Duolingo is the most popular way to learn languages in the world. Best of all, it's 100% free!

https://www.duolingo.com/tariqnisarahmed

Towards a truly multilingual Duolingo

Have you all noticed which beta course currently has the most user/testers? Unless I misread, it is Spanish to French with over 45K participants already!

The next most participation is the first beta course added via the incubator, Russian to English, at over 8K. And even if you added up all the other betas, all of which are teaching English, they add up to much less than the Spanish to French course.

English is the language base of Duolingo, and it is probably the common language of its staff. The one language all of its users currently either know or are learning.

But the tremendous interest in the Spanish to French course might indicate that maybe in the future the "main language" of Duolingo will be Spanish or Chinese or Hindi, or maybe several languages.

English enjoys its place in the world because of colonialism and imperialism. As a result, learning English is valuable. But Duolingo is a classic disruptor, and not only to the industry of teaching foreign languages. In erasing almost all barriers to learning other languages, Duolingo will make exchanges of commerce and knowledge easier for people worldwide.

And thanks to Duolingo courses like Spanish to French, the future may not even rely on English.

4 years ago

31 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/espace13
espace13
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From what I have heard, I think that Duolingo intend to not have what you call a 'Main Language.' I suspect you will eventually be able to learn practically any language from whatever language you want. Sure there is probably a language that the staff principally communicate in (I suspect English or Spanish as DL is based in America), but I suspect that many of them are bilingual (or ever trilingual, possible speaking more) already. With the introduction of the Incubator, and the communication between the contributors and the DL staff, I suspect the the communication that goes on behind the scenes will become more varied in terms of the language the people in question speak in.

With Duolingo's goal of bringing free language education to the world, I suspect DL will not have a main language - it will be people of many languages and nationalities all learning together.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AdoElias

They are learning French because French and Spanish are very similar and everybody says it's really easy for them to learn it. I don't think Duolingo will be much of a disruptor when it comes to changing the weights. Currently there are limited choices for those who don't speak any english and want to learn it. Once there will be like 50 different languages to English, you can count their users. I can guarantee you that most of the people will always choose to learn language only for it's usefulness and for economic benefits. Apart from those who are inspiring polyglots and they enjoy learning many languages, there is no reason and no need for majority of westerners to learn languages like Chinese, Hindi, Russian, Japanese etc. Not in current world and current situation - even though economic power is shifting, English is still to powerful and universal. Why should we change that, when English came so close to an utopian vision of one world language? Of course I agree with the fact that it's extremely useful to know as many languages as you can. This is why I am learning French beside English. Spanish is my next step :) once I am finished with French.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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You should notice that the courses to and from Spanish are also the most popular in incubator Stage 3.

And, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there is in fact great reason for westerners to learn Chinese. English is only the third most spoken language of the world, with Spanish closely ahead of English and Mandarin having more than twice as many speakers as Spanish. Chinese is a huge language for commerce, and, as I've stated in a previous post, most major cities in the United States have a Chinatown.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ilya88
ilya88
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English is definitely the third most spoken native language in the world. However, it takes the first or second place as the spoken language if you count the number of people who learned it as a second language.

And if you count people who can "talk a little English to get by on the street on the internet", English definitely gets the absolute first place.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AdoElias

I have travelled around the world - literally. I have visited more than 40 countries including Japan and China. Of course there is a huge number of people speaking Chinese and Hindi....why? Because there is like 2.5 billion people living there combined. But this is not a reason to learn a language. I can assure you that the majority of Europeans will NEVER start learning Chinese or Hindi. An Americans won't start either. Not in my life.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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The reason American's don't learn Chinese is because it is too expensive to find a course to teach it effectively. Whenever I talk to somebody about languages, one of the things I hear the most is, "Yes, but what I'd really like to learn is Chinese, but it's just too complicated." If Duolingo could make it possible, I have no doubt it would quickly rise to the top.

