Duolingo Creates English Learning App for Hindi Speakers

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Duolingo, the popular online language learning app, has launched a Hindi version to help those in India learn English.

The app will help native Hindi speakers learn English, while those who already speak English can choose from Duolingo’s 16 other languages, which are all offered for free.

Duolingo’s co-founder and CEO Luis von Ahn said:

In developing markets like India, learning English is crucial to people’s professional development and can double or triple their income potential. Our goal is to give everyone in India the best possible language education money can buy, but for free.

The team for the Hindi app, made up of just four people, is the company’s first group to focus specifically on one nation.

Von Ahn, who has a personal stake in language education, said:

I come from a small country called Guatemala… and, over there, you will see a lot of inequality because the people who are educated in English have more opportunities and can improve the quality of their lives and they rise, but the people who don’t have that advantage get fewer and fewer opportunities.

The changes for the Hindi version of the app include reducing the amount of memory it takes to install, removing the need to type in Hindi, improvement of the initial proficiency-level test, and customized content specifically for Hindi speakers. Because of the incompatibility of Hindi and western-style keyboards, the app instead utilizes bubbles that can be clicked for translations rather than typing in content.

The app will give those who complete their English tests a certificate for only $20, which is already being accepted by many American universities and companies as formal language training. A study by the City University of New York found that 34 hours using the Duolingo app is equivalent to a semester of traditional language classes.

The Hindi app is also designed to be particularly easy for those new to smartphone operating systems, reports Nandagopal Rajan of the Indian Express. For example, the team noticed that people in India were using Duolingo to learn French or Spanish rather than English. They discovered that since many users had their smartphones set to English as the default language, they were not even being shown English as a learning option. The Hindi app will take this, and other technical issues that may baffle new users, into account.

Other languages commonly spoken in India will be added soon.

Duolingo is the most downloaded education app for Android, iOS, and Windows phone, and has received awards from both Google and Apple. According to the Times of India, it has 110 million users worldwide. The app was designed to keep users motivated with unlockable levels, points, and high score tracking.

Before working on Duolingo, von Ahn invented CAPTCHA/reCAPTCHA, which he sold to Google while in his twenties. In an interview with Gopal Sathe of Gadgets 360, he joked:

I’m really sorry about that, and I created Duolingo as an act of penance.

He is also a MacArthur fellow and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, which is where he met Duolingo co-founder Severin Hacker.