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https://www.duolingo.com/avrichard

Quora session with Duolingo founder LvA

avrichard
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https://www.quora.com/profile/Luis-Von-Ahn/session/2016-01-13/

Some of the highlights that are relevant to common topics on this forum:

  • new feature coming which will specifically target conversational skills.

  • Luis von Ahn would like to see Arabic for English speakers in 2016, but hard to guarantee this.

  • Chinese from English is a long-term goal, but won't be soon.

  • Japanese from English is also a goal, the difficulty with adding it is teaching the script, but they're working on it.

  • In response to "how do we get language X added to the incubator" he suggests: "I’d recommend having a very competent and dedicated team of 3-4 people, and an argument for how you’ll be able to bring a large user base for the course. Duolingo forum posts that get lots of votes get our attention." (This was asked in reference to Finnish).

  • They are planning to add a few Native American languages this year.

And interesting read, also a lot of Q about the Duolingo work environment.

2 years ago

87 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/scarcerer
scarcerer
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Well, Finnish certainly has 3-4 competent, dedicated people (at least 16 people have applied, probably much more). Of course, it might be hard to judge their dedication beforehand. Project Finnish is the 18th most popular post and the most popular language request of all time, all forums (not just English) considered. The only thing that could be missing is the argument for a large user base but I think the votes and numerous posts speak for themselves. So by Luis' own logic, I hope we'll see Finnish started very soon.

Edit: 4 days later and Project Finnish is #15.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MultiLinguAlex
MultiLinguAlex
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The only thing that could be missing is the argument for a large user base but I think the votes and numerous posts speak for themselves.

I actually think that many people are interested in learning Finnish, so am I. The history and cultural background is extremely interesting, the grammar is strange for us but very logical, Finland is among the first 25 countries in the human development index, has a very good school system (so that living there seems to be fantastic despite the high cost of living) and being a metal music fan, I know many people who start(ed) learning Finnish in order to understand what Moonsorrow sing about :-D I plan to do an internship in Finland this year and it would be fantastic to see the course hatching before the end of 2016.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Luis: I’d recommend having a very competent and dedicated team of 3-4 people

My guess on why they're saying this is that when they've put together teams of people who have individually applied they've sometimes found the assembled team became disfunctional because of personality conflicts or strong differences in how team-members felt the course should be constructed. (But this is pure speculation on my part, with no inside knowledge). If you approach duolingo with a team already assembled then that would give them more confidence that they are going to be giving the go-ahead to a functional, cohesive team. My understanding is that the Welsh team is an example of this — a pre-assembled team — and they of course have gone on to perform very strongly.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/lizsue
lizsue
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Duolingo's partnership with the U.S. Peace Corps (English for Ukrainian speakers, Ukrainian for English speakers, and Swahili for English speakers so far) has the same pre-assembled team advantage, right?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Good point, yes, further examples of pre-assembled teams who have performed strongly.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scarcerer
scarcerer
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The Welsh did it (before or after the moderators were picked) in their Facebook group if I have understood correctly. I'm not part of https://www.facebook.com/groups/DuolingoFinnish/ but I have a feeling there is some team building going on. Not like picking which 3-4 people will work on it but seeing how they get along with each other and maybe agreeing on some details. If a member could tell whether any of this is happening or not would be appreciated.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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I scrolled down the posts until last summer (on my phone, so I might have missed stuff). There is a poll about how many people would like to learn and teach Finnish, but there doesn't seem to be much discussion about the actual content of a future course. Instead, there are plenty of people expressing interest in learning Finnish, people campaigning for a Duolingo course, and people posting links to other resources.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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While looking around, I found a post on FB by one of the people behind the DuolingoFinnish group from May 2015, stating "I’m representing Duolingo.com - one of the world’s leading language learning free web-ware sites as a Course Team Leader (CTL) for the Finnish language. "

I'm confused -- has Duolingo chosen a contributor already? Back then?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/pont
pont
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Googling for «"course team leader" "duolingo"» turns up only that post, which suggests to me that Duolingo have never used that term themselves, and that the purported Course Team Leader is indulging in a little wishful thinking.

dqxxmvyvoedn

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/widle
widle
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That doesn't seem likely. I would doubt it's legit.

Maybe they're leading the facebook group for Finnish on Duolingo and exaggerating a bit.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SurrealSoul
SurrealSoul
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Hopefully we'll see the Finnish course when Hungarian reaches beta. I mean how long can people keep on asking? It has to happen sometime this year.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/avrichard
avrichard
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Well, it does seem to be the most-requested language on here.

