An Open Letter to Mr. Luis Von Ahn and the Staff at Duolingo

Dear Mr. Luis von Ahn and staff at Duolingo,

I am one of the many millions of users on Duolingo and I would like to take a few moments to describe to you my experience over the last year using Duolingo. Just over a year ago, and for personal reasons, I found myself in a position where I needed to learn French. I took the “kitchen sink” approach to the problem and signed up with several language websites including Babbel, Frantastique, News in Slow French, and of course Duolingo. A year later Duolingo is the only site I visit daily. The others I still use frequently, but not to the same extent. Duolingo is unique among the language learning programs and has valuable features that the others lack. It is here on Duolingo that language learners of all levels, from all over the world can interact, support each other, and work collaboratively toward a common goal- the best possible translation, and even more importantly, the improvement of language skills.

It is through this interaction with other learners and through the stories and articles that the languages come alive. Here sentences are linked to sentences forming paragraphs and complex concepts that can only be understood within the context. On Duolingo there is near-instantaneous, native-speaking feedback, both within immersion, as well as in the sentence feature on the discussion forums. Through time, this interaction forges bonds and personal ties to other language learners. We learn from each other as we share ideas, and we truly do become friends, in the full sense of the word. It is a thing of beauty, this bringing people together who would otherwise never meet. Some people here have become very dear to me. This site is alive and vibrant because of the community of people. Contrast this to Babbel which recently made the decision to remove the discussion forum and all user interactions from their website. There is a difference now, the site feels empty and sterile. The human element is missing, and after all, most of us are learning for the sake of communication, and not merely as an academic exercise.

The past few days have been very stressful for the Duolingo community: users, moderators, and I’m sure the staff as well. We are wondering about our friends, and many of us sorely miss reading and translating text that we’d otherwise never encounter. I understand that you are working very hard to restore function to the site on your overtaxed servers. I implore you that as you make decisions about improving the site, and ponder which features to retain and which to cut over the next few weeks and months, that you consider my letter. Duolingo is special because of the depth of the community and interactions cultivated here. The immersion tool and the personal interactions are critical components of Duolingo that make this language resource stand out from all the rest. This thread more fully details that point: That is why I have stayed long after finishing the French course. It is the people and not the “duobots” or “tiny cards” or some of the other tools that really make Duolingo stand out.

I wish to express my gratitude for this gift you, the staff, and the tireless and selfless moderators have given the world. I say to you, gracias, from the bottom of my heart. My hope is that everything can be restored in the near future. We appreciate updates and are eager to learn more as the situation develops.


Rachel (CommeuneTexane)

January 18, 2017


Well spoken, nicely constructed, and proofread ... finding a comment like this anywhere on the internet is like seeing a shooting star; it doesn't happen very often, but it is so satisfying when it does.

Well done, and well said.

Thank you for your kind words; they made me smile.

Facebook: the place whete English went to die

Aptly put, Rachel! Intentionally or not, the model that Duolingo uses truly encourages us to build our own little communities of language learning. It's not always easy to find elsewhere the essential encouragement that these communities give their members. We need them back.

Jo! Good to see you! We do need our community back.

Good to see you too, Rachel! I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

Rachel, for what it's worth, if you need to get hold of particular friends here, the bell alert is still working, so if you reply to a friend's comment on a long-dead thread, you can have a conversation in peace and then delete it. And no one will see it to whinge about clutter because they can't see your stream.

A word of caution: It is possible (and has, in fact, happened) for people with the technical capabilities to break into and read deleted messages. If you have to delete something, it's best to consider whether or not it's something that you'd want others to read.

I think the idea is not to leave unrelated clutter on the thread, rather than to hide the conversation.

I think the idea is not to leave unrelated clutter on the thread, rather than to hide the conversation.

Well, if we had access to the activity streams we wouldn't need to would we.

Ah, gotcha. I understood thread to mean an old conversation on the Activity Stream, not an old discussion. An old messy activity thread shouldn't bother anyone, but I can definitely see how a messy discussion could do so.

Well, of course, if you wanted to communicate a secret message, you could have a lot of fun with it. Post the first bit to x thread, then when acknowledged you replace it with a full stop before deleting (so it never shows when streams are restored). Then reply to a message from the same person on a different ancient thread with the middle bit of the ... er ... message etc...

So for example, to find out whether your friend liked Jilted John in their youth, three messages on three threads saying:


is a


each only posted after the previous one has been read and edited to something unremarkable.


I have been doing that

I was going to post that

But then I thought again

others smarter than me

would have promulgated

about using old posts

to ring the bell of friends


ALways a pleasure to see you

Thank you! I hadn't thought of that.

Well said Rachel, you have neatly encapsulated the thoughts and feelings of a great many of the longest lasting and most dedicated of Duolingo's users.

I second everything you have said, even down to your experience of using other sites. I think you speak for all of us when you say that we truly appreciate and are grateful for the free resources that have been made available to us and all the hard work and dedication of the staff and volunteers. I, like you, sympathise with the technical difficulties that are now being faced but as you have pointed out, careful thought needs to be given to which aspects of the site offer the greatest language learning opportunities and therefore ought to be prioritised.

This is a real and vibrant community of mutual help, understanding and genuine friendships brought about by our shared passion for languages and the unique combination of learning, translation, native feedback and interaction. Without these features Duolingo has little to offer, which cannot be found on other sites, which as you rightly point out, do not have anything to make one return to them day after day. Tiny Cards, Bots and Clubs may be superficially attractive particularly to younger users but they are unlikely to produce the same level of involvement, interaction, motivation and real learning that immersion and the activity streams provide.

