Rude Email to my wife received from Duolingo. She is a Duolingo host.

My wife is not american so this might be a cultural issue. I have no idea who to speak to so i'll lay out all the information here, hopefully this can be addressed as we both support and love Duolingo very much.

Here is the situation: She is a German and an ESL teacher. To help the local community she has been volunteering for free to host local German meetups on Duolingo. she has been working hard setting up venues and allocating different portions of the meet ups to cater to the different levels of learners. she brings games to play and is very interactive and front facing on behalf of duolingo. she's been building up a local user base and has been pretty successful networking in our area. There is more but you get the idea. she's working pretty hard without any pay from this.

She received what I assume was a mass mailing to the hosts of theses meetups. It came off as nothing but very condescending to her hard work. In addition subjecting her to evaluations like she was an employee of Duolingo, was not conveyed in a productive way. I understand why duolingo is evaluating everyone, its part of the science behind what makes it work well. Where duolingo excels in the science of language, it as a company lacks in basic communication skills. It could have been phrased 1000x better, instead of putting my wife in tears.

Instead of telling your hosts what to do, you should perhaps talk to them directly asking for their feedback, before you start "evaluating" them. They have a lot of information and ideas to improve attendance etc. I talk with my wife after every meetup, so I know there are ideas. Their labor is free, and that seems to be forgotten. I could be wrong, but my feeling is this free work is being shown off to stakeholders or someone high up so show what a success the expansion of the ecosystem is.

As a notation she had a very positive evaluation. However that is not the point.

We love Duolingo and its approach to language very much. However I am not sure at this time if she will continue hosting meetups anymore.

Is she wrong for feeling so bad?

April 3, 2018


Hi Mayor.Tony, I oversee the Events program at Duolingo and I am really concerned by your post. No one should ever feel judged or disrespected by participating in our ambassador programs. I want to understand more so that it doesn't happen again.

We do send updates on how our Events program is doing overall (as it is a Labs project) and I have included the most recent email verbatim below. We also collect attendee surveys after each event and share these with Hosts if they request the responses. Our Slack group is another active channel where every host is invited to engage directly with others, share photos, ideas, challenges, resources, etc.

The idea of individual evaluations is not something I am aware of. Could this be an email from one of the attendees? While Hosts' personal email addresses are obviously not public, there is a "contact the host" form that attendees can submit on the chapter page once they join. Regardless, I feel terrible that something sent to your wife left her in tears, can you please forward the email to me directly at so that I can get to the bottom of this and make changes?

Thank you!

Here is the most recent communication that we sent:

Oh hey, Event Hosts!

Last time I emailed, we had just passed the 500th Event milestone. Today, Events #811-829 took place, and the total number is 875 if you include every event scheduled through the end of the month.

First, wow. This is incredible. Thank you for truly mobilizing our mission and bringing free education to the world. Your photos and stories are inspirational and I share them with the entire company on a weekly basis.

Second, I come with announcements! If you're active on Slack (hint, hint) you already know about them, so give yourself a high five, archive this email, and carry on with your day.

Recurring Events

I'm working with our developers (read: begging them) to build a solution for recurring events. I know firsthand what a pain it is to create a new event every. single. time. (Especially for those rockstars among you with fortnightly and even weekly events). At minimum, we need a one-click button to "copy last event" so all you have to change is the date. But ideally, a set-and-forget button that repeats events automatically. They have committed to finding a solution, so I'll keep you in the loop as I know more.

Events IN Duolingo

Events are being promoted within Duolingo! What does this mean? The simplified version is that when a user (on web) finishes a lesson, they will see a screen promoting Events (in their own language) that links directly to your chapter page. We specifically target people that are in your city, learning your group's language, and at certain level within the course. There are a ton more details around frequency, restrictions, and privacy that I won't bore you with (ask me directly on slack if you are concerned or curious!), but I would LOVE to hear if and when you A. see the screen yourself and/or B. see a boost in your member list or RSVPs. So far, it's made a large impact in traffic, and our goal is to grow your chapters' member lists.