I would strongly suspect Finnish won't happen until Hungarian is live. For all we know they might even already be talking to people about Finnish, since there seems to be a lot going on behind the scenes that we don't know about.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Vedun
Vedun
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I wish I could upvote this 100 times.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What are your favorite stories from the early days of Duolingo?

Luis Von Ahn: The early days were pretty chaotic but a lot of fun! Duolingo was most people’s first job out of school (some were even still in school!), so there was essentially no organization and a huge allergy to bureaucracy. The only reason we got anything done was because we had such smart people – our first employees were basically the top people in their class at Carnegie Mellon University. Here are some specific things that come to mind:

  • When we were getting started, we had hired Silver Orange, an awesome design and development agency, to help us with our design and identity. As we were giving them guidance on what we wanted, our co-founder and CTO Severin Hacker (yes, that’s his real name) said “I don’t much care what you do in terms of style, but please don’t use green. I hate green.” Our mascot is a green owl because we wanted to annoy Severin.

  • Duolingo was chosen by Apple as the iPhone App of the Year, but our app was developed by two people who had never even used an iPhone before. David Klionsky, the engineer, had a Windows phone and had never developed for iOS. Tyler Murphy, the designer, had a flip phone...

  • Our first employee manual consisted of the following ten rules: 1) Say “Good Morning, X” to everybody when you arrive. 2) By implication, you must arrive in the morning (before 12:00), unless you were at the office the night before working past midnight (“the Android exception”). 3) Loose lips sink ships. 4) Loose tweets sink fleets. 5) Loose pants make friends. 6) Be nice to our users. 7) Do not eat other people’s lunch. 8) Hector is a co-worker, not a toy. 9) It’s ok to bring doggies to the office, but they must be house-trained. If your dog pees, they can’t come for a month, if they poop they can’t come for 2 months. Reptiles are not allowed. Dinosaurs will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 10) All suspicious activity must be reported to Franklin.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-are-your-favorite-stories-from-the-early-days-of-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AnIsAPandah

Hahaha that first story :P Now we know why Duolingo is green.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MultiLinguAlex
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Exactly this - plus the points 8 and 9. I love this kind of humor :-D

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Maybe Severin was using reverse psychology. Maybe his favourite colour secretly is green….

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AnIsAPandah

Ooooh now that's a theory.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
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Or maybe he's learned to love it since then... :-) It's not easy being green!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
Mod
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Bahaha! I love the rule list. Looks like they made an exception for dinosaurs shout out to Vivisaurus!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/vivisaurus
vivisaurus
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[shout heard] ;]

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
flootzavutPlus
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That employee manual is great lmao!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What are the potential competitors of Duolingo according to you?

Luis Von Ahn: There are a number of language learning apps, but none that I am particularly worried about. Last time we checked, we have about 10x more active users than our biggest competitor. But it’s not just because we’re much bigger in terms of users that I’m not worried about them. Most of our competitors (Rosetta Stone, etc.) have turned into marketing companies by now. Their business model is to charge users a lot of money for their software, and because they charge so much, they also have to spend a lot on marketing and advertising to acquire users. At that point, if you have a dollar to spend, it’s much better to spend it on marketing than on making a better product. So, most of these companies spend 80% of their budget on marketing and are usually not improving their product very much.

My main worry is a competitor we haven’t yet heard about, that somehow figures out how to truly teach better than us. This is why we have a team whose sole purpose is to come up with the app that will disrupt Duolingo in terms of language learning.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-potential-competitors-of-Duolingo-according-to-you

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Vedun
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>This is why we have a team whose sole purpose is to come up with the app that will disrupt Duolingo in terms of language learning.

Neat! Part of duo team trying to come up with a novel, better than duo app.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CodyORB
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Chineseskill is pretty big.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mangakoibito
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it is also pretty much the same thing as duolingo the only major differences revolve around how to teach hanzi

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/PaulFairPhone
PaulFairPhone
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Has anyone tried Memrise.com ? I find they are better than Duolingo in the mobile App arena, I advised both apps to a dozen of frinds and I found double the adoption rate with Memrise !

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What are your future plans for Duolingo?

Luis Von Ahn: In the short term, we’re working on a really cool way to teach conversation in other languages. I can’t mention too many details, but we’re very excited about it.

We’re also working on bringing Duolingo to schools. We’ve met a number of inspiring teachers looking to make a difference in their students’ lives and have seen the effect that Duolingo can have as a classroom tool. We created Duolingo for Schools last year and already 100,000 classrooms are using it – without any paid marketing, just word of mouth. The feedback we’ve gotten is inspiring, and we’re developing progressively more tools to help teachers reach their goals.

