Free software eating the world — language instruction edition

DuoLingo screen shot

One hot new online tool is DuoLingo, a crowd-sourced gamified version of language learning software.  It’s free, and extremely easy to use, and apparently the program has become the most commonly used language learning platform in the world.  I signed up for a profile and in about 2 minutes started taking beginner lessons.  With computer pronunciations, realtime quizzes and feedback (including earned credits that you can use in a virtual store), along with the computer listening to your own pronunciations, in many ways it dramatically reduces the need for a live teacher.  For now, it can’t give you specific feedback on how you’re pronunciation might be off.  But it does let you practice until you get the pronunciation good enough that the computer can parse your words.  It was an interesting experience.

DuoLingo the startup company is interesting in and of itself. It’s heavily-data driven, and their content is crowd-sourced.  You can read more about them on their wikipedia entry and this MIT Technology review page.  Their co-founder Severin Hacker (yes, his real name) also gave a talk recently at the EmTech conference.  He described how DuoLingo is actually a platform for learning how people learn, and that they run thousands of A:B experiments to test what works best for language instruction.  Kind of an interesting two-way interaction — you learn for free, and they learn about your learning.  Recently they have entered into some revenue-generating agreements to provide translation services, using compiled translations from advanced level students as an accurate way to translate real online text.  Really cool software.  Maybe not eating the world; rather taking the world to a place it’s never been before.

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