*Also, this is your chance! If you have ideas for other places Duolingo Events could fit nicely into Duolingo, reply and let me know!

Swag is coming!

More on this soon, but get excited for these and a few other special items... ​ I have to stop myself from getting mushy every time I email all of you, because I am so incredibly inspired by what we have built together. I hope you all know how much I appreciate the individual effort you put behind each event you hold, and the difference you are making in people's lives through them.


April 3, 2018

Hi Laura, Thank for your reply, The email in question was not the above ** however it seems the email did originate from you. Though more, likely it was an automated message which you drafted.

I was away from keyboard for a while, which allowed me to marinate on where the issue is. While there is definitely a cultural issue at play I would love to help you with how it could have been handled better.

Usage of communication tools such as slack i don't think was communicated well. (i love slack, but i don't think she knows what it is or that duolingo has one). Unless you are in the know, it feels like being dictated to.

Ill talk with her tonight and see if we can formulate better wording you could have used and reply back to the email. I think that is the only way to see where the issue was.

April 4, 2018

Thank you, that would be very helpful. And thanks for helping make this project (and thereby Duolingo) better for everyone! An email to will go to me and everyone else involved, and your feedback is very appreciated.

April 4, 2018

also she had no idea about slack. You may want to tell the hosts about it.

April 4, 2018

Mayor.Tony the thing is, we also can understand the Duolingo coordinators, in that they have a bajillion hosts in tons of different cities, right? So what they did is put together those onboarding documents, and it´s up to each one of us to read that document (or those documents), and see all the resources they give us. That slack group, was either in the email or in one of the documents, so it is a lot of information to read, and maybe they could highlight that a little better, but to be fair, she as a host was given all the same documents and emails we received, so that is a little bit on you guys to read through everything too, don´t you think? 0:)

April 4, 2018

Yep, (to zanza´s post) I feel the same way - I haven´t felt this from Duolingo and I don't want to invalidate anyone´s feelings or anything, but from what I understand it´s the users or attendees who are sending feedback. As a teacher and event coordinator, I know that when someone goes to a party, they have no idea what goes into putting one of these events together, and they´re rarely sensitive to that fact...

For example, I personally walk around my events making sure I never see someone alone, and if I do I introduce them to people (mind you my events are between 50-70 people so it´s a lot!) and I personally the same as your wife bring games and multi-level activities, and I had a couple attendees say I should control the event more and guide people through the activities to sort of chaperone the equal use of Spanish and English. Another person said he got bored.. lol I have spent hours planning this stuff, and also if I´m 1 person, and it says it´s hosted by 1 person, it would be impossible for me to personally sit with each of the 70 people! But anyway, people just comment without taking stuff like that into account, and I think me as a host, I try to see it as either it´s constructive criticism, or it´s not and I brush it off. Anyway, those people are not Duolingo employees, and they don´t necessarily care how I feel or whatever, they´re just coming to learn and go sometimes. So I also take that into account.

I think when we put so much of ourselves and our time and energy into these events, it definitely hurts when people so nonchalantly comment about it, but I have had NOTHING but support from the two coordinators, Laura and Denise, and I think that if you look again, maybe that´s true for your wife? Perhaps it seemed like it came from Duolingo, but they have never evaluated us other than to compliment our activities or troubleshoot problems/issues we have.. Or if we ask to be evaluated they do. But yeah I hope that helps and that your wife doesn´t stop participating - these events really bring me a lot of joy as a host myself, so as we say in Spanish animo don´t get discouraged and I know the Duolingo staff supports y'all <3

April 3, 2018

I'm also an event host and would just like to quickly share my experience. From my perspective Laura and the Duolingo team have done a brilliant job and I've always felt really well supported! As I'm someone without a lot of previous experience hosting events, I've always appreciated the feedback and encouragement from others in the community. Personally, I've never felt the feedback was harsh or critical.