In the longer term, we want everybody to have access to all types of education of the highest quality. We started with languages, but we won’t stop there.

The educational system throughout the world is pretty broken. For example, in my country, Guatemala, only 24% of the people who graduate from high school have the required reading and writing level, and only 7% have the required math level. On top of that only about 60% of the people actually graduate high school. And even in countries like the US, after learning math five days a week for almost twelve years, the most advanced thing most high school graduates can do is to add fractions.

We think we can help by developing intelligent apps that teach the most important subjects: reading and writing, math, physics, etc. What’s particularly exciting is that for the first time in history, we can observe how millions of people learn and improve based on this data – this was impossible until very recently. So while there are conflicting theories about how to teach something better – what to introduce first, how to broach a particular topic, etc. – we can actually test these theories at a large scale and help people learn more information in less time. And just as importantly, for the first time we can offer access to education in a medium that can reach billions of people at relatively little cost (smartphones).

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-are-your-future-plans-for-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Fazac
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Thanks... an interesting read.

It would be great if the Duolingo team could give regular updates on here, as to what they are working on and what's in the pipeline.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
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Q: What would it take to start a partnership with a Native American tribe using Duolingo’s technology to propel a Language Nest initiative?

Luis Von Ahn: This year we plan to add a few Native American languages. I’d recommend getting in touch with press@duolingo.com (it’s our one public facing email address!) stating your interest, and most importantly, how you plan to get a very large number of people to support your campaign. We’d like to draw attention toward the importance of preserving and teaching smaller languages, especially Native American languages.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-would-it-take-to-start-a-partnership-with-a-Native-American-tribe-using-Duolingo%E2%80%99s-technology-to-propel-a-Language-Nest-initiative

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
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Q: Are there any new features in the works for Duolingo? If not, is there any way in which you'd like to improve upon it?

Luis Von Ahn: Yes, we have two pretty exciting releases coming up in the near future. One of them is related to teaching conversation a lot better than we do now. We’re hoping to release it in the next 2-3 months. The other one is a secret :)

Source: https://www.quora.com/Are-there-any-new-features-in-the-works-for-Duolingo-If-not-is-there-any-way-in-which-youd-like-to-improve-upon-it

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Why has Duolingo moved from translation to certification for monetizing?

Luis Von Ahn: Initially, our business model was based on crowdsourcing. Companies such as Buzzfeed and CNN uploaded news stories that users then had the option of translating as a way to strengthen the skills they learned on Duolingo. We would then return the translated documents to e.g. CNN, and they’d pay us for having translated their content (here’s my TED talk on this idea).

It was very clever, but since then, we’ve decided not to scale the translations business further. The main reason is that our aim is to be an education, not a translations company, and we realized that if we kept going in the direction we were going in, we’d eventually morph into a translations company because that’s where the funds were coming from.

Therefore, we decided to develop a profitable product that was far more in line with our mission: English language certification. During the first couple of years of Duolingo, thousands of users wrote to us saying they were thankful for the opportunity to learn English for free, but that to prove that they speak English they had to take a standardized test like the TOEFL or IELTS. These tests are required to be accepted to universities, or to get jobs at international corporations in non-English-speaking countries. The tests are unfortunately extremely expensive (about $200-$250, or the equivalent of a month's salary in many developing countries) and require commuting to inconvenient locations (for testing centers), as well as waiting for weeks or months for results.

We launched the Duolingo Test Center in response to this, a way for anyone to certify language proficiency from anywhere, and for only $20. The test only takes 20 minutes and is available on the web, Android, and iOS. To prevent cheating, since we don’t require people to go to a testing center, the Duolingo test is remotely proctored – we record the test taking experience by accessing the device's camera, microphone and screen during the test.

The Duolingo English Test is increasingly accepted by prestigious universities and companies around the world, including some departments of Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Uber (for drivers in other countries to prove they can speak English).

Source: https://www.quora.com/Why-has-Duolingo-moved-from-translation-to-certification-for-monetizing

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What initial marketing strategy did Duolingo follow?

Luis Von Ahn: Before we launched, we had a pretty cool splash page where people could sign up to be invited to the private beta. The splash page had a very clear message: unlike other language-learning software that costs hundreds of dollars, Duolingo would be 100% free and therefore accessible to everybody.

At around that time I gave a TED talk about the Duolingo idea, which was viewed by over a million people. This got more than 300,000 people to sign up for our private beta.

After our public launch in 2012, our main marketing approaches have been word of mouth and PR. By now, we’ve been written up in virtually every major newspaper in the world.

I’m proud to say we’ve never spent any money on advertising.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-initial-marketing-strategy-did-Duolingo-follow

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What made you start Duolingo?

