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Course design

Dear Duolingo team,

First off, congrats on a truly ambitiously awesome project. It's fantastic what you guys are doing, keep it up!

I wanted to ask if someone from your team could explain, as best you can, how you go about designing your courses. How do you go about deciding which vocabulary, grammatical concepts, structures etc to teach an in what order? How much does this process vary from one language to another?

With regards to vocabulary, is it simply a process of working through frequency lists and teaching the top 800-1200 words?

I read that Michel Thomas maintained that it didn't matter who the teacher was, but as long as his course material was followed in a systematic, progressive order, student understanding was inevitable. I guess you guys take a similar perspective, so how do you determine the content and progression of material?

The reason I ask is two-fold:

(1) It strikes me as odd that after all these years, we haven't arrived at a single, most effective method of teaching foreign languages. There's all kinds of approaches, from strict TL usage, to explaining everything in MT and translating to TL. Top-down text decoding vs. bottom-up sentence building. If we'd managed to refine the process of language teaching to a single, results-guaranteed process, we'd all be teaching that way. I'm assuming that Duolingo believes that maybe their approach is the closest to that magic bullet, so I'm sure as educators we'd all be interested in the thinking behind their methodology.

(2) I have a chance to teach a language (not one currently offered by you guys) and I want to design my course to be as effective as possible. I don't think that traditional textbooks necessarily do this best, so I wanted to get a fresh perspective on the process of course-design.

Looking forward to hopefully hearing from the Duolingo team, as well as the thoughts of other educators on the principles of course design.

February 21, 2016



You should volunteer to help build a course. Then you know exactly how Duo does it:


[deactivated user]

    Hello. I think that they do courses like that : 1. They teach you some really basics words, to have an overview of the language, if we will continue or not. 2. They teach you (still some basics words) and the grammar basics, like how to create a sentence in present, then how do we make a sentence with plural, then how to say that an object is mine or yours, ect.. 3. They teach you some hardest sentences, like in the past or future (or others) with a lot of new words.

    But I think they teach you only the most common words. I'm sure there's a website where we can find the (for example) 3000 most common word used by english-speaker. DuoLingo is here to give you the real basics of a language, not to be an expert.

    Which language do you teach ? I see you live in Guangzhou, so you are chinese ? The problem with chinese is the number of different "draw" that we need to learn to be able to read in chinese. Language with different writing system (like japanese, chinese, maybe thai ?) is hard to create. Russian or Ukrainian were able to be in a course because it's simple for theses language, because there're not 3 or 4 things for 1 letter in latin alphabet, that's why. However, it will be very cool to learn chinese in DuoLingo, even if it will be VERY HARD to learn.


    I am currently homeschooling my child and I find that duolingo is the only thing that works and she enjoys it too!

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