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Duolingo can’t teach you how to speak a language, but now he wants to try – TechCrunch

Duolingo was very successful. It has attracted 500 million total enrolled learners, 40 million active users, 1.5 million premium subscribers and $ 190 million in earmarked revenue in 2020. It has a popular and memorable mascot in the form of the owl Duo, a creative and engaging product. , and ambitious expansion plans. There is only one key question in the midst of all of these milestones: is anyone actually learning a language using Duolingo?

“Language is first and foremost a social and relational phenomenon,” said Sébastien Dubreil, professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s something that allows people to make sense of each other, to talk to each other and to go about life’s activities – and when you do that you are using a tone of different kinds of resources that are not included in the vocabulary and grammar. “

Duolingo CEO and co-founder Luis von Ahn believes that Duolingo’s upcoming product developments will allow users to move from zero to one position of knowledge in a different language over the next two to three years. But for now, he’s being honest about the platform’s limitations today.

“I won’t say that with Duolingo you can start from scratch and make your English as good as mine,” he said. “This is not true. But neither is it the case with learning a language in a university, it is not the case with the purchase of books, it is not the case. case with other applications. “

Luis von Ahn, co-founder of Duolingo, visiting President Obama in 2015. Image credits: Duolingo

While Dubreil doesn’t think Duolingo can teach someone to speak a language, he does believe it taught consistency – a difficult problem to solve in edtech. “What Duolingo does is potentially get students to do things you can’t afford them enough time to do, which is spending time in this textbook and building vocabulary and grammar. “, did he declare.

This has been the main objective of the company from the start. “I said this when we started Duolingo and I still really believe it: the hardest part of learning a language is to stay motivated,” said von Ahn, comparing it to the way people approach exercise: it’s hard to stay motivated, but a little movement a day goes a long way.

With an enviable lead in its category, Duolingo wishes to match the quality and effectiveness of its program to the quality of its product and its brand image. With growth and monetization secured, Duolingo is no longer in survival mode. Instead, it’s in study mode.

In this final part, we’ll explore how Duolingo uses a variety of strategies, from rewriting his courses to what he calls Operation Birdbrain, to become a more effective learning tool, while balancing the need to keep the engines going. growth and monetization fueled while en route to an IPO.

Duolingo can’t teach you how to speak a language, but now he wants to try – TechCrunch

Office decor from Duolingo. Image credits: Duolingo

“Just a fun game that might not be as bad as Candy Crush.”

Duolingo’s competitors see the massive gamification and lonely experience of the app as inherently at odds with high quality language education. Busuu and Babbel, two subscription-based competitors in the market, both focus on users who speak in real time with native speakers.

Bernhard Niesner, co-founder and CEO of Busuu, which was founded in 2008, sees Duolingo as an entry-level tool that can help users migrate to its human-interactive service. “If you want to be fluent, Duolingo needs innovation,” Niesner said. “And that’s where we come in: we all think you shouldn’t learn a language on your own, but [ … ] together, this is our vision. Busuu has more than 90 million users worldwide.

Duolingo has been the subject of several efficacy studies over the years. One of his most positive reports, from September 2020, showed that his Spanish and French classes taught the equivalent of four American university semesters in half the length of time.

Babbel, which has sold more than 10 million subscriptions to its language learning service, has cast doubt on the power of these discoveries. Christian Hillemeyer, who heads the start-up’s public relations, pointed out that Duolingo only tested the effectiveness of reading and writing – not for fluency in speech, although this is a key component language learning. He described Duolingo as “just a fun game that might not be as bad as Candy Crush.”

Put the ED back in the EDTech

One of the ironic legacies of Duolingo’s evolution is that for years it has outsourced much of the creation of its education program to volunteers. It is a legacy that the company is still trying to rectify.

The year after its creation, Duolingo launched its language incubator in 2013. Like its original translation service, the company wanted to leverage crowdsourcing to invent and refine new language courses. Volunteers – at least initially – were seen as a rambling way to bring new material to the growing Duolingo community and over 1,000 volunteers helped bring new language courses to the app.

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