Duolingo Team Stories: Meet Vivian and Shawn

It's a new year, and we'd like to continue to introduce you to amazing community members and Duolingo staff who you may see around and want to know more about. We're kicking off this series in 2015 introducing you to Vivian and Shawn from the Duolingo Team. Ask questions in the comments, and they'll reply :)

We look forward to getting to know many more of you this year!

Meet Vivian

Duolingo Team Member, Community Manager

Where are you from? I am a Brazilian/Swede, born in the huge city of São Paulo (Brazil) and raised in Brazil and Sweden!

What languages do you speak? Brazilian Portuguese, Swedish, and English. I can communicate in half-decent Spanish and am now determined to learn some additional languages here on Duolingo.

Why do you love language learning? I love the idea of being able to communicate with those who would otherwise be unreachable without a common form of communication. On a global scale, I think it is enormously beneficial for people to share ideas, discoveries, cultural values, and laughs with people from different backgrounds.

What do you have on your desk? What are your tools? I have a laptop that I use to do the various tasks of a community manager, headphones, a Duo plushie that I was given on my first day, a notebook, a smiley mug, a deck of game design cards, brick-sized dictionaries, and a slang calendar I got as a Christmas exchange gift (which teaches me a new US slang term every day).

What’s a learning tip you can share with the rest of the community? First of all, keep trying to help fellow learners on Duolingo if you know how to answer their questions.... we all have tips and answers that we can share, and we can all learn so much from each other. Between your daily Duolingo exercises, if you really want to practice your fluency and listening skills, I recommend finding movies, TV shows or radio stations (you can often find them online) and listening to those in the background as often as you can. You don't even need to focus on them—do it even if you're just cleaning the house or browsing the internet. If you train your ears, perfecting a new language will become easier. Another trick I used when learning was writing down song lyrics (even if incorrectly) of songs I liked and singing along until I learned to sing it perfectly (notice that I did not say "beautifully"). Only then would I look up what the real lyrics said/meant, and that did wonders for my fluency and vocabulary. Finally, travel if you can and don't be afraid of speaking incorrectly when you're learning a new language!

What’s your favorite part about working for Duolingo? Although I am new to the team, I am not new to Duolingo! I was already an active user and a fan of the idea that language learning should be free and available to everyone. Now that I have met the wonderful team behind it all and seen the hard work that goes into providing this for all of us, I can't help being inspired to take this amazing tool to every corner of our planet (which is a special type of sphere, with corners). It is an amazing environment and it is awesome to think that from this little spot I can help the staff, contributors, moderators, and fellow learners influence millions of other people and help them on their quests and adventures in search for a better life and deeper relationships.

What do you like to do in your free time? I like to read (fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, non-fiction, online posts), paint, work on graphic design projects, play board games, solve puzzles, and play video games (from msx all the way up to playstation; I am fascinated by the weirder ones). I don't have enough time to do all of those things, of course, but I try!

What’s a common mistake you still make in a certain language? When I try to speak Spanish, I have been told that I just use Spanish words in Portuguese order. I can't help it—we are too similar, Spanish!

Anything else? Yes! There was a wonderful welcome post by Usagiboy7, and I promised I would answer some of the questions posted there when I introduced myself, so here it goes: yes, I am mentoring some super exciting Incubator courses (and also doing the other cool things that community managers do), one of my favorite books is called "Sagor för barn över 18 år" by Tage Danielsson (it is not spooky but it is very Swedish), and my favorite cookie (if I had to pick one) is probably shortbread! Thanks for the warm welcome and keep practicing! =]

Meet Shawn

Duolingo Team Member, Engineer

Where are you from? Peabody, Massachusetts (just north of Boston)

What languages do you speak? English, and a little Spanish and Portuguese.

