Access for Everyone: A Model for Free Online Learning, with Duolingo’s Luis von Ahn

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Access for Everyone: A Model for Free Online Learning, with Duolingo’s Luis von Ahn

Access for Everyone: A Model for Free Online Learning, with Duolingo’s Luis von Ahn

The problem with language education, there’s
about 1.2 billion people in the world learning a foreign language. It’s one of the most common
things that people learn in the world, everywhere in the world except maybe for the U.S., it’s
not that common in the U.S., but everywhere else it’s about 1.2 billion people learning
a foreign language. Now, if you look at it more deeply it turns out about 800 million
of them satisfy three properties. The first one is they’re learning English. The second
one is that they are doing so in order to get a better job or a job at all, and the
third one is that they are of low socioeconomic condition. So basically most people learning
a foreign language are poor people learning English to make more money or to make some
money. Now, the kind of ironic thing is that usually
the way there are to learn languages, and particularly to learn English, costs a lot
of money. So for example, in the U.S. there’s Rosetta Stone, which is $500-$1000, in Latin
America there’s a program called Open English, which is about $1000. So it’s this ironic
thing that most of the people that need to learn a language are poor people that are
doing it so that they can get money but it requires quite a bit of money to do so. Which
is why with Duolingo we decided to make a completely free way to learn a language. And
that’s the whole premise of Duolingo. When we started we thought we have to make a way
to learn a language but it has to be 100 percent free. When we started Duolingo it was not just me,
it was me and my co-founder whose name is Severin Hacker who is very funny because his
last name is Hacker. When we started we knew we wanted to do a free way to learn languages.
This is what we wanted to do. It’s easy to say that it’s free, the problem is when something
is free you got to find a way to finance it and to make it sustainable. So the question
really became is how do we teach languages for free but such that we can actually finance
the whole thing? The solution to this came from many of my previous projects have had
this very similar idea. And it’s an idea that can be traced back to an idea that I had when
I was a kid. It was a terrible idea but at the time I thought it was an amazing idea.
And it was that I wanted to have a gym where it was free to go to the gym. It’s a free
gym, but all the exercise equipment was connected to the power grid and people when they went
there as they exercise they would generate electricity that the gym would sell to the
power grid. So that’s why it was free. We wouldn’t charge people but we would make money
by selling electricity to the electric company. It turns out this is a bad idea because it
turns out humans are actually not very good at making electricity. But I thought it was
a good idea at the time. Also there’s another reason why it’s a bad idea. Turns out with
gym economics actually most of the money is made from people not showing up, whereas in
this case we really needed people to show up because we needed to generate the electricity.
But it is not a good idea but it’s a very similar idea what we ended up doing with Duolingo
and what I have used in my previous projects where the idea is can we offer a service for
free but as we’re offering it for free, can we extract some value out of people doing
the thing anyways? So in the case of the gym it was extracting electricity. The question
is what value can we extract out of people learning a language? And it turns out what
you can do is you can get people who are learning a language to help with language translation.
So what we do with Duolingo, the way we finance Duolingo is that whenever we teach somebody
a lesson, so we may teach them about food words in a given language, at the end, once
we’ve taught them about it we say hey, if you want to practice what you just learned
with something from the real world, here’s this document that has never been translated
before that is in the language that you’re learning. Can you help us translate it to
your native language? And then we sell that translation. So for example, CNN is one of our clients
where the idea is that CNN writes everything in English, they send it to us, then people
who are learning English on Duolingo, in order to practice their English they get a CNN story
in English and they have to translate it into their native language. Now we get multiple
people to translate the same story and they vote on each other’s translations. And at
the end we come up with one best translation for the whole article and then we send it
back to CNN and CNN pays us for having translated their article. So that’s the idea is that
people as they’re learning a language they’re helping us do the translation, and thus they’re
practicing. It’s completely optional. You can learn everything there is to learn on
Duolingo without ever practicing this way. But about half the people who get presented
an opportunity to translate say they would like to translate it. So it ends up working
out. Ever since we launched Duolingo it has grown
a lot. We now have 42 million users, from zero to 42 million users in two years. We
are the most popular way to learn languages in the world. There in fact in the United
States there are more people learning a language on Duolingo then in the entire U.S. public
school system. So we have a lot of people learning a language. They’re also not paying.
And also in the developing world there are millions of people who before were just not
able to learn a language, they didn’t have access to it, whereas now with Duolingo they
do. So we’ve already changed the industry. If you look at for example of the stock price
of Rosetta Stone is really not good. But I think we’re only getting started. I think
we’re nowhere near as good as I want to be. I think we should be able to teach you a language
three, four times more effectively than we do in terms of time it takes to learn it.
And so we’re going to be working on that on really making it so that we are your one-on-one
tutor but it’s a computer one-on-one tutor and I think we’ll be able to do it.

82 thoughts on Access for Everyone: A Model for Free Online Learning, with Duolingo’s Luis von Ahn

  1. Have to say I use duolingo never translated stuff but mainly cause I didn't think I was good enough will get on to it one day Though

  2. This one is a great app, i've been using it for 3 months to learn portuguese(and i'm mexican) and it's incredibly simple and fun. Eu posso entender é eu leio quase tudo bem em português. Obrigado, thank you and gracias Duolingo. Once i finish the whole levels i'd like to help you with an article 🙂

  3. Why don't more Americans learn a foreign language? Because everyone else is learning English so there is no need.
    It costs a lot of money to learn a language, or a friend who speaks the language you want to know.

