Within the last week, one of my favourite language learning tools, duolingo, turned two years old. It cleverly used the self made term ‘duoversary’
I’ve written a lot about duolingo on this blog, and I really think that they are on to a winning formula with their business model. It is absolutely free to learn a language, without any adverts or subscription fees or any hidden costs at all. The income stream for the duolingo website comes from companies paying to have their websites translated by the duolingo community.
Users on the duolingo website do their best at translation (many of us are still in the early to intermediate stages of learning a language), and the translations are checked or edited by multiple users to give an overall high quality and crowdsourced translation to the client.
If it sounds a little sinister – doing translation work for free – rest assured that you can do as much or as little translation as you want. Another brilliant benefit of duolingo’s structure is the type of language you are exposed to. It is incredibly useful to have access to real world content that you can practise your language on. I remember the first time that I discovered that I can read French, all thanks to duolingo! It was an incredibly empowering experience.
One of the many criticisms of duolingo is that there is a heavy bias on European language courses. When it first launched, it only had Spanish and English language. This quickly expanded to include French, German, Italian and Portugese (for native English speakers). At the current time of writing this is still the case, however many new language courses are in development and very soon there will be a lot more languages to choose from.
A somewhat overlooked feature of duolingo is that it teaches English to people around the world. Right now there are 22 English courses for speakers of other languages! One of these courses which I am fondly keeping an eye on is the “English for Thai speakers” course. I’ve already spoken with a volunteer who is creating this course, and they are happy for me to try it out and give some feedback. I’m really excited to be part of it!
Duolingo is not a perfect all-encompassing language solution, and I think an awareness of it’s goal of training you to be a translator first and foremost helps to understand why it is designed the way it is. What I mean is that at the current time of writing, you can invest hundreds of hours into duolingo, but it will not prepare you for a natural real life conversation. However, you would probably be very adept at reading a transcript of a conversation and understanding it.
Criticisms aside, for the price of admission (free!) I can’t really fault duolingo. It is something which is constantly being updated and improved, and I hope to continue being an avid user of the site many years from now. You can sign up for the site here and you can also find my profile on the site here.