Taking an Official Language Exam after Duolingo (with Add-on?)
Someone asked on Reddit what level can be reached using Duolingo. In the EU, people are used to getting a quick and meaningful answer to this question, as almost all textbooks and language classes refer to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), largely advertising which level they are aiming at, and all official language exams throughout the EU are based on the standardized CEFR levels and level descriptions. This makes it easy to identify the appropriate textbook you need to study in order to be able to pass a certain exam, or to know which exam you have a chance of passing after completing whatever material you're working on, or, through the self-evaluation guide, to tell potential employers something more meaningful than "advanced level".
It's not just for Europeans though - if you're American and you want to have your German/French/Spanish officially tested and get a certificate for it, you'd likely go to the Goethe Institut, the Alliance Française, the Istituto Cervantes - and they test according to the CEFR. All around the world you can take these official standardized CEFR-based tests.
So I evaluated the currently-available materials on Duolingo in as much as I could with reference to the CEFR levels and the CEFR tests. Detailed evaluation at http://www.reddit.com/r/duolingo/comments/187e3d/to_which_level_duolingo_brings_you/
To cut to the chase, it seems that a B1-level exam should be possible after studying Duolingo, but it requires some extra practise particularly when it comes to conversations and listening comprehension.
Then I thought: what if we provided add-on materials for Duolingo that would aim to fix these weaknesses? Materials that look at what Duolingo teaches and then teach everything that people still need to know in order to pass the standardized B1 exam? Or, once Duolingo adds more vocabulary, the B2 exam even?
This would be material that doesn't fit the current Duolingo format, for example conversation scripts and audio recordings in a variety of human voices, or advice on how to master the written assignments, tailored specifically to people graduating from Duolingo.
Is there anyone besides me who would use or create such materials?
This is a really interesting discussion. In case you haven't seen it, this relates a little to our latest blog post: http://blog.duolingo.com/post/41960192602/duolingos-data-driven-approach-to-education
We are actually working towards offering students the possibility of taking a standardized test whenever they want (for free) in exchange for us getting to know the score. The test we plan to offer is accepted in US universities as a placement exam. So you'll get a free placement exam, and we'll get data that helps us measure and improve how well we teach every language.
That's a neat idea, and generous of you. Unfortunately WebCAPE isn't known in Europe; European universities generally want to see CEFR certificates, or, failing that, you have to do their language exam. Same if you apply for a visa or for citizenship.
The difference between WebCAPE and the CEFR exams is that WebCAPE tests knowledge, while the CEFR exams attempt to test abilities. This reflects different needs: American universities want to know what you have been taught already so that they can decide what to teach you next. European universities / governments / employers want to know to what extent you can function in your target language, whether you'll be able to integrate in society, follow lectures in your target language etc. On average there is some correlation between knowledge of a language and ability in it, but it's not absolute: some people can easily get by on 1000 words while others are still tongue-tied with 5000.
This site offers mock CEFR exams for various languages: http://www.telc.net/en/what-telc-offers/spanish/telc-espanol-b1/practice-material/ (choose your language and level on the left, then click the "Practise material" tab). The Goethe Institut has more, but just for German: http://www.goethe.de/lrn/prj/pba/bes/gzd/mat/deindex.htm . I don't think you can find a service similar to WebCAPE for Europe, because these exams test free written and oral production as well, requiring human grading.
I'd do that. Would find it interesting, if it was a real test, not just multiple choice. Though I use Duolingo only as part of my spanish learning; I use Pimsleur for vocal practice, and do a huge amount of radio listening and newspaper reading. So I don't know what you'd learn from your tests unless you asked takers to describe all of their language learning activities.
This might be a good starting point: https://docs.google.com/folder/d/0B9ZGasID5ol7Q3YycHZSbDYtWjQ/edit?pli=1 (click "Resources & Supplements for language learning") It's from the duolingo subreddit.
That is an excellent idea! I am currently learning Spanish, in the hopes of being able to using it on the job one day. For this, I'd certainly need to know my CEFR level, so it would be great if Duolingo offered CEFR exams. I one took some Spanish lessons at a sort of community college, which also taught according to CEFR levels and provided useful audio CDs with conversations. I could provide materials for German lessons, seeing as German is my native language.
I think this is a good idea, but the aim of Duolingo is crowd sourcing for translating documents on the web. In other words, the trade off for Duolingo's "teaching" is that they get documents translated by users for free. I don't see how the supplemental materials would fit into the Duolingo business model.
It seems to me to make perfect business sense.
To begin with, DuoLingo improves and then gets to show off the quality of their user base. That "translates" into presumably better quality translations done by those better-trained users. Those users with newly-improved skills then become much more "useful" in the business world. Further down the road, assuming DuoLingo CAN actually significantly raise the competency levels of would-be translators, and be able to demonstrate that on accepted exams, such as the ones offered in the EU, then DuoLingo will be poised to become a leader in both teaching language and providing free or low cost translation services. It's a marriage made in linguistic heaven. I'm brand new to this service, but, from what I'm seeing so far, the service comprises most of what I would look for, and with the addition of audio and conversational opportunities, it would be unbelievable, to my thinking, to offer this service for free.
Right now, if I want to study audio tapes in one language, I go to LoMasTV and pay them 10 dollars U.S. per month per language. The tapes are often of very low quality, and they really offer little else there. Here, I am studying 4 languages, getting some sound, and plenty of writing practice. Now, they are talking about even adding the opportunity to study recordings and implementing some of the other things which are needed to officially certify skills in accepted institutes of learning. It's hard to find fault with that. It's exciting, new, and if they can pull it off, I believe, an outstanding business model to boot. Excellent idea!