What is Duolingo?
Duolingo has 120 million users worldwide, so more likely than not, you know what it is. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Duolingo is the fun, easy, and FREE language-learning app. (It also comes for desktop – who knew?) Most people use Duolingo to learn Spanish, French, or English, but it actually teaches 66 courses across 23 languages. Over 20 more courses are currently in development.
The Duolingo method was developed by examining how users learn better: Verbs before nouns? Adjectives first? They then created a skill “tree” where users go from one skill to the next using that method. Duolingo’s lessons may ask students to:
- Transcribe spoken or written text
- Identify vocabulary words
- Identify correct translations of a phrase
- Repeat words or phrases into a microphone
- Verbally translate text, speaking it into a microphone
This popular language-learning tool was created by Professor Luis von Ahn (co-creator of the captcha) and launched in 2011. Being from Guatemala, he witnessed how expensive it was for his countrymen to learn English, which often prevented them from getting a better job and increasing their income. Von Ahn’s goal is to make language learning available to everyone. Below is a short timeline of Duolingo’s notable achievements:
- 2011 – Product launched.
- 2013 – Duolingo named Best iPhone App of the Year by Apple. It was also the most downloaded education app on Google Play that year.
- 2014 – Awarded “Best Education Startup” award at the Crunchies. Duolingo started their language certification service called Test Center & began incorporating users’ scores on their LinkedIn profiles.
- 2015 – Duolingo for Schools launched for teachers to track student progress. Award winner in the “Play & Learning” category of Design to Improve Life.
- 2016 – Developed flashcards application called Tinycards.
Why Duolingo Works Well
First, an interesting finding: One study found that 34 hours spent learning on Duolingo yielded the reading & writing ability equal to 130+ hours in a beginner language course at a US university.
Duolingo works better than other learning tools for many simple reasons.
It’s fun: Duolingo turns learning into a game (also known as “gamification”). Exactly as in video games, you can connect and compete with your friends, showing off your skills and holding yourself and your friends accountable for progress (or lack thereof). Duolingo effectively opened up language learning to a whole new audience of people: gamers. There is also a huge community of Duolingo users that interact on the site’s online forum.
It’s motivating: Consistency in learning is key. If you want to improve your skills, you must study often. Duolingo emphasizes consistency by motivating students with a points and rewards system. You’ll find yourself wanting to learn everyday so you can see how long you can keep your learning streak going. Although Duolingo is free, users can pay to “freeze” their learning streak plus a few more paid features.
It’s logical: Duolingo’s skill trees serve as an extremely logical presentation of sometimes complex language concepts. Learning a language can be difficult, especially when combining all the elements of a given language. Duolingo starts at the basics, goes step-by-step, and slowly combines elements one at a time. The different combinations of the materials (speaking, listening, translation, etc) mean that things won’t get too repetitive and you won’t get used to doing things one way – the way that language actually functions.
It’s quick: Duolingo’s lessons are bite-sized. You can learn something new in a matter of minutes, with as few 8 or as many as 25 questions/examples involved. Topics are reinforced and reviewed in a quick manner so that students don’t grow bored, but they also don’t forget. Duolingo’s mini lessons are great for people who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to language learning.
It’s simple: The duolingo desktop platform and moreso the smartphone app are focused on design and user experience. The layout is simple, meaning you won’t have to struggle to get acquainted with or use the tool. It feels natural from the first use. Duolingo’s design is bright and welcoming, and it’s cute green owl mascot interacts with students as they perform different actions or achieve certain objectives. (The owl can also be dressed up in a variety of whacky costumes!)
Duolingo & The Future of Learning
The truth is learning a new language is hard. (Some languages are harder than others!) Becoming fluent in any language takes a combination of many different elements: your own learning capabilities and preferences, consistent study of the language, speaking with other learners as well as natives, visiting or immersing yourself in a country where that language is spoken, and much much more.
Duolingo has done great things in being a tool that recognizes users’ learning patterns and then focuses on the areas that need improvement. Although the perfect tool for learning a language may be impossible, Duolingo certainly comes close. The things that Duolingo does well can and should be applied to other areas of learning. MyLeanMBA is one of the companies already doing this, having used many elements of Duolingo (quick, simple, fun) in The Lean MBA program for business administration training.