Luis Von Ahn: The whole thing started as an academic project at Carnegie Mellon between me and my PhD student Severin Hacker. I had just sold my second company to Google, and we both wanted to work on something related to education. Education is very general, so we decided to concentrate on one kind that is in huge demand everywhere (except the US): language education.

It turns out there are over 1.2 billion people learning a new language around the world. Now, the majority of these people, like 800 million of them, are learning English, and don’t have very much money. In fact, the reason they are learning a language is to be able to get a better job, or a job at all. The majority are not learning French because they want to get ready for a trip to Paris over the summer. They’re learning a language to get a job at a call center.

Here’s the crazy part about this. There’s a huge number of people that want to learn English, and most of them can’t pay, but the ways to learn a new language typically require them paying, because somebody has to make money. It’s either that you learn a language in middle or high school, which means you're pretty wealthy because you go to a school that offers foreign languages; or you learn it in college or adult classes, in which case you’re also pretty wealthy because you can pay for those; or you buy some sort of software like Rosetta Stone or Open English, in which case you have $1,000 to spare.

So, the largest part of the market was not being addressed because there was no great way to make money from them. Most people who wanted to learn a language couldn't really afford the best ways of doing it. We wanted to have a way to teach people languages for free. But not just free.

We wanted to have the best quality of language education, and offer it for free.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-made-you-start-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: : Duolingo (German) despite being so good lacks the nous required to teach someone the grammatical part. How do you plan to overcome this huge flaw?

Duolingo teaches the vocabulary and sentence formation, ignoring grammar. Grammatical structure is very important in learning a new language, especially in German (many rules). Will the A.I. be able to learn the grammar by itself and be sophisticated enough to teach someone?

Luis von Ahn: Duolingo was built to offer an immersive experience rather than a grammar-memorization tool. Unfortunately, most people dislike grammar, and we’ve noticed that the only grammar terms we can reliably assume our users understand are “noun” and “plural.” That said, for German in particular we do think more grammar explanations would help (it’s very hard to understand German grammatical cases without explanations). This is on our list of things to improve!

Source: https://www.quora.com/Duolingo-German-despite-being-so-good-lacks-the-nous-required-to-teach-someone-the-grammatical-part-How-do-you-plan-to-overcome-this-huge-flaw

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
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"Unfortunately, most people dislike grammar [...] That said, for German in particular we do think more grammar explanations would help (it’s very hard to understand German grammatical cases without explanations). This is on our list of things to improve!"

This is a nice progression from his stance in April 2014 which started with posting a meme saying "Ain't nobody got time for grammar" and went on to "I, personally, don't like vocabulary, grammar or verb conjugation." and "I consider the use of grammar to be discriminatory against those who unfortunately didn't have a very good education in their own native language (which is the majority of the world's population).".

It seems he's made it to Level 9 in German, which I guess might have drawn his attention to how useful and necessary grammar can be when learning a language which is not that close to your own and in which grammar is very important. I suggest Russian and Finnish next! :-p

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/raans
raans
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Yes, I agree. I even suggest to take a real good look at Turkish and Norwegian (and most likely all user-built trees) for their excellent Tips & Notes sections. In contrast, the Italian from Spanish lacks Tips & Notes and I wished that I wouldn't have to dig up some tiny things a section like could have mentioned in the first place.

I never understood the logic of being a "grammar-free" language education site. If it's optional, users can opt-in.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/solidgitarius
solidgitarius
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In contrast, the Italian from Spanish lacks Tips Notes

It has some tips and notes. Maybe they're not enough for you.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/raans
raans
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Yes, true, there some. But compared to other courses, it feels like nothing. :)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ove_sundberg
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"Unfortunately, most people dislike grammar" That sentence irritates the heck out of me. There's a difference between feeling like you're learning a language and actually learning a language. It's all very well that Duolingo focus on user-retention, but if they're retaining users who don't have it in them to learn a second language then they're doing it wrong. Sorry, but treating grammar like some superfluous part of a language is a recipe for staying unilingual forever.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JohnReid8
JohnReid8
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No offence intended.

When most people say that they dislike "grammar", they refer to "prescriptive grammar".

Teachers have historically treated this as "correct", and said "You must speak this way", with the sometimes unintentional implication that anything else is bad and/or inferior.

Naturally, most of us don't react well to that.

I agree with your statement

  • There's a difference between feeling like you're learning a language and actually learning a language.

And most website do seem to focus on the feeling of learning a language, (and charge through the nose at the same time), but not DuoLingo.

