Suggestion: Create a live chat room
I don't know if anyone has said it before, but i just realized that it'd be a good idea. Maybe you know chat roullette or tinychat, the idea would be something like that where you could talk and practice with other people like in a classroom.
You just will need a microphone and a cam (optional) and start practicing :). I think it'd be great for when you are tired of the grammar/vocabulary stuff and you take a break talking with the people. What do you think?
Since it looks like this is currently being developed, my two cents would be that you work it somehow so that lower level speakers are able to speak with higher level speakers. Since the aim is to improve peoples speaking skills it doesn’t really help to have two people who don't know very much talking to each other, it just reenforces bad habits.
So to have it work at all you have to have chat "rooms" of different skill level and from there topic rooms within the skill level. You need that because once college level speakers are stuck talking to a third grade level speaker, he/she will just not doing anymore. So a high level for people who can speak the language already can go to chat and lower levels for people learning.
How do you do this, you come up with a ranking system, either through quizzes or recommendations from other chatters or both. That way you can only enter level/room "X" if your ranked level X. Then you have another motivation for people to learn.
Now the whole point is to help people learn to speak, so maybe you can earn two hours of chat time by offering half hour of "tutor" time. The system tracks how much time you spend chatting and stop you from chatting at your level unless you've chatted about 25% of the time with lower level speakers.
Now regardless of weather you do this or not, what I feel would not be so hard to do and really needs to be included is a message board, like this but with general discussions area, tutoring area, vacation plans area..... a real message board. Because we not only want to practice hearing and speaking a language we want to practice reading and writing a language. This can also benefit from a ranking system.
Sorry my two cents are pretty big.
I like your idea of gaining chat time with people at your level or a higher level than you by 'clocking up' time speaking with (and providing help to) those at a lower level than your own.
Another extension of this could be that since I am a native English speaker I could be 'ranked' native in English, and could 'clock up' time to speak in French (the language I am learning) by spending time in the chat room for English learners. That way the English learners would have a chance to speak with native speakers, which would be even better than them just only speaking with learners at their own level or above.
Similarly, if there are any native French speakers on the site, they could 'clock up' their chat time for the language they are learning on duolingo by speaking with learners like me in French, giving the French learners the chance to speak with native French speakers, and so on with all the languages offered by Duolingo.
Thats a great idea, I wanted to spell out that idea I had but I felt I was already writing too much.
Now what I had envisioned was Duolingo, if they were to roll this out in any way, it would be a place native speakers that are spread out across the globe without a big population that speak he/her native language where they live, could spend time enjoying speaking to people in there own language. This would include au pairs, international students, and diaspora of any kind.
So for them Duolingo wouldn't be a learning center per say, they would just be keeping up there language and more then anything it would be more of a hang out and they could help others learn as they go, something I'm sure they would be happy to do.
But having learners have the choice to earn time by talking in their native language instead of there target language is really interesting, I hadn't thought of that. As many people as I envision that would use these chat rooms as a hang out because they are spread out and may want to reconect to their language. It doesn’t even come close the the amount of people that are already on here learning another language, who's native language is offered here. But it might have to be controlled, as in a certain percentage of your earning time in your target language and some in your native language. After they roll it out they'll see what is appropriate.
What I envisioned is you have say four levels, like maybe college level, high school level, middle school, and elementary as in can you speak like a college student or a high school student..... that way people have a place they can go and confidently speak to a person on his or her level, and they could grade the other person to lower or raise them in levels. So if your at college level you can tutor a "high schooler" because it would be too boring to speak to a middle schooler and definitely not an elementary learner, but you could if you want. And each person at a higher level can tutor a person at a lower level, but since it doesn’t make as much sense having a middle schooler tutoring an elementary learner the native speaker idea is very interesting. But like I said it has to be controlled because unless there is as many native speakers of all languages, everyone will earn time in there native language and if there is not so many french speakers learning another language, the french learners are missing out. Plus come to think of it, native speakers will probably earn time in say the high school level only, so you have fix that by making them earn there time evenly throughout the lower levels.
In the beginning it'll be a trial and error sort of thing, it may be learners in all levels will want to stay in there target language chat rooms. They may love the idea of tutoring, after all its a chance to feel good about what you've learned by not having to feel bad that you don't understand what whoever your talking to is saying, be it at your level or higher, and the tutoring sessions are a chance to reenforce what you already know, as they say teaching is the last step of learning.