I would definitely encourage any hosts that are not in the Slack community to join up and login - it makes me feel a lot more connected to the other hosts around the world (even if I don't have time to actively post a lot) because people share their wonderful event pictures and ideas.

I'm sorry that your wife was upset and I hope this can be resolved quickly!

April 4, 2018

Would you please give some details? I can't imagine Duo staff being condescending...maybe I'm just naive.

April 3, 2018

It’s hard to lead a group of volunteers - kudos to all who do! - and you cannot make everyone happy. However, especially in an international group such as this is, it is usually best to air on the side of formality. Most of the world is not as informal as the USA.

Starting a communication with...”oh, hey” for one. That strikes me as false and overly familiar, and I’m not even much of a Brit. Plus - slack - bane of my work life. If it’s required, give instructions, and if not, then don’t divide communication into us and them. Stick with one channel for team-wide notices.

My two cents as a bi-continental person.

April 4, 2018

While I agree this is an intercontinental community (without a doubt!), the cheerful, casual responses are one of the things that I absolutely LOVE about Duolingo. I think it humanizes the staff, and it makes me feel like part of a TEAM, rather than that I'm dealing with an unfeeling corporate entity. Admittedly, that may be my own American bias showimg. However, were the feedback emails in question more formalized, I think there is a much stronger likelihood that the intent may be misconstrued and that they may be interpreted in a negative way, as opposed to how they are presented now.

Communicating with Duolingo is fun, not a chore (or a job - we are volunteers, after all), and I would be so, so sad to see that change. To that end, I must respectfully and politely disagree with the suggestion made. I see the casualness as part of Duolingo's culture, not as a promotion of US communication ideals or norms. The majority of companies in the US do not communicate this way, as I'm sure you're well aware. But I think it's one of Duolingo's strengths that they embrace a friendlier vibe.

For what it's worth, all potential hosts do go through an onboarding session, which is probably not common knowledge. Part of that is an introduction to hosting guidelines, as well as a discussion about and brief introduction to Slack. It's not my most favorite platform ever, but it serves its purpose just fine and is the main form of communication / discussion (which is made pretty clear during the session, as I recall.) So it's not that only some people are getting the information; everyone has access to it at all times. We also receive very occasional emails when big announcements are made, just in case people haven't seen the thread on Slack (which is actually quite well organized).

I 100% agree that it's difficult to lead a group of volunteers, and I think Laura has done a fabulous job.

***All just IMHO, of course. I'm not representing the company here.

April 4, 2018

Certainly you understand it better than I. And I am glad you feel so positively about it. No doubt it is challenging to pull off making progress with so many diverse team members.

I have learned in a business environment over time that my natural American enthusiasm often needs to be tempered to facilitate dialogue. I spoke from that perspective.

April 4, 2018

And I think it's a valuable perspective! My love is Japanese (and lives in Japan), so I certainly appreciate the value of tempering my American enthusiasm. Lol But Duolingo's culture, at least what I've glimpsed if it, is very endearing to me. So, I do tend to feel a bit protective of it. ;)

If it were a different company or a different environment where Laura's emails felt in any way out of line with the company's values, I'm sure we'd be on the exact same page. But her friendly demeanor is just what I've come to expect from, and respect about, Duolingo.

So happy to engage in a civil conversation with you! People like you help make our community strong and our discussions worthwhile. :)

(Wish I had a clever, Duo-related phrase I could use here, but I'm coming up short. Any ideas?)

April 4, 2018

You would be correct. I have also learned that you can still be friendly without being overtly American about it. I only know about this as I live with a German.

By itself is simply an annoyance. If it is coupled with an unexpected and unwanted work review from someone who doesn't pay you, it becomes insulting.

April 4, 2018

This past year I've been working a lot with Japanese and German colleagues. It's been fantastic, but requires adjustment.

April 4, 2018

I can't think of another way to word this more politely at the moment, so I'll have to kindly ask that you accept my word that it's meant in a friendly tone.

