Meet Duolingo: Learn a Language, help The Web

Published: 14 April 2011 y., Thursday

„Duolingo“ is the latest project of Luis von Ahn, who is working for “Google”. It has been blowing up on Hacker News for the past day, though not too much is known about it.

Von Ahn notes that over the past year and a half, his Carnegie Mellon team has been quietly working on this new idea. It originally arose from a single question: how can you get 100 million people on the web translating everything into different languages for free?

One problem is that there aren’t that many people that are truly bilingual. Another problem is the whole “free” thing. So along with his PhD student Severin Hacker, von Ahn twisted the idea on its side. Instead of getting people to do something that felt like unpaid work, why not spin it as a learning experience? That’s exactly what Duolingo does.

The solution was to transform language translation into something that millions of people WANT to do, and that helps with the problem of lack of bilinguals: language education,” von Ahn writes. It is estimated that there are over 1 billion people learning a foreign language. So, the site that we’ve been working on, Duolingo, will be a 100% free language learning site in which people learn by helping to translate the Web. That is, they learn by doing,” he continues.

Von Ahn didn’t want to give too much else away as their still finalizing the service. He notes that it should be ready for a private beta in a few weeks. “We’re now mostly testing the site, and it really works — it teaches users a foreign language very well, and the combined translations that we get in return are as accurate as those from professional language translators,” he says.

He also says that while it’s currently just a project under Carnegie Mellon, he and Hacker may turn it into a company. And if they do, the countdown to Google buying them will officially be on. I give it 6 months until that happens. Tops.

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