Speaking from my personal experience on the site, DuoLingo actually teaches languages to people that actually want to learn.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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Oh, sorry, I was unclear:

I do not mind being beeped into submission (well, I've turned off the sounds, but "red-texted") when I make a mistake at all. With a Nordic Protestant background and having learned German as a first foreign language, I expect and want rigorousness, clarity, and plenty of grammar practice. :-)

The great thing with Duolingo is that it gives you instant feedback and the opportunity to try again very soon and as many times as you can fit into your day. In contrast, you can ask a real life teacher for an explanation, but you can just as easily get stuck using a word the wrong way for years, if the teacher doesn't happen to correct you the first or second time.

The point I was trying to make above was that grammar is by definition prescriptive when it is the grammar of a language you're learning. We could discuss at length whether grammar should be descriptive or prescriptive for a particular language, but those reinventing and developing a language are surely the people speaking it, rather than those starting out learning it. And as Duolingo caters to the latter category (even if many people here already have a lot of experience in the languages they are learning), Duolingo has to be rigorous and strict.

(There was an interesting thread yesterday by a learner posting an opinion (his word) about how something could be expressed in the language he is learning. He got very offended when a native speaker explained that a) this wasn't correct, and b) it wasn't a matter of his opinion, and now the whole thread is gone. I am amazed that people would both make the effort to learn a language, and simultaneously spend time and energy trying to change that very language.)

That's why I agree with ove_sundberg -- you can't just make the process fun and smooth and pretend the grammar of the language you are learning doesn't matter. Like I wrote earlier in this thread, some languages rely much more heavily on studying grammar than other ones do.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
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@mizinamo: I guess the reasoning might go that almost all Esperanto speakers speak it as an nth language, putting them on a mutually more equal footing compared to, say, French people versus me or that user I referred to who disagreed with French verb forms. Or then it's just the thrill of a language having been constructed in the first place.

(I don't agree or disagree with either of the above -- just theorizing here...)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mizinamo
mizinamo
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Particularly fun in Esperanto, where, for some reason, there are a lot more people suggesting changes in the language, as if its grammar was up for decision in 2016 any more than that of English or French is.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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When most people say that they dislike "grammar", they refer to "prescriptive grammar".

Teachers have historically treated this as "correct", and said "You must speak this way", with the sometimes unintentional implication that anything else is bad and/or inferior.

Surely exactly this is what happens when you learn a new language? The owl will beep you into submission until you learn to inflect your adjectives and conjugate your verbs the way it wants it. (Which is sometimes, for the sake of simplicity and clarity, even simpler and more prescriptive on Duolingo than the formal grammar of the language or how a teacher would do it in class-- a couple of examples from the French course here are the strict interpretation of "aimer" and the refusal to include passé simple. )

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JohnReid8
JohnReid8
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I'm truly sorry if your experience language study has been negative and if you have more trouble than most.

When I first tried to write the above comment, I basically said,

  • "If you get it right on DuoLingo, you get it right. If you get it wrong, the system will let you know that it's wrong in a non-judgemental way, and provide you with one/several prefered answer(s) to help you understand your mistake".

(I myself have found this feature to be very helpful and encouraging.)

Side note: You don't see this paragraph in my comment because, right when I was about to click "Post", my web connection cut out, (old WiFi on my laptop). When I finally got the connection back, I had to rewrite the comment, and forgot about the above paragraph.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Arnauti
Arnauti
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As a contributor I think we could teach grammar a lot more easily if they let us use the 'form exercises' (the ones where you get a drop down menu to choose from) more freely.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Has being from Guatemala affected any of your career or business decisions or mentalities?

Luis Von Ahn: Being from Guatemala is one of the reasons I started Duolingo! Guatemala is a very poor country, where most people don’t have access to high-quality education, and where learning English can actually double somebody’s earning potential.

Today, I’m proud that Duolingo is used by the public school system in Guatemala.

(Duolingo is also used by Bill Gates, which means that the richest man in the world uses the same same educational platform as poor children in a poor country. That is, more money cannot buy you a better education. This is what makes me the proudest.)

Source: https://www.quora.com/Has-being-from-Guatemala-affected-any-of-your-career-or-business-decisions-or-mentalities

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What do you think of MOOCs? Are they the future of education in 20 years or an intermediate thing?

Luis Von Ahn: I’m not a huge fan of MOOCs as they exist today. Live lectures typically suck, and watching them online makes them even worse. Even if we were to solve all the practical problems of watching these videos by giving everyone access to high-speed internet to enable proper streaming, by ensuring the sound is recorded well, or even going farther to make the content of lectures themselves more lively with film crews, screenwriters and actors, I think the approach is fundamentally wrong.

