Duolingo, the 2013 Apple iPhone app of the year as well as the Google app of the year, is an online software program which offers English speakers free lessons in Spanish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Italian, or Portuguese. And, for speakers of 20 foreign languages, it offers a path to learn English as a second language.
Rosetta Stone can cost as much as $499. Going to one of the best four-year private colleges in the US for a language course amounts to several hundred dollars — or more — per credit hour. Yet Carnegie Mellon professor Luis von Ahn, who also invented the CAPTCHA system, lets you learn a language for free, says Rich Smith of DailyFinance.
A 2012 study by professors at City University of New York and the University of South Carolina found that a person with no knowledge of Spanish will cover the material for the first college semester of Spanish in an average of 34 hours. That's the equivalent of 42 hours in a classroom, meaning Duolingo is about 19% more efficient than a college course.
The app has two purposes: One is to entertain and reward students as they learn, while the second is "giving back". When a student becomes proficient, the app notices and sends the student to "Immersion". Here the student is exposed to real-life text to translate, which is then, if deemed most accurate, used to translate the English Wikipedia version into Spanish Wikipedia.
"To date, Duolingo's free language learning-cum-massive international translation project has attracted 25 million users to its site. Of these, about 15% are using Duolingo online, as opposed to via an app – and about half of these have progressed far enough to become Immersion contributors", says Gina Gotthilf, head of communications at Duolingo.
Duolingo, in an effort to continue to remain free, sells translations by students to BuzzFeed, CNN, and other similar websites as a means of raising funds to keep its project going. More information about the app and its creation can be found here.
Because Duolingo is an app, the learner can make work breaks and commutes productive with iPhone and Android apps. Or, if students go to the site, they can get started online.
A good fact to know, says Bertel King, Jr. on AndroidPolice, is that the latest Duolingo update comes with an added improvement. For those who have a mobile phone that would benefit from this addition, Duolingo has reduced the app's size by 20%. The author adds that the latest Android app update introduces "Lingots" , or virtual currency. Not only that, King continues, but there is a shop in which to spend it.
Luis von Ahn will be joining Re/code at the inaugural Code/Mobile Conference in October. Re/code calls this app one of the most interesting education startups it has come across. Now, says Liz Gannes, reporting for Re/code, instead of playing Candy Crush at the bus stop, you can "complete the next lesson of a gamified language curriculum".