On October 11, the already famous free language-learning website Duolingo launched an “incubator” that will allow people from all over the world to create language courses provided they know the language of the students and the language they will be teaching. This new service will be offered for free, allowing for the creation of courses in any language, including the more rare ones (which can generally be found less often). The system relies on crowd-sourcing and a set of strict rules that must be followed during the creation and testing of the course, together with students reviews and comments.
Behind the website lies a deep belief in the importance of linguistic diversity, which seems to be always at risk in a globalised world, where the learning of certain languages such as English have become tools for the empowerment of individuals. There are plenty of warnings of languages which have become endangered due to the lack of speakers who can pass on the linguistic knowledge to younger generations. Duolingo therefore, has seen a way to reverse the situation, by offering a popular platform that makes creating an entire language course a much easier process, free of cost.
Even though the concept of crowdsourcing and working for free sounds difficult to understand, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn has stated that, as a response to the new “incubator” project, he has received more than one thousand e-mails in 2012 from people willing to cooperate and engage in the plan. The main incentive right now seems to be the credit for the creation of the course, as the names of the creators are clearly displayed in the webpage. Several organizations and institutions are looking at Duolingo as a possible way to develop courses of endangered languages to prevent these languages’ death.
Duolingo was created by Guatemalan Luis von Ahn in November 2011. The website currently offers courses to study English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Italian, although it has released its new “incubator” mode to expand the number of languages available. At the moment, the project is being financed by venture capital and the translations created by the system.
The System of Creation
Duolingo’s system restricts the number of courses to one per language. Each course has moderators who have been carefully selected for the job and each one of them is in charge of gathering their own team of helpers. Together, the team creates the course based on a series of guidelines provided by the webpage, which restricts the method and content of the each language course. In this way, the process of creation is not only restricted to experts with ample knowledge in the linguistic field. Once the course is finished, algorithms verify its quality and, if everything is found compliant, the course goes public in a beta version until it is further improved based on feedback.