Classroom lectures are an offline solution to a problem that doesn’t need to exist online. Before the industrial revolution, most education happened through the apprenticeship model. If you wanted to learn how to become a butcher, you’d become the apprentice of a butcher and learn everything you could from them. As the need arose to educate more and more people and to standardize what everybody knew, we figured that we could get economies of scale by putting 20, 50, or even 200 people in a room to listen to a lecture. Yes, these 30 people may come in with different amounts of background knowledge, and some may be smarter than others, but treating them all the same was a major innovation because it allowed the global educational system to scale and produce today’s workforce. With technology, however, we have other ways to provide scalable access to education.

We know personalized one-to-one tutors produce significantly better outcomes than classroom lectures. One of the most famous results in educational psychology is “Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem,” which shows that the average student tutored one-to-one performs two standard deviations better than students who learn via conventional classroom methods – that is, they perform better than 98% of the students in the control class! And this makes sense: teachers typically aim the lecture at some sort of “median student,” which means that those above the median are not learning very efficiently, and those below are often confused.

Instead of making crappy recordings of something known to be suboptimal, we should be scaling and automating the best known teaching method: one-to-one tutors. This is what we’re trying to do with Duolingo by attributing the following 3 characteristics to our teaching method:

  • Active, not passive. Instead of falling asleep while listening to a monotone lecture, Duolingo users learn by doing. Daydreaming is impossible in a context where you’re required to interact to move forward.

  • Personalized. Because users learn by answering exercises every step of the way, we get a signal about how well they’re learning. For example, we can tell if somebody always messes up verb conjugations in the past tense, if they can read but not understand the spoken language, or even if every time they see the word for “chicken” they take an extra 500 milliseconds to answer. We use all of this information (from more than 6 billion exercises per month) to generate unique lessons for each user.

  • Fun. Duolingo was designed to feel like a game from the very start. Students have to pass levels in order to unlock new skills, they can earn virtual currency to “buy” virtual goods, etc. MOOCs typically have horrible retention rates, whereas Duolingo doesn’t, and it’s largely because people like playing games.

Even though Duolingo only teaches one subject (foreign languages), it has more active users than all the major MOOC platforms combined – and they teach hundreds of subjects!

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-do-you-think-of-MOOCs-Are-they-the-future-of-education-in-20-years-or-an-intermediate-thing

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Is it possible that Duolingo adds video clips of real native speakers for speaking exercises? Does Duolingo intend to diversify the exercises?

Luis Von Ahn: Yes, this is a strong possibility. We discuss different ideas and features regularly at Duolingo and have a long list of things to test. This is one of them :)

Source: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-possible-that-Duolingo-adds-video-clips-of-real-native-speakers-for-speaking-exercises-Does-Duolingo-intend-to-diversify-the-exercises

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Will Duolingo offer Chinese as a language anytime soon?

Luis Von Ahn: We will offer Chinese, but it won’t be soon. Unfortunately, it’s just not our highest priority because the number of people who want to learn Chinese from English is not as large as you’d think (it’s about 1/10th the number of people who want to learn Spanish, for example), and it involves a lot of work on our end to teach the character set and the tones.

Source: https://www.quora.com/Will-Duolingo-offer-Chinese-as-a-language-anytime-soon

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wyqtor
wyqtor
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Bummer! I am very disappointed by this decision, though I do understand where it is coming from. The Chinese characters would indeed be hard to teach (the Chinese and Japanese themselves learn them throughout their life, even as late as high school and university), but on the other hand a Pinyin-only "beta" course would probably do just fine for most of us. On the issue of tones, Vietnamese has two more tones than Chinese and yet it is coming out in less than two months... To make matters worse, the free DL alternatives ChineseSkill and HelloChinese have cornered the market, the only thing they are lacking in is the "strengthen skills" function and smart prediction of weak words and concepts.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Very much agree with you on the idea of starting with a pinyin only course. And no problem showing tones with pinyin.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: When will learning English to Arabic, and Arabic to English, be available in Duolingo?

Luis Von Ahn: We already teach English to Arabic speakers. It’s hard to guarantee when the course to learn Arabic will be live, but I’d like it to be in 2016.

Source: https://www.quora.com/When-will-learning-English-to-Arabic-and-Arabic-to-English-be-available-in-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/cdub4language
cdub4language
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I'd imagine Arabic for English will become a focus once Swedish, French, and German for Arabic get launched, as many of the contributors who were gearing up for Arabic for English are currently working on these projects.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Quattrostelle

It'll need to get into the incubator soon, right?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Yerrick
Yerrick
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Yes, I would be surprised if the average incubator -> beta launch time is less than 10 months.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What is your vision for an ideal language learning experience?