Could you please expound upon what you mean by someone being "overtly American" and how/why it's perceived as annoying?

I'm genuinely curious.

I was married to a Persian for 15 years and certainly picked up on many things that were pet peeves of his family (the common American pronunciation of Iran as eye-ran, instead of ee-rahn, for example), but I don't have much exposure to German culture.

Can you elaborate?

April 4, 2018

If you just gave a sandwich to a homeless person, would you expect a performance review along with instructions on how you can do better next time? never mind your own ideas.

the email was very friendly in itself in a very american tone which didn't help (shes German, they have different communication style.) The tone was lost which didn't help matters, as its perceived as fake and not trustworthy.

something,something, gift-horse.

April 3, 2018

I'm sure the feedback was meant to be helpful, but I can understand why someone would not find it that way.

I think some guidelines have to be set for hosts, so maybe that was the intention. Nothing personal.

April 3, 2018

I agree with you in every way. I think they just misplaced their audience and forget the hosts are not employees.

April 3, 2018

This is another American perspective I think you might tell me (:P) but also I think the reviews are something they put just as a general procedure thing; it´s nice sometimes when you do something to see what the feedback is, and people are too shy to tell us criticism, so they send it via mail. As hosts, we might want to see what people are saying, to see if we can get feedback, but the other thing is honestly, we don´t have to even read the reviews, or care or take into account what they say. These events are free, they are driven by us, and we have complete creative freedom to do what we want (within reason obviously), and what our members and we come up with, so in the end if you don´t like the reviews, don´t read them! Duolingo never obligated us to base anything on the reviews, honestly I think they sent them out because a bunch of us were asking to see them shrug That was never a mandate, so I think that statement about them treating us like employees they order around is not really fair... the only thing we were told is have fun, learn language together, and if you want/need we´ll help you with themes and challenges. :)

April 4, 2018

I think more likely they never imagined anyone would take the feedback as a personal evaluation or judgement by them. The data is a summary of attendee feedback and meant to be used for self-evaluation. Your wife can look at the data and determine if she is accomplishing her own goals. And the staff has helpfully included some additional resources, too.

But if that was not clear to your wife, there may be others who also misunderstand the purpose, so I'm sure the staff will be glad to have your feedback and suggestions.

April 5, 2018

Just throwing my opinion on this as another event host - I've never had an issue with the Duolingo staff and have found the events to be a great addition to the site.

I am sorry for whatever caused your wife to be upset but I'm sure it wasn't intentional.

April 4, 2018

Dear Mayor.Tony,

It’s likely that the email you’re referencing came from me. Does it share positive attendee feedback and a link to resources we've compiled from Hosts around the world, plus an invitation to reply the email with questions, ideas, or just a chat?

Before I go on, I want to thank you for starting this conversation; I firmly believe that conversations are the solution to cultural (or simply individual) differences. I’m born and bred in Asia, married to an Englishman and live in Europe; nothing American about me (besides liking them a lot).

I’d love to apologise to your wife personally and start a conversation. I feel so bad for causing her unhappiness. ‘Misunderstandings’ and ‘misinterpretations’ are to me the best opportunities to learn and know each other better. Some of my deepest friendships started with ‘I don’t understand her at all’. Please encourage her to reply to the email so we can clear the air and turn this negativity into positivity.

On the topic of moving forward positively, please do email your recommended edits that would have prevented this unpleasant outcome. I’ve already added an invitation to join our Slack group, but really, I want to hear from you.

I love our global community of hosts and my daily work is a reminder of the generosity and kindness of beautiful people who have come together and became unstoppable because we’re working together. It pains me to know I’ve hurt one of us and I would do whatever I can to prevent that.

April 4, 2018

I am also a local event host, and I don't want to speak out of turn or on anyone's behalf, but without more information, it sounds to me like an email that is generated based on feedback from attendees. I've gotten these myself, and I didn't take it as an "evaluation" in the same way as I've received at a job but more like, "Hey, you're doing great! And here are some other ideas to try!"

