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Duolingo ( DEW-oh-LING-goh) is a freemium language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam. As of November 2016 , the language-learning website and app offer 68 different language courses across 28 languages. The app has about 200 million registered users across the world.
The project was started at the end of 2009 in Pittsburgh by Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn (creator of reCAPTCHA) and his graduate student Severin Hacker, and then developed along with Antonio Navas, Vicki Cheung, Marcel Uekermann, Brendan Meeder, Hector Villafuerte, and Jose Fuentes.
Inspiration for Duolingo came from two places. Luis Von Ahn wanted to create another program that served two purposes in one, what he calls a "twofer". Duolingo originally did this by teaching its users a foreign language while having them translate simple phrases in documents, though the translation feature has since been removed.
Von Ahn was born in Guatemala and saw how expensive it was for people in his community to learn English. Severin Hacker (born in Zug, Switzerland), co-founder of Duolingo, and Von Ahn believe that "free education will really change the world" and wanted to supply the people an outlet to do so.
The project was originally sponsored by Luis von Ahn's MacArthur fellowship and a National Science Foundation grant. Additional funding was later received in the form of investments from Union Square Ventures and actor Ashton Kutcher's firm, A-Grade Investments.
Duolingo started its private beta on November 30, 2011, and accumulated a waiting list of more than 300,000 users. On June 19, 2012, Duolingo launched for the general public. Due to popular interest, Duolingo has received many investments including a $20 million Series C round of investment led by Kleiner Caufield & Byers and a $45 million Series D round of investment led by Google Capital. Duolingo has 95 staff members, of whom many were Google employees, and operates from an office in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty.
On November 13, 2012, Duolingo released their iOS app through the iTunes App Store. The application is a free download and is compatible with most iPhone, iPod and iPad devices. On May 29, 2013, Duolingo released their Android app, which was downloaded about a million times in the first three weeks and quickly became the #1 education app in the Google Play store. As of 2017, the company had a total funding of USD $108.3 million. Duolingo received a fifth-round $25 million in July 2017 from Drive Capital, with the funds directed toward creating initiatives such as TinyCards and Duolingo Labs.
Duolingo has a freemium business model and it uses advertising in both its Android and iPhone apps. Duolingo courses include periodic advertisements which users can remove by paying a subscription fee. To earn money, Duolingo originally employed a crowd sourced business model, where the content came from organizations (such as CNN and BuzzFeed) that pay Duolingo to translate it.
As of 2017, Duolingo runs ads on both its mobile and desktop applications.
Languages in beta are available on the website but not in the app. Duolingo currently offers 2 fantasy languages, Klingon and High Valyrian.
Duolingo offers language courses for speakers of languages other than English, but all available languages offer at least English as a course. The Catalan and Guarani courses are exclusive to Spanish speakers.
As of March 6, 2018, the following languages are available to speakers of languages other than English:
|Number of languages available for speakers of:||On app||On website|
Duolingo uses many services in the Amazon Web Services suite of products, including Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, nearly 200 virtual instances in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS). The server backend is written in the programming language Python. A component called the Session Generator was rewritten in Scala by 2017. The frontend is written in Backbone.js and Mustache. Duolingo provides a single-page web application for desktop computer users and also smart phone applications on Android (both Google Play Store and Amazon Appstore), iOS App Store) and Windows Phone platforms. 20% of traffic comes from desktop users and 80% from mobile app users.
Duolingo is funded by Union Square Venture Partners ($3.3 million in 2011), New Enterprise Associates ($15 million), Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers ($20 million), Google Capital ($45 million), A-Grade Investments, Ashton Kutcher, and Tim Ferris.
Duolingo mimics the structure of video games in several ways in order to engage its users. There is a reward system in which users acquire lingots, an in-game currency that can be spent on features such as character customizations or bonus levels. There are public leaderboards in which people can compete against their friends or see how they stack up against the rest of the world. The level system that Duolingo uses is XP (experience points), a numerical system that represents a user's skill level. Badges in Duolingo represent achievements that are earned from completing specific objectives or challenges.
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Duolingo provides "Duolingo for Schools" with features designed to allow teachers to track their students. In 2012, an effectiveness study of Duolingo was published with the authors concluding that Duolingo usage for Spanish study was more effective than classroom language learning alone, but that this effect was less for more advanced learners. One proposed reason for this is that the direct-translation method that Duolingo primarily uses is more applicable to simpler words and phrases than complex ones; simpler ones can be translated in a more exact manner from one language to another and thus are more conducive to Duolingo's direct-translation method.
In 2013, Apple chose Duolingo as its iPhone App of the Year, the first time this honor had been awarded to an educational application. Also, Duolingo won Best Education Startup at the 2014 Crunchies, and was the most downloaded app in the Education category in Google Play in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, Duolingo was announced the 2015 award winner in Play & Learning category by Design to Improve Life.