  4. i read "access for everyone: a model for free online dating" and clicked.

    NO MORE. 


  5. The approach sounds great. Though I've yet to successfully learn a second language, I appreciate the need to know one. Everyone who is capable should try to learn a second language, even if it's not needed for a job

  6. I am Portuguese, proficient in English and I am learning Italian using English. I love duolingo it is an awesome tool, not perfect, but very close to be. 

    I train every day, and I have a 213 days streak (to this day) I hope I'll make it to 365 (at least). Italian is not as simple as English but since I do at least one exercise a day I now notice the difference and by only using duolingo I can now understand a lot of Italian. I am not comfortable yet to translate documents, but I can understand parts of documents and can help anyway I can.

    I hope that duolingo will allow people from different languages to learn languages other than English, like a Spanish person learning French. That would be awesome.

    If you didn't knew about duolingo give it a try. There are also android and ios apps, (that's how I started) and you can start as if you were playing a game and soon enough you'll be showing off to your friends your knowledge in a new language 😉

  7. I want to say thank you to the duolingo team !! I learned spanish from 0 to a2 in about 1 year, just by playing duolingo in the subway on the way to my university =]

  8. God damn it! I just spent like 6 hours translating stuff thanks to you! I hope you're proud! I have to admit it: it's really addicting and fun way to spend your time. I also applied to be content moderator for Polish section.

    It's actually really well made site and the idea is simply brilliant.

    Only thing that saddens me is the fact that many people just use google translator to post crappy translations for points… i mean come on, it's not a game! That's not the point… it's just… simply lazy and it disgust me.

  9. Duolingo, as some posters here said, only teaches you how to TRANSLATE between languages. That is WRITTEN languages. It does NOT teach you how to speak in those languages. And it's only for English speakers against several other languages.

  10. What if starters have an oportunity to pay someone learning the same language as them but are way more advanced in it to get private lessons about pronunciation and just generall tips and tricks learning the language better. Since the tutor is learning it as well but already has some experience. I believe it would spped things up for people who are leaning a language for fun and Duolingo could take a percentage from what the tutor gets for only providing the platform. I think everybody would win. The starter paying a human tutor for a private lesson (tuition or after school lessons if you will), the tutor who can earn a little money and also learn and Duolingo for getting money as well for providingthe platform.
    What do you think?

  11. Found Duolingo a few months ago. I used it to begin learning French and to supplement what I learn in my current French class at school. I find it sad that so few Americans are learning foreign languages. 

  12. Thank you for being an awesome individual, odds are however you will not read this comment or not able to. But it needs to be said. Best wishes in future endeavours.

  13. Too bad its a limited resource since there isn't a English to English or Bengali to English or Arabic…. So sad, great idea but very limited. Wanted to experience this and see if it is the same as rosetta stone. Please update, thank you for everything.

  14. The speech recognition in duolingo is terrible. You can say literally anything into it and it tells you you're correct.

  15.  Rosetta Stone IS NOT $500-$1000, it is $179 to $249 for English depending on how many levels you need. Look it up…. Though there is no lack of free basic stuff and more comprehensive stuff for ~$50. You don't need to buy the "name brand" software. 

  16. Not true. Anyone who wants to get proper education learns at least one foreign language. Lots of people at high-paying jobs know at least one foreign language as it also helps with their career on an international level.

  17. I wish that "Big Think" could give the new Intelligent Design a chance to share its new discoveries in science. Is there any way or possible way to do this?

  18. I started using duo lingo a few years ago. I have no attention span for things on my phone so I haven't gotten very far. I think it would have a better overall value if you were learning the language along with someone else.

  19. Why men cheat, is a sexist video. Comments were disabled after I made one. For that I unsubscribe and never watch another bigshit video again.

  20. If I try Duolingo and am happy with the results, rather than spending extra time on the translation service, can I simply send in a donation? 

  21. This is really cool. I feel the same way about knowledge in general, I do not like charging for knowledge though it is a hard one to get around. We need people to devote their own time sometimes to help others, work as a community. I have created a programming channel to help others learn programming. Currently I am setting up an office before I can create more videos. Programming is great knowledge, can be practical and fun. 

  22. Learning a language is a far cry from speaking logically with virtue and eloquence.

    For instance, me want job, you pay now, I hungry long time, will get you through life but what kind of life is that? Being able to negotiate for higher wages in the job market is not the pinnacle of existence.

    No bliss so great as knowing all that is – Cicero

  23. What a fantastic concept! And in a world where money seems to be the only thing worth "working" for, it's phenomenal that this has been such a success. Goes to show, knowledge trumps money every time. Thank you for providing such an amazing gift. For free. 

  24. It's amazing what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it.  I might use this to learn Italian.  Been putting it off and putting it off.  However, by translating stuff like this, you get experience and the language sticks with you more because you're actually using it.

  25. I love Duolingo! I practice/learn languages everyday!
    Currently, I'm learning and/or staying fresh with German, Spanish, and French.
    Thank you, Duolingo!!

  26. i downloaded the app and set it to chinese. the interface then changed to chinese and i couldnt understand it. how am i supposed to learn chinese when they set it to chinese and not english??

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