I've never found any communication or email from Duolingo staff to be rude or condescending in any way, myself, but being admittedly ignorant of the cultural differences between the US and Germany (despite my ancestry being largely German), can you explain how she would have preferred the email to be written?

I would say that "friendly and upbeat" is really an integral part of the Duolingo culture and not necessarily an American-only style of communication, if that helps at all.

Without minimizing her feelings in any way, would it be helpful to explain the intent of the tone, if that's what you believe the issue might be?

Or did it just bother her to receive the email at all? I've personally found them to be useful and insightful, but perhaps people have varying reactions to them that I'm not aware of.

The idea, to my knowledge, is to find out what works and what attendees like so we can improve the overall experience across the board. For example, if there is consistent feedback like, "We'd rather speak only in our target language", that can help us adjust events going forward to possibly increase attendance and satisfaction for both hosts and attendees.

I can only speak to my own experiences, of course. Everyone's journey and experiences are their own. But I honestly don't think she was being personally critiqued, in case that's how it came across.

Hope this helps!

April 3, 2018

Is she wrong for feeling so bad?

how can we tell if you never told what the email said?

April 4, 2018

Hello Everyone, I'm also a host of languages in Poland. Referring to Dueling Staff never had a problem. Always helpful. But it would be helpful if you can give any advice on meetings, please. Sometimes people sign in and don't happened already few times....Is bit normal? I am not native so maybe that's the case? Any advice will be apreciated :-) Than you!

July 26, 2019

Hey! This is annoying, indeed. Many hosts encounter this too. Are you on our host slack group? Do share this in the #general channel, so we can discuss and share ideas. Do email us if you're not on Slack. I'm not sharing the link here because this is a public forum. Thanks and good to have you onboard!!!

July 26, 2019

It does seem to be normal that people RSVP in and don't come. It might be because they are signing up for the event so that they get the email which says, "How was the event?" Then they check in to receive the 250xp bonus even though they didn't attend the event. Anyway, that's just a guess as to why that happens. It could also be that it's just not a high priority for people. After all, it's free. If they had to do more than click a button to RSVP, like pay money, then I'm sure attendance would be higher. Or, people wouldn't RSVP at all maybe. Who knows? Certainly not me.

August 22, 2019, 4:48 PM

What is happening with Recurring Events? They had that option for awhile, and now it appears to be gone again. Does anybody know what's happening with that?

August 22, 2019, 4:41 PM

This is really irritating me. It is Hostess.

April 4, 2018

Only if you are a 1950’s matron or Lady Macbeth. The unisex, generic term is “host”

April 4, 2018

wrong. Host, Hostess. Waiter, Waitress. People usually get confused with these things and that is why it may seem like the generic. unisex name. It's not science, just grammar.

April 4, 2018

No. While hostess can refine the concept as a gender distinguisher, host is not limited to males, but designates persons of all genders. Like the word “man” can mean people. Additionally, when addressing a mixed group you would use the word host.

Definition below. Note it says nothing about male sex.

April 4, 2018

Leave them be. The young prescriptivists eventually grow up and leave their silly ideas behind.

April 4, 2018

They only leave their silly notions behind when they get smacked down enough.

August 22, 2019, 4:54 PM

Thank you, I appreciate when someone not only is correct but offers a citation to prove it.

August 22, 2019, 4:54 PM

besides, it would be men. you can never dress to people in singular form.

April 4, 2018

well, technically you can but not normally

April 4, 2018

true, but if you are talking in the formal sense, then it is hostess

April 4, 2018

It seems that we are missing the point. A Duolingo Hostess has been insulted and we are concerned about our grammar.

April 4, 2018

but i'm not just going to let this go.....

April 4, 2018

Wow! You are just not there! You are so snobbish that you care more about your orations than other people's feelings! Look at the topic, know it, and give [good] advice! If you are going to keep on babbling whether to use "host" or "hostess," leave the discussion!

April 4, 2018
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