Luis Von Ahn: A one-to-one human tutor that understands you, your learning patterns and needs, and that you can access anywhere and at any time.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-vision-for-an-ideal-language-learning-experience

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/worstquestions
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They're still not saying which native languages they're planning, unfortunately. I can't wait to see!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Why aren't there more rare languages on Duolingo?

Luis Von Ahn: We have limited resources in terms of people and time so we are forced to prioritize – and there are many languages out there! Unfortunately, not that many people want to learn rare languages, as important as they may be. We do teach Esperanto, Catalán, Irish, and soon Welsh and Yiddish.

Source: https://www.quora.com/Why-arent-there-more-rare-languages-on-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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That seems like a true Duo(TM) soon with regards to Yiddish... :-)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrankKool
FrankKool
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We have limited resources in terms of people and time so we are forced to prioritize

This is an important fact that plays in the many "why does language X get a course, but language Y doesn't?!" discussions. Even if there are volunteers working in the incubator, that still means that there is only a limited amount of work that can be done at the same time. So the effort for one language drains resources from all others.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What was Duolingo's MVP [minimum viable product] like?

Luis Von Ahn: It was a pretty functional website where you could learn Spanish and German. Funnily, today 85% of our traffic comes from our mobile apps which we hadn’t even considered at the time.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-was-Duolingos-MVP-like

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Does gamification work in practice for companies or is it just an interesting academic theory?

Luis Von Ahn: Gamification works very well for Duolingo. People love playing games and there are particular characteristics that make it so enjoyable. These are manipulated by casinos, for example, which give people the illusion that they have a high chance of winning in order to keep them playing (for example, the probability of seeing a 2 out of 3 match in slot machines is much higher than it should be). Making Duolingo feel like a game has helped us keep people motivated to learn a language and to develop an interest in it in ways that would otherwise have been impossible.

Source: https://www.quora.com/Does-gamification-work-in-practice-for-companies-or-is-it-just-an-interesting-academic-theory

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Is it possible to get the progress bar back in Duolingo? That one showing how many points until next level. By the way thanks for Duolingo!

I was asked for clarification. When I started using Duolingo there was a bar on the right side showing how many points you have and how many you need until you get to the next level. Now there's just a daily goal version without that info. The previous bar was a great motivation to keep learning.

Luis von Ahn: It may come back at some point. We do A/B tests and usually choose whatever helps keep people motivated to learn more, or whatever helps people acquire more knowledge in less time. Sometimes results are counterintuitive but our decisions are rarely based on opinion.

Source: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-possible-to-get-the-progress-bar-back-in-Duolingo-That-one-showing-how-many-points-until-next-level-By-the-way-thanks-for-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/raans
raans
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No need: use XP Progress Bar userscript.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JohnReid8
JohnReid8
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Ah, yes, I remember that.

It didn't do a thing, no progress bar or anything.

No matter what I did, nothing.

Frankly, it should be taken down.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/clh335763
clh335763
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Could users be given the choice to choose between the two options then on the settings page, with the default being the daily goal if that is really shown to be preferred by most? There need not even be active promotion of the settings page of the toggle; if there are frequent users of Duolingo who find a progress bar more useful than the daily goal version and they find that motivation and efficiency affected that much by the lack of progress showing, they can choose to use the toggle. (I do get the need not to make settings pages too complex and clogged up though, but I feel this would be a relatively simple switch)

9 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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@oskalingo, if you spot anything to do with Japanese, would you please snag that bit for me and post it here?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What are the challenges of developing a Japanese course (for English speakers) on Duolingo?

Luis Von Ahn: The biggest challenge for us is teaching the writing system. Duolingo currently does not have a good way of teaching new character sets, but we’ll be working on that soon.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-challenges-of-developing-a-Japanese-course-for-English-speakers-on-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AnIsAPandah

Me too!! :D

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What are the biggest challenges faced so far in the journey of Duolingo?

Luis Von Ahn: The challenges have changed as we grow. Apps in general, and especially education technology, have a lot of trouble with retention – everyone’s fighting for people’s time and it’s very easy to create something, spend effort and resources bringing people there, and watching everyone drop off / leave within minutes. That has always been a big focus for us and while we do have good retention and have been able to grow to 110 million users, it’s something we talk about every day!

Another challenge was being able to offer more than just a handful of languages with such a small team. The answer was creating the Duolingo Language Incubator, a platform that allows volunteers to collaborate to create language courses online.