Why do you love language learning? One experience that really stuck with me was trying to read the novel Don Quixote. Don Quixote is consistently ranked as one of the greatest and most influential novels of all time, so I figured it would be a worthwhile book to read on my own. And when I started reading the English translation, I was genuinely amused by the antics of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. A few years later, my school’s Spanish teacher had our class read the first couple chapters of Don Quixote in the native Spanish. It was amazing! The language and story had a wonderful flow. There were puns that were clever and hysterical (a classic example is the passage on Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinante). It brought the entire reading experience to a whole other level. When I think about language learning, I think about all of the beauty and richness that learning a new language can add to someone’s life, whether it’s stories, recipes, or just simple communication.

What do you have on your desk? What are your tools? As a software developer, I’m using my Macbook daily to write code in Objective-C (and now Swift). I also have a journal that I use to plan, organize, and sketch software designs, as well as keep notes or brainstorm ideas. Lastly, I normally have a couple of non-fiction books I’m trying to read about programming, human-computer interaction, or game design.

What’s a learning tip you can share with the rest of the community? If you have a local library, check if they have a section for books in the language you are trying to learn. In particular, check if they have children’s books in that language. While trying to learn Portuguese, I would check out books like “Clifford, O Gigante Cão Vermelho” or “Pato Magro, Pato Gordo.” I read children’s books while learning my primary language, so why wouldn’t I use them to learn other languages? I also enjoy that they all have happy endings. =)

What’s your favorite part about working for Duolingo? Duolingo gives me all the tools I need to succeed. If I need advice on a programming problem, my team lead sits right behind me and can offer his help. If I find a book or software that I think would benefit the team, Duolingo is willing to invest in it. The only limiting factor to what I can contribute is me, and it drives me to work as hard as I can to ship a great Duolingo experience.

What do you like to do in your free time? I like to read all kinds of things, and I’m especially addicted to reading snippets from my RSS feeds. I’m subscribed to business sites, design journals, cooking blogs, infographic collections, and over 50 webcomics. Other than reading, I enjoy playing lots of games, including board games, console games, and mobile games. Some of my current favorites include “7 Wonders,” “Titanfall,” and “Peggle."

What’s a common mistake you still make in a certain language? Many times I fall into the trap of attempting to think of what I want to say in my native language (English) and trying to translate that phrase into the other language (i.e. Spanish). I think it was Plato who spent a lot of time philosophizing over “forms” and how there are these objects/actions in the world, and we simply use language to label these objects/actions. For example, there is an object in the world on which I sit. So when I speak in Spanish, I need to “think in Spanish” and talk about this object on which I sit, “la silla.” Too often, I’ll “think in English” and think of “the chair” then try to remember “la silla” because of some mnemonic, and then I’ve forgotten why I’m talking about the object on which I sit in the first place. If some of the smartest translation software in the world still can’t convert from English to Spanish, I don’t think I should be trying either. It’s another reason why I really enjoy learning with Duolingo and reading children’s books, because they both remind me to “think in Spanish” while I’m learning and reading, so I’ll “think in Spanish” when I use it in practice.

Anything else? Like I said, as a lifelong reader, I thought Don Quixote was an amazing export of Spanish culture. And as an active gamer, I’m really interested in knowing if there are equally fascinating cultural games out there. For example, while learning Portuguese, a friend told me about the Portuguese card game “Sueca.” Given this opportunity, I’d love to be able to ask the Duolingo community if there are other games that have strong ties to particular cultures.

January 13, 2015


Yay, ever since Usagi posted the thread about Vivian, I have waited for this official introduction =P. Nice to get to know both of you. Shawn, I like Don Quixote, this is one of my favorite literature in high school (yes, part of it was taught in high school here) ^ ^

January 13, 2015

I'm so happy to see these team stories making a comeback!


Fáilte! It is so great to be working with you on the've only been with us a few days and I can already tell that we'll get along well :D Swedish and Portuguese seems like an unusual mix :) (Good unusual, not the bad there a bad kind?) That Swedish book you mentioned seems really interesting :) I may take a look at it myself! I love Swedish books and TV ("Bron" anyone?) What languages are you planning on learning here with Duo?