I can't speak for Europe, but I can say that it is not the only continent in the world.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AdoElias

But I am afraid Duolingo can't make learning Chinese easier. Accessible - yes of course - but not easier. And this is the biggest problem. Even in China not everybody speaks Mandarin. And for westerners languages like Japanese, Chinese and Korean will be always very alien, different, difficult to comprehend and learn in a first place. Therefore not very popular choice :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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Duolingo has made learning European languages easier, what makes you think the Asian languages will be any different? Just because they'll still be more difficult than the European languages, doesn't mean they won't be easier than they are without Duolingo. The fact that it will be free means that more people will be willing to put forth the effort to learn something they've always dreamed of learning but have balked at because of its difficulty.

And yes, in China only about 70% of the people speak Mandarin ( http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size ), that doesn't change the fact that many Westerners want to learn it.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/blizzard-spider

I must disagree with you in that mandarin is so very difficult to learn. In fact, learning mandarin (especially writing!) is one of the most fun things I have ever done. Yes, it is very different, but that is what makes it so incredibly awesome to me, and I´ve found that it being different does not really affect how ´easy´ it is. No language is really easy to learn because most are different enough from the one(s) you speak to make you have to learn a new sound and way of writing for every word, and therefore building a mandarin chinese vocabulary happens just as quickly as building any other vocabulary.

But, I suppose that because chinese seems a little intimidating you can be more reluctant te learn it (even though, in my opinion, the actual grammar is one of the easiest ones I have encountered yet, way easier than any latin based language, although I am not really an advanced learner myself so I might just not have encountered the hard bits)

I must advise everyone out there to learn mandarin (or another language they think is ´too different´), because it is simply the best experience you can have with a language.

Sorry for the wall of text, I just wanted to defend the somewhat ´more´ foreign languages because they are awesome!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/curlyeric
curlyeric
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Speak for yourself. I know how important it is to expand my horizons, especially when Asian languages will be so important in this century. At our university a day does not go by where I don't see student speaking one of the Chinese dialects ( can't be positive, but pretty sure ).

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ontalor
Ontalor
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As someone who has traveled the world, I'm surprised you haven't noticed how far from any idea of utopia the world actually is when we try to make everyone learn English.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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This reminds me remarkably of my response to the following question recently posed in a graduate course I am attending, "Ruiz (1984) proposed 3 perspectives on language around which people vary. What is the prevalent viewpoint in the US? Which viewpoint do you like the most? Why?"

My response:
Too often I think language is viewed as a problem. The imperialist patriotic attitude that dominates in the United States, that our way is best and that people in other countries should strive to be more like us, is exacerbated by the fact that English is the primary language of the internet and one of the most sought-after language for people in the world to learn. The fact that it has become this way because of issues of power and global dominance don't enter into the minds of many people who live in this country.

The fact of the oppression of people who speak so-called "minority" languages (though in reality the "minority" language most often referenced in this country, Spanish, actually has more native speakers than English on a global scale according to http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size ), has resulted in certain push back from the oppressed communities, and led to changes in laws, making the view of language as a right the view held by a number of lawmakers and activists.

Personally, however, my personal view is that of language as a resource. The more languages someone knows, the more flexibility of thought they have, and the more global resources they can draw on. I'm currently reading Pensamiento y lenguaje by Vygotsky. I've already read two English translations of this book and am now trying a Spanish translation. However, I am certain that reading this book in either English or Spanish I am missing out on certain nuances of the original Russian. Being able to read something in the original language is an immensely valuable skill, but even more valuable is being able to communicate with more people. The more languages a person knows the greater the potential for this to occur.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IG88
IG88
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Minority language speakers in the U.S. aren't "oppressed."

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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Really? When did bilingual instruction become the norm in this country?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IG88
IG88
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So that's your standard for oppression? That means many minority language speakers in most countries should be considered oppressed then, including minority language speakers throughout Latin America.

There are hundreds of minority languages spoken by millions of people across the U.S. Do you honestly believe that bilingual education could or should be provided for all of them?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rewong
rewong
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In a way, there is a certain level of language oppression (the "English-Only Movement) in the U.S. There has been legislation aiming to repeal language services, such as getting rid of translations of voting registration documents and such. Politicians in some states have also pushed bills that would ban bilingual education. There have been incidents in which students have been forbidden or punished for speaking another language at school.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IG88
IG88
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Well, I think you're referring to mostly unsuccessful attempts at legislation and a few negative instances.