Thanks Rachel for posting this discussion and thanks to Luis Von Ahn, his staff and the moderators who are working hard on our behalf. Please Mr Von Ahn, consider carefully the points which have been raised.
  • 267

I agree with you Rachel.
Thank you for this reflection.

Initially, what I found engaging in Duolingo, is that it gave me access to a world wide community that guides me in my language learning. They assist and recommend resources. I can ask questions, and people answer me. I am able to assist others. If I make an incorrect assumption with how a language works, it will be corrected. And usually in a gentle and informative way. We learn so much more from our mistakes, than when we just do things correctly. When we learn from our mistakes, we get a deeper understanding usually of how something works.

Yet, as time has gone on, I must agree with you. It is the friendships that have been forged, that continues to pull me to return and check in on how things are going.

I agree about learning from mistakes and have also had the good fortune to cross paths with extremely patient teachers here. It is also very rewarding to finally understand a concept and be able to explain it to someone else. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

how stands it now with the moderators

are the situation much changed now

I have put a blog because I feared that this would happen

and now that it has happened

it has happened

still got to smile

still got to eat that big jammy doughnut

the more of the changes and the mundane stuff still stays the same

Thanks Rachel - beautifully put. Duolingo is nothing without its community, some of whom I consider, like Rachel, to be dear friends. That, too, is why I faithfully return. I frequently try help out in the sentence forums as well but forum access to them has been closed too. The existing sentence discussions are still there within the lesson but these cannot be accessed externally so new learners may be floundering, looking for assistance where there may be none. By the time someone stumbles on their query they will have moved on.

Merci mon amie, you are dear to me too. I agree about the importance of the sentence discussions. I like to read them even when I don't have a particular question. I often learn nuances or find information at a deeper level than I'd previously understood. It is a great feature.


I very much agree with you

here are some LIngots ingratitude

Language is a lovely living entity

Real, natural people sing the words



You are a poet! Thank you.

Nice letter, is very detailed, interesting and very good wording. I agree with this letter.

Agreed. Without Immersion and social interactions of the community, Duolingo is just a place where you can learn the basic words of a language and nothing more.
  • 1762

Je suis d'accord avec toi.

It seems a decision has been made. I am deeply and bitterly disappointed. Now what? Duolingo is going to lose advanced learners and those who've finished their trees in their respective language(s). Duolingo can't offer them anything anymore. This drain will hurt all language learners on Duo. It is the more experienced learners who volunteer their time answering questions and assisting new users. This is devastating news. Not sure what I will do next... Sad.

I agree with you for the most part. But the only way immersion is a critical component of Duolingo is if everyone has access to it, which many people including myself do not. So far I would choose the club feature over immersion, primarily because I haven't been able to enjoy immersion.

I believe all users should be able to use immersion. If it is ever restored, here is a link to get access: It truly enriches the experience. Good luck!

The only way immersion is a critical component of Duolingo is if most people find it useful. Which is why they are running the AB test. There are those who enjoy it but just as well there are those of us who never got into it despite having access to it and couldn't care less if it was removed today. Correct me if I'm wrong but immersion is a web-only feature anyway, meaning it's only used by a tiny minority of all users at best while draining resources.

Correct me if I'm wrong but immersion is a web-only feature anyway, meaning it's only used by a tiny minority of all users at best

If this is true, it would have little effect on resources.

Considering they are having problems, I would imagine every little helps. People have talked about how the more complicated the site is, the more features it has, the more vulnerable it is to this kind of thing happening.

And if they could finally get rid of immersion instead of halfway having it, they could focus the time and resources saved, ( if any) on new and more ingenuitive ideas. I'm not necessarily for or against immersion, I just think they have run the AB test long enough that by now they should know whether they will keep it or not.

Let's just get our activity streams and the sentence forums back first then, if anyone is left here, we can lobby for immersion.

Just for future reference, since Immersion would usually be available to anyone (minus Duolingo's maintenance/issues this week):

Immersion is quite accessible to everyone. (Well, not at the moment since a lot of Duolingo features are down, but typically it works with these links)

If you would like to be able to view, translate and upvote peoples' work, you can use the Chrome extension:

If you would like to just be able to translate your own work without being able to see others' immersion pages, just click this link:

I was just about to post that link myself :)

YES,YES and YES!! Well said.

Awesome! I can't agree with you more, the staff are incredibly hard workers, and deserve a round of applause.

Jack Elliot, I did not have the pleasure of bumping into you in immersion and making your acquaintance, but I think that was my loss. You seem like a unique and thoughtful person. I am sad for the connections that will be lost, but also for those that will not happen.

take a look at the blog

a few of the translators are going elsewhere

I will let you know more as I get more information

Stay in contact for grew close to the teams

in the Dutch and German immersions

there was a good team in the French

but a lot of in-fighting

which lead to the loss of many of the better translators

The Polish Immersion was good

but then was invaded by trolls

and never really recovered

This whole issue could have been explained better

but now it is gone it is gone

stay in touch

this is a link that where some of the Dutch are going

Thank you!! I am quite literally dashing out the door right now or I'd write more. Thank you. I will find a way to stay in touch.

jrikhal, one of the moderators, made a comment in the very disappointing discussion that Luis posted yesterday. He said that he had personally spoken to one of the staff members, who told him that the activity tab is going to be returned.

I wish to return to the pre crown duolingo

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