Dia duit! It's so cool to learn more about the people that work behind the scenes on this great site :D I can't wait to see what kind of amazing stuff you and the other engineers come up with this year :) Are you going to use Duolingo to improve your Portuguese/Spanish or are you going to pursue a new language conquest?

January 13, 2015

So many awesome languages I want to learn or at least take a stab at! I want to give Spanish another try, finish my German and Italian trees, move beyond very basic French, maybe see what other Scandinavian languages are all about out of curiosity, and check out Irish and Esperanto because those are just super cool. One day I would like to learn some language(s) with an entirely different alphabet... Greek? Chinese? Japanese? Arabic? Russian? I need to decide... one thing at a time, right? I am also excited about other possible future languages that Duolingo will offer, and I'm probably not alone! =D

January 14, 2015

I have a group of friends who love to travel, both inside and outside the United States. So depending on where we go, I'll use Duolingo to refresh my skills or even start a new course. So far, I've only needed Spanish and Portuguese, but who knows what the future holds?

And like I said, I have a few really close Portuguese friends that I stay in touch with, and they constantly pressure me to learn Portuguese.

January 14, 2015

It's nice to know more about you two awesome people!! :D I'm so glad you're working on the Duolingo team! :D


It's so nice to learn more about you, and I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job! :) Have you ever mixed up Portuguese? and Swedish? That seems like a very interesting language combo! :D I think it would be worth it to work for Duolingo, just to get a Duo plushie! Your language recommendations are wonderful! I might try the singing, but I don't know if others could stand it... what are your favorite board games? :D


I think you're very right about "the beauty and richness" learning a language can bring to someone! It can be trying to make out a poem, grasp the lyrics of a song, or reading the instructions for your washer in German....

January 13, 2015

Hey GeniusJack! I have mixed them up a few times, but I usually lived in each country for long stretches of time, and ended speaking one of them way more than the other, so that made things easier. Besides, they are very different from each other, so they are harder to mix up than, say, Swedish and Norwegian would be, or Spanish and Portuguese. But it has happened! About singing, remember, you can always do it when no one else is around, if that worries you. And for the last question, I have very patient friends who teach me to play some fun board games, we hardly repeat them, and I have enjoyed them all (so far). My most recent favorite is one called "Innovation." =]

January 14, 2015

Oh, that makes sense! I'm glad you haven't mixed them! :D Yes, that's true, but I'm almost never alone. I wonder if I could do it if I learned passages of literature, or poems. Oh, I'll look that game up! :) Have you ever heard of Manhattan Project? The board game?

January 14, 2015

I've heard of it but never played it. Do you recommend it? If so, I'll take note!

January 14, 2015

Yes, I do recommend it! It's a complicated game, but once you have 2 experienced players it can be loads of fun! :)

January 14, 2015

hi, i want a friend to chat, you can halp me?, eu falo português, you have facebook?

January 21, 2016

I'm certain the technician poured his heart and soul into writing those directions. Us engineers can be very passionate.

January 14, 2015

YAY Vivisaurus!!! Välkommen! :D

You have such great taste in reading genres! (Though, I've never heard of the Swedish book. I will look for it once I've secured my current courses and can move Swedish from the sampling list to the focus list.) And shortbread, yum! Such good textures! (You've made me realize that it's been entirely too long since I've had some, so i'm going to look for an opportunity to change that within the near future.)

I appreciate your inspirations for learning a language. I hope you will consider learning Língua Brasileira de Sinais. I've recently started studying American Sign Language, and it's been an even more delightful and powerful experience than I expected. So, I hope that others will consider learning at least one Sign Language of their countr(ies). :D

Bienvenido a Shawn!! :D

I didn't know that you had joined Team Community, or I would have welcomed you along with Vivisaurus. All hail the book nerds! :D Thank you for sharing your passion for Don Quixote. I'll admit that I've never read it. My only exposure was through the old TV series, Wishbone. Was the level of the Spanish book version much advanced? Or perhaps closer to A2-B1? Your comment about the Rocinante passage piqued my curiosity.