Currently in the United States, hundreds of languages are spoken at home and in minority language communities all over the place. In the little city I live in, there are more storefront and billboard signs in Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean then there are in English. There are easily accessible TV and radio stations and websites in foreign languages throughout the country. It isn't a legal or nationwide policy to prevent other languages from being spoken or used, many government services do provide foreign language translations and steps have even been taken by the U.S. government to correct former wrongs against indigenous languages like Hawaiian.

In my view it is in the interest of any nation to push for one dominant, nationally universal language, and most nations do, including other first-world, pluralistic democracies. I don't think there is anything wrong with expecting immigrants (with some exceptions) to learn English and the expectation or belief that all services and education should be offered in a bilingual version to cover all minority languages is just plain unrealistic, even utopian, and the idea that if speakers of a minority language aren't receiving bilingual education then they're being oppressed is just silly.

If I was abrasive, it's because certain people like the OP and revdolphin seem to like to single out English and talk about as if it's the Machiavelli of languages when most major languages also got to be major languages "because of issues of power and global dominance" and/or enjoy their "place in the world because of colonialism and imperialism."

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IG88
IG88
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@tariqnisarahmed

You know Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic and Japanese, for example (some of the other most spoken languages), also have extremely brutal periods in their history in which they were forced on other people and were used to suppress other languages? I'd argue that Spanish and Portuguese especially have a history just as bad if not worse in scale than the history of English, and they continue to threaten various indigenous languages just as English does.

But that history you mention is not an example of modern oppression of minority languages. It is not a policy of the United States government today to squash indigenous languages, but it's not like anyone can revive them just by saying sorry or snapping their fingers, and immigrant languages are not legally suppressed either.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tariqnisarahmed

Not to mention the almost universal theft of indigenous languages from the children of "first nations" in schools run by missionaries. That loss of language, religion, and history lasted for perhaps longer than "America" itself.

It is an ugly legacy that most Americans conveniently ignore, even more than the broken treaties, even more than massacres such as Wounded Knee even more than the role of chattel slavery in funding the coast-to-coast growth of the United States.

And those slaves, too, lost their languages and religions when they were ripped from the lands of their fathers, when families were broken up.

It would be wonderful if some of the descendants of those casualties of American history were able to reconnect with lost ancestral treasure through Duolingo.

Such hope is not an indictment of any people or language -- history more than suffices for that.

But recounting the history here is needed particularly to express the very great need for that hope.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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That is one standard. I'm not going to get into all the political and social ramifications of forcing children to learn English without support of their native language when they live in communities that do not speak English, nor am I going to get into all the other forms of oppression and discrimination that occur in this country toward speakers of many languages in general, and specifically Spanish speakers (as the majority "minority" language). I am clearly not making any headway among you Eurocentrists and am leaving this conversation.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Zach1337

Eurocentrists? What? Where in the world did that come from? According to you, all native Spanish speakers in the US who aren't part of a bilingual classroom are oppressed, so I agree, there is no conversation to be had.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IG88
IG88
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Euro-centrists? You know where Spanish came from, right?

So what, you think children living in United States shouldn't have to learn English at all if they live in some little community where English isn't dominant? So you're not really an advocate for bilingual education, just an enemy of forcing American children to learn the dominant language of the country they live in. You'd be fine with kids growing up monolingual if they were monolingual in Spanish or Chinese or Vietmanese, huh?

EDIT: This was in reply to revdolphin's comment before he edited it. He originally stated: "... the political and social ramifications of forcing children to learn English when they live in communities that do no..."

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MRMsys
MRMsys
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Just an observation: One can't force children to learn a language! That's what children DO! They just absorb it... it's amazing. Have you ever even been around children in a multilingual setting? Also, do you seriously not realize that human beings are not born with a native language? They acquire one (or two or three!) from their parents/friends/school/etc. Guess what that means? Children who learn English are native English speakers, by definition.

