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Duolingo for threatened languages / Shawnee

Is there any process to start building a course for endangered languages? Specifically thinking of Native American languages that are at risk, such as Shawnee (less than 200 remaining speakers). This could be a fantastic way to record the language before it is lost and build a tool for teaching it, but obviously if Duo is only selecting courses based on the number of speakers / availability of fluent volunteers then it will be an issue. However, if we could open it up at least for the purposes of recording where possible it might help revitalize some of these languages in the long run.

I have a contact that might be able to get a few native speakers involved if we could get this started for Shawnee, but I'm not sure how to go about that on the Duolingo side. Does anyone know if there is a process for submitting this / contact person to discuss this with beyond just posting in the forum?

Thanks in advance!


May 29, 2017



The place for developing new courses on Duolingo is the Duolingo Incubator. There is a big white "Contribute to a Course" button at the top - you can't miss it!

Sadly, however, you can't just apply for a course and start contributing. Duolingo has to decide that they're going to add that course first. I would recommend reading Lrtward's guide I would like a new course. What should I do? to get started.

You might want to read Duo goes to America. This series of discussions is a neat way to ask for a language. The writer of the discussion puts Duolingo's mascot (the green owl) into the environment of whatever language, and at the end pleads for Duolingo to add that language to the Incubator.

Duolingo has multiple millions of learners, and each want to add their own language. It's very difficult to get Duolingo to put in a new course, and there's not much you can do. Following the directions in Lrtward's guide are definitely the best thing you can do for Duolingo and the learners around you.


Thanks NoNo! I'm actually familiar with the Incubator (I was an alpha tester for the Swahili course), but as you said we can only apply to contribute to existing courses, not add new ones. And that guide is how I ended up here posting this thread, I was just hoping maybe there was a better way to get it going when it is for languages that are threatened/scarcely spoken. Thanks for sharing the Duo goes to America thread though, very cool!


I'm sorry, I didn't realize this was the first post of its kind. Thank you for responding. =)


Thank you, I appreciate all of the info! :)


It's possible to apply for any language combination. There's an option for "other" at the bottom of both the target and source language menus in the form to apply as a contributor.

Given that there were once hopes for a coordinated effort for Native American languages, but they collapsed upon an apparent U.S. government decision not to provide the mooted funding, I have to think that the "better way to get it going" is call up your Congressman or Senator and convince them to sponsor an increased appropriation or at least ring up whoever it is in the Bureau of Indian Affairs who would have the authority to allocate funds to encourage them to support such an endeavor.


Hi piguy3, thanks for the info! I will try to submit via that button, but I imagine I will still run into the problem of lack of interest since this is more about preservation than actual demand... definitely worth a try though! And that's a great idea re: contacting a Congressman or maybe a representative from the tribe to request it from Duo... Apparently part of the reason that Duo decided to offer Welsh was because the Prime Minister of Wales contacted them directly about how helpful it would be for preservation efforts, so who knows.



One issue is that such small languages (less than 200 speakers today) will probably not attract enough interest among presumptive learners. I feel that even in my language (10 million speakers) there are many situations where one "has" to switch to English, and many topics where things cannot be properly discussed without either using English throughout, or - perhaps the most common - mixing up the language with English words. (Finance being one such area for instance. I don't know how many powerpoint presentations I've seen where the text is entirely in English and the speaker speaks in my language but uses english nouns whenever he/she encounters a "difficult word". )


Why aren't you naming your language?


It didn't seem important. :)


Yep, I would think that would definitely be the biggest issue. Not knowing the behind the scenes working of the program, it seems like Duo could provide a template (language tree of phrases, verb tense conjugations, etc.) of what they require for a course that could be worked on even outside of the actual Incubator, right? If there were a guide for what exactly is required for a course to reach certain steps, it seems like we could get started on pretty much any language and they could hold off on actually uploading/programing it until they had some kind of legitimate verification that it was accurate... So in this instance, I could work on getting phrases and translations written and recorded before getting the official stamp of approval, and get the details sorted later.


I'd have to think that such an accumulated database of sentences/translations and recordings would be a valuable learning tool no matter what. A language preservation effort would necessarily have a much larger scope than is the norm for Duolingo. And there's nothing stopping any organization with the will from making their own app. It looks like some of the apps out there for Native American languages even predate Duolingo!


Shawnee is my first choice for a Native American language. I have been able to find a few printed references, but they are not great and very sparse. I wish we could figure out how to do this before it's too late.

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