Welcome both of you to Team Duolingo!! :D

PS To both Vivisaurus and Shawn!

Do either of you have synesthesia by any chance?
(edit, just noticed the Alexis has posted a synesthesia related poll!)

January 13, 2015

Thanks for the welcome! Learning sign language would be great! And no synesthesia in my case. =]

January 14, 2015

Thanks for answering that question! Was curious because I've found more synesthetes on Duolingo than anywhere else in my life, but, so far don't know of any staff who are. ^_^

January 15, 2015

You have such great taste in reading genres!

Personally I was looking at the favorite cookie flavour! :P

Also, welcome Vivian and Shawn! Happy learning everyone! :D

January 14, 2015


January 14, 2015

I remember Wishbone! I was going to mention how this show also influenced my decision to pick up the book, but I didn't think anyone would understand the reference. Muchas gracias!

I'm actually not a community team member, but a software engineer. So I don't think I'll be able to prescribe the reading level of "Don Quixote" as easily as others could. Empirically, I read some of the Spanish translation in my 12th grade Spanish class, and while we struggled with some of the vocabulary, it was mostly discernible from context clues. I'm certain this was intended, since "Don Quixote" was a satirical work that was meant to be read by the common people. In fact, "Don Quixote" had a large influence on standardizing the modern Spanish language, so it's not that surprising how well it reads.

January 14, 2015

It is a privilege to meet the members of the team who bring us all so much pleasure. Thank you.

January 13, 2015

Yay! Nice to get the chance to learn more about you both! (:

January 13, 2015

Congratulations to the new managers of the Duolingo. Good job to you, Vivian and Shawn, especially for Vivian whom I already knew.

January 19, 2015

Thanks for sharing this! I feel these are somehow very different from other stories.

It is really nice to fell connected with some of those thoughts and knowing every time more people gets to positions in which they can take those ideas to the next level is very encouraging to continue pushing for this project!

I'm still trying to shape the sphere with corners in my head =P

January 13, 2015

Hint: you start by deciding how many corners there are.

January 14, 2015

You have ruined me forever. I cannot turn my brain away from the puzzle of the spherical corners.

July 24, 2019

Hej Vivian,

I saw your comment in the "bye bye beta" thread, realized that your Swedish was very good and then found out here that you actually are Swedish :)!

I just wanted to say that I'm a huge fan of Tage Danielsson. My copies of his books are read so many times that they are almost falling apart. "Grallimatik" is another favourite.

January 25, 2015

Well, technically half Swedish. ;] Look at that! That's my book! I have the Tage Danielsson's Paket which is a compilation of some of his work. My copy of Sagor was also falling apart because I kept re-reading it periodically. So glad you posted the pic. Time to read the whole paket, I suppose. =]

January 31, 2015

Yeah, I know about the Paket :). Hopefully, Samlade dikter 1967 -1967 is included there. Another favourite!

January 31, 2015

Looking at it right now, Samlade Dikter, Sagor, Grallimmatik, Bok, Postilla and Typer are included in Paketet. =D

January 31, 2015
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Thanks, @Kristin, for continuing the community stories! Keep 'em coming... ;)

@Vivian Nice to meet you and welcome to the community (well, it's probably not my place to welcome you to the team, anyway). :)

@Shawn Nice to meet you, too! I'm a bit puzzled reading that you — as a 'tech guy' — use a journal for ideas and brainstorming (mind maps and things?). Not a GTD (i.e. David Allen: Getting Things Done) guy, I guess?


January 13, 2015

I haven't heard of GTD, but I'm sure I'll have to look into it.