And then, according to you, by definition they will proceed to oppress everyone else on earth who speaks another language... sigh

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BobbieL
BobbieL
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Children actually REALLY don't learn languages as easily and smoothly as people like to think. Their brains work hard at it, and they get frustrated and they feel isolated.

A big part of the reason that children often manage to absorb new languages more effectively than adults is that they have fewer tools available to help them avoid it. Adults can pick up new languages just about as effectively as kids (sometimes better). They just usually don't do so in practice because they're more likely to find a way to avoid it.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Zach1337

Did you seriously just say that? Wow, just wow. You have no understanding of what the word "oppression" means whatsoever and have mocked people who are actually oppressed by misusing it so horribly.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MRMsys
MRMsys
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You seriously gave that response to a question posed in a graduate level course? Either you did, and that's mind-blowing, or you didn't, and just wanted to subtly mention that you are in a "graduate course" related to linguistics in a lame attempt to establish your authority on the topic at hand. I'd say that attempt backfired.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Zach1337

You are very naive if you think that Duolingo can displace English as the international language. If anything, Duolingo is helping it maintain its position and will continue to do so. It doesn't matter that the most taken beta course is Spanish to French, the most taught language on Duolingo by far is English. It's not even a contest. English also happens to be the most studied foreign language in the world, so I can't see that changing because of Duolingo. It's always interesting to see these fantasy scenarios where English loses its dominance laid out, but they just don't coincide with reality. The world needs an international language, and there is absolutely no sign whatsoever that English will be losing that position any time soon.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/buunny
buunny
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Just another reason to learn all the languages. No matter what the main language is on Duolingo, I want to be able to write in it at least.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ontalor
Ontalor
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Athough Spanish to French does have the most, we don't have any numbers on how many new learners there would be for a new course for English speakers. I think the reason it has the highest numbers is because there was already a course for Spanish speakers on here, the English course, so there was already a large base of users who would be aware of Duolingo, be able to try the course immediately, and share it with friends. For all of these other languages, Duolingo wasn't accessible to those language communities before, and so the release of those courses was the first time people would begin to share this site with friends and it would begin to spread like it already had in some Spanish speaking communities.

Also, it's interesting to see how quickly people argue against the idea of English not being a world language. Personally I'm 100% for everyone learning Esperanto first because no country or people should have that global advantage, and it takes a lifetime to properly learn a language, which the vast majority of people around the world are not willing or able to do just to communicate with a few foreigners. But Esperanto takes anywhere from a fourth to a tenth of the time to learn as a natural language. I'm just excited for when it gets released on Duo because I know it's gonna give a massive boost to the Esperanto community.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/curlyeric
curlyeric
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My main concern with Duo "as a tool" is the sentences and vocab do not necessarily pick up / reflect the nuances of languages the further you get from English. This can be seen in some of the difficulty with getting a tenseless language like Chinese into Beta and the fact that some of the more interesting and important tenses in European languages ( the french subjunctive ) do not get the teaching they need.

I have pushed myself to work daily towards reading and writing french and it helps a lot, I would not be here without Duo, but I think it can be improved upon.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tariqnisarahmed

Was very surprised to see so many comments about bilingual education. I think if one puts aside all the poiltics related to the issue, we should be able to find common ground in the hope that Duolingo helps children all over the world.

And as far as those children living or being educated in multilingual environments, Duolingo should practically be their all-time most-used app! It's not a threatening environment to learn in, rather the opposite. And they can compete with their friends regardless of language.

Finally, to clarify what I meant by "main language" was basically the language in which Duolingo staff communicate with each other and moderators when working on Duolingo matters. I agree there may already be two such languages depending on the staff and corporate culture of Duolingo. :)

Hey! Can we get a "Day in the life" of Duolingo documentary? :)

I still see a world where Duolingo (or some inheritor or competitor even) transforms the world as we know it. When? I don't know. Change into what? I am incorrigibly optimistic, so I am not worried about the details. But change it will because technologies that spread without borders while making knowledge more accessible to more people than ever before -- such technologies cannot help but change the world.

4 years ago