It did not compare to other free or inexpensive courses, such as BBC,[12] Book2,[13] or Before You Know It.

Business model[edit]

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.[14] On 14 October 2013, Duolingo announced it had entered into agreements with CNN and BuzzFeed to translate articles for the companies' international sites.[15][16]

The Language Incubator[edit]

Instead of slowly adding additional languages, CEO Luis von Ahn announced on May 29, 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".[17] The result was The Language Incubator, which was released on 9 October 2013.[18][19] 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.[20] 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.[21] Other courses created by the Duolingo community include English from Turkish, Dutch and Hungarian, as well as French and Portuguese from Spanish.


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.[1][22] The project was originally sponsored by Luis von Ahn's MacArthur fellowship and a National Science Foundation grant[23][24] and is mainly written in the programming language Python.[25] Additional funding was later received in the form of an investment from Union Square Ventures and actor Ashton Kutcher's firm A-Grade Investments.[26][27]

As of May 2013, Duolingo has 27 staff members and operates from an office in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Shadyside near Carnegie Mellon's campus.[28]

On 13 November 2012 Duolingo released their iOS app through the iTunes App Store.[29] The app can be downloaded for free and is compatible with most iPhone, iPod, and iPad devices.[30] 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.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Meet Duolingo, Google's Next Acquisition Target; Learn A Language, Help The Web". TechCrunch. 
  2. ^ "Translating the Web While You Learn". Technology Review. 
  3. ^ "We have a blog!". Duolingo Blog. 
  4. ^ "LUIS VON AHN ON DUOLINGO'S PLANS FOR 2014". Crowdsourcing. 
  5. ^ Duolingo Comes To The iPad, Now Has More Than 5M Active Users
  6. ^ a b Duolingo snags iPhone App of the Year
  7. ^ "Ready, Set, Practice!". Duolingo Blog. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  8. ^ My Three Months of Duolingo: "There are 2014 words listed in my Duolingo vocabulary". (http://olimo.livejournal.com/, 2012-09-19)
  9. ^ Duolingo's Data-Driven Approach to Education
  10. ^ "Duolingo Effectiveness Study". unpublished. Retrieved 2013-08-23. 
  11. ^ Say what? Duolingo points to data's important role in online education
  12. ^ "BBC Languages". BBC. Retrieved 2013-08-23. 
  13. ^ "book2 - Learn languages online for free with 100 audio (mp3) files". Goethe-Verlag. Retrieved 2013-08-23. 
  14. ^ The Cleverest Business Model in Online Education
  15. ^ "Duolingo now translating BuzzFeed and CNN". Duolingo. 14 October 2013. Retrieved 07 November 2013. 
  16. ^ "BuzzFeed Expands Internationally In Partnership With Duolingo". BuzzFeed. 14 October 2013. Retrieved 07 November 2013. 
  17. ^ von Ahn, Luis. "Reddit IAmA". Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Olson, Parmy. "Duolingo Takes Online Teaching To The Next Level, By Crowd Sourcing New Languages". 
  19. ^ "Discussion". Duolingo. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  20. ^ Duolingo 'incubator' aims to crowdsource language teaching
  21. ^ English from Russian is now available in beta!
  22. ^ "The Duolingo Team". Twitpic. 
  23. ^ "Online Education as a Vehicle for Human Computation". National Science Foundation. 
  24. ^ "Learn a language, translate the web". NewScientist. 
  25. ^ What language is Duolingo written in? - Quora
  26. ^ Todd, Deborah M. (3 July 2012). "Ashton Kutcher backs CMU duo's startup Duolingo". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  27. ^ "The Daily Start-Up: Kutcher-Backed Language Site Duolingo Finds Its Voice". Wall Street Journal. 19 June 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  28. ^ Duolingo launching on Android; plans move to bigger office
  29. ^ "Duolingo on the go. Our iPhone App is here!". Duolingo. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  30. ^ "Duolingo - Learn Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Italian for free". iTunes App Store. Apple. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  31. ^ Duolingo brings free language courses to the iPad

External links[edit]