We also knew teachers were reluctant to adopt many technologies into the classroom because the vast majority are not very effective, students get distracted, and some teachers fear being replaced. Introducing Duolingo for Schools was a challenge for this reason, but the reception and feedback have been better than we ever expected and now we’re really enjoying helping teachers engage their students effectively.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-biggest-challenges-faced-so-far-in-the-journey-of-Duolingo

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: How did you get to product market fit with Duolingo? Did you run experiments? What were your eary market discoveries?

Luis Von Ahn: Before we launched, we tested Duolingo with random people outside of our office. The first test we did was awful, but we kept going. We made changes based on every stranger that had trouble, and by the time we had done about 25 tests, it was pretty good. After we launched, we have A/B tested hundreds of features in order to increase user engagement. We don’t do much market research (thought we probably should!).

Source: https://www.quora.com/How-did-you-get-to-product-market-fit-with-Duolingo-Did-you-run-experiments-What-were-your-eary-market-discoveries

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Do you have any plans for optimizing Duolingo's vocabulary learning using spaced repetition?

Luis Von Ahn: We already use spaced repetition. Duolingo has a pretty sophisticated model of what each user knows and how well they know it. And this is not just for vocabulary, but also for concepts such as pluralization and verb conjugation. So, for example, we know when is the next time you need to practice a specific word or a sentence in the past tense in order to not forget the concept. Every exercise you answer helps us update this model.

Source: https://www.quora.com/Do-you-have-any-plans-for-optimizing-Duolingos-vocabulary-learning-using-spaced-repetition

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What are some startups you think have a potential to change the future?

Luis Von Ahn: I’m a big fan of the work Khan Academy is doing (can nonprofits be considered startups?).

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-startups-you-think-have-a-potential-to-change-the-future

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
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Q: What are some steps that groups can take early to ensure a great course and get approved (FinnishOnDuolingo for e.g.)?

Luis Von Ahn: I’d recommend having a very competent and dedicated team of 3-4 people, and an argument for how you’ll be able to bring a large user base for the course. Duolingo forum posts that get lots of votes get our attention.

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-steps-that-groups-can-take-early-to-ensure-a-great-course-and-get-approved-FinnishOnDuolingo-for-e-g

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DraeWright
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Thanks very much for all this! I joined the Quora and read myself silly. I am loving Duolingo but that is another story for another day. Thank YOU! for this post.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: Does Duolingo use Item Response Theory to evaluate users proeficiency?

Luis Von Ahn: Yes, we use it, especially in the Duolingo Test Center!

Source: https://www.quora.com/Does-Duolingo-use-Item-Response-Theory-to-evaluate-users-proeficiency

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrankKool
FrankKool
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new feature coming which will specifically target conversational skills.

This would be awesome: from my experience, DuoLingo has until now mostly worked to build up passive understanding of a language, but not much in terms of conversations.

Also, was there any news on the future of immersion? I've heard rumors that it will completely disappear in the future, but so far these are just rumors and not official statements.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/scarcerer
scarcerer
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Does the current A/B test "web_noimmersion_experiment" count as an official statement? Even if it fails, I don't think immersion will be added to new courses.

PS. You might already know this but you can see the current A/B tests in https://www.duolingo.com//users/FrankKool under ab_options

PPS. It seems like you have to copy-paste the address

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrankKool
FrankKool
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I've already given up hope that immersion will be added to new courses. It's very sad, because this feature was precisely what distinguished DL from other language learning sites.

But I don't see the noimmersion test as an official statement. I sure hope it fails, though.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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I know it's not the same as Duolingo's Immersion (which should have been called Translation, in my opinion), but are you familiar with Lang-8? I have found writing in the language I'm learning and getting corrections made to my texts very useful. And there's a collaborative element to the correction process, just as there is in Immersion.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrankKool
FrankKool
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Yes, I've heard of it. I don't use it actually, but I do use writing exercises on busuu.com. It's indeed very useful.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/oskalingo
oskalingo
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Q: What would you recommend smaller language sites who find it difficult to compete with your free offer?

Luis Von Ahn: Work on something else. Resistance is futile. :)

Source: https://www.quora.com/What-would-you-recommend-smaller-language-sites-who-find-it-difficult-to-compete-with-your-free-offer

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ProfesorAntonnio
ProfesorAntonnio
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I don't agree at all.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/PaulFairPhone
PaulFairPhone
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Have you checked out Memrise.com ? these guys are free, Google Play editor's selection, and I and my friends find the mobile App more addictive than Duolingo's !

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sirhalos

I'm all for Duolingo moving into education and teaching other topics, but I would rather see them purchase something like khan academy then waste time trying to achieve what khan academy has already laid the ground work for.

2 years ago