Software development can require a lot of design before any code is even written, and there are many methods for prototyping these designs. A concrete example is writing an object model diagram to map the relationships between different components. Being able to quickly write-down these designs helps expose the benefits and flaws of certain design decisions, and its much easier to iterate on pencil and paper.

Other than software development, everyone at Duolingo wears a lot of hats. So if I have ideas on how to improve a user interface or I need to take notes during an important meeting, I like having my trusty notebook to sketch or write everything down in.

January 14, 2015

We should name Vivian our Miss Duolingerse.

Welcome to both!

January 14, 2015

Welcome to both!

January 17, 2016

Thank you guys for sharing your experience and background with us. Much appreciated.

February 27, 2016

It's really nice to get to know you two awesome people! Although Shawn's profile doesn't seem to be working.

July 25, 2016

Hi Vivian. My daughter (who is also named Vivienne) is 6 and just started a Japanese immersion program. We went through your Hiragana Sound Mnemonics flashcards the summer before to give her a head start and love the deck so much. It is amazing. When she spells a Japanese word she’ll explain it using your cards: “su like super soon to be mother and shi like shiitake mushrooms.” Thank you so much for making them! Any plans to make a similar set for katakana?

November 4, 2018

Aww, hi James! This is the sweetest compliment, it sounds like she is adorable describing the cards. <3 I am glad there is at least one more person who finds visual mnemonics a good way to memorize things, and got something good out of the Tinycards Hiragana Mnemonics deck I made. I hadn't considered making a Katakana one, but now you and Vivienne got me thinking. =]

November 5, 2018

Yes!! Visual mnemonics are so effective and your cards are so well done. Hope you are able to find the time to make a katakana deck. You have at least two fans here waiting to try them out.

November 5, 2018

Welcome to you both, Vivian and Shawn.

Regarding the Swedish book Vivian mentioned. I did a little bit of searching and found:

1) Its Swedish wikipedia article:

But I note that there are no links to the article in other languages. Perhaps a challenge to the duolingo translating community?

2) A person on Goodreads has provided a description of the book and translated one of the stories into English:

January 13, 2015

Oh! Look what you found! Tack så mycket =]

January 14, 2015

Welcome! Nice to meet you both!

I do like the idea of reading books in Spanish (or any other foreign language that I'm getting more advanced in). I started reading in Spanish last fall (long before I started Duolingo). I haven't read children's books, but I started by reading books that I knew in English well first. That way if I got lost, I would still know what was going on.

January 14, 2015

Dude! You guys are all awesome! Welcome aboard! Can't wait to see what you guys have in store for us. Can you say anything yet? :)

January 14, 2015

Well... don't tell anyone but we are likely to be getting a language with a different kind of alphabet for English speakers hatching in the Incubator soon. ;)

February 6, 2015

I'm guessing Hindi, from Jitengore's latest comments. :D

February 6, 2015

Life just got awesomer! :)

February 6, 2015


Welcome to Duolingo! I hope you have an awesome time here! You speak Swedish! Yay :D

On an unrelated note: Nice outfit :D


What game were you watching??? :D

January 14, 2015

Sueca? My Portuguese friend took me to a predominantly Portuguese bar. Inside, there was a group of old men sitting around a table with cards. It looked like they were adding to a pile of cards in the center, and occasionally one of them would slam one of their cards down with a lot of enthusiasm. I asked my friend about it, and she told me it was "sh-wake-ah." Since then, I've looked up the rules, but I haven't seen anyone else play it (or gotten to play it myself).

January 14, 2015

Nope. I meant the picture. The one that you're outside with all those people. You look like you're watching football O.O

January 14, 2015

Oh! I was watching my beloved Red Sox play baseball at Fenway Park!

January 14, 2015

Cool! :)

January 14, 2015

did you mean brazilian bar?

February 19, 2016

Thank you for sharing your experiences, greetings from Colombia

January 15, 2015

Nice to meet you Vivian, i'm from Brazil. Good job.

May 24, 2015
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