Tag: duolingo

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Your favorite language learning app, now possibly offshore

Internationalization

As industries adapt their operations to survive the pandemic, the technology sector’s capacity for remote work has earned many companies a unique position of leverage in the face of policy decisions. The language learning app Duolingo might be at the forefront — and may actually choose to leave the US as a result.

In the wake of President Trump’s decision to extend a ban on issuing green cards and expand the mandate to temporary work visas, Duolingo’s CEO and creator Luis von Ahn on June 22 tweeted, “Since we can now work well remotely, and since the US is reducing immigration, a lot of technology development will shift away to other countries. This is bitter sweet for me: the US welcomed me, so I feel bad for it, but I’m glad other countries will see the economic benefit.” 

Serving a user-base of nearly 300 million people worldwide, Duolingo functions as a free learning tool that creates grammar and vocabulary games, along with a number of other resources through in-app purchases. The games reward users with experience points for consistent use and progress made on the app. The app is localized for its users as well.

To stay up to date on language trends, the app builds upon its noteworthy database of 38 languages and 95 different courses through language and teaching experts and volunteer contributors, developing a variety of content for users at any stage of learning. Since COVID-19 made stay-at-home recreation a necessity, apps popularity and daily usage rates have skyrocketed.

The Pittsburgh Business Times recently reported Duolingo’s status as Pittsburgh’s first billion-dollar startup, currently valued at $1.5 billion. According to a Forbes article written in August 2019, the company had plans to increase its employment from 170 to 200, many of whom work at the Pittsburgh headquarters. However, with their operations in the East Liberty neighborhood having to shift online, von Ahn sees the shift to remote work as a valuable resource and point of leverage that can better mobilize operations even with borders closed to many of his employees. 

In a further rebuke to the policy decision and a call to action to Pennsylvania politicians at local and state levels, von Ahn wrote in a tweet last week, “I’m proud that @duolingo, the most valuable startup in PA, is seen as an inspiration for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, if the US policies against (extremely qualified) immigration continue, we’ll be forced to move jobs (and inspiration) to Toronto @SenToomey @SenBobCasey @billpeduto.” Both Senator Casey and Mayor Peduto tweeted out messages of solidarity with the company and its international workforce.

In such an unstable moment, von Ahn will likely continue making calls for support to protect Duolingo’s mission to educate users in fun, accessible ways. However, one of the core principles to the mission is to provide the expertise of native speakers in dozens of languages. The pandemic has forced Duolingo to shift its operations online, but the policy decisions of the US administration may force the company to seek a new home abroad.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

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Catch the Pidgin at the BBC: Digital Flight of Fancy?

Language, Localization Culture, Personalization and Design

Delighted to see that the BBC has started a Pidgin Digital service for West African audiences.

BBC introduces Pidgin for Digital Audiences in West Africa (Image source: BBC)

BBC introduces Pidgin for Digital Audiences in West Africa (Image source: BBC)

I’ve long been fascinated by the notion of pidgin (or a pidgin language). For some of course, it’s a betrayal of “pure” language learning and standards. Fundamentally, however, pidgin is a popular and simple way for people to communicate with each other when they don’t share a common language. What’s wrong with that? Pidgin is a lingua franca in its own right. The use case is nothing that Google isn’t trying to do with the Google Pixel Earbuds!Pidgin is a lingua franca in its own right. Click To Tweet

What’s Pidgin?

So what is pidgin, exactly? Well, the BBC describe it, in this context, as “a mix of English and local languages enabling people who do not share a common language to communicate”.

We might think of it as a kind of hybrid oral “gisting”. It’s certainly fascinating to listen to! Languages and how people communicate evolve all the time. Check out the difference between a Pidgin and Creole language for example.

The Irish Pidgin Fancier

As an Irish person and speaker of “urban” Irish (or Gaeilge – not “Gaelic”), pidgin resonates strongly with me. There’s also clear evidence of a pidgin emerging with the Irish language. This development was pointed out by Brian Ó Broin (no relation) in this article from the Irish Times, “Schism fears for Gaeilgeoirí“, a few years ago. Brian has also written about the changing demographics of the Irish language for MultiLingual.

Pigeon Man on Dublin's Liffey Boardwalk (Image source: Ultan O'Broin)

Pigeon Man on Dublin’s River Liffey boardwalk (Image source: Ultan O’Broin)

Perhaps, the pidgin approach offers a way for the Irish language to thrive in rural Gaeltacht as well as urban areas and a way for all Irish language lovers to all communicate more (until we agree on emoji). Certainly, as pointed out by Irish President Michael D. Higgins recently, the compulsory approach to teaching the Irish language in Ireland has failed.

A more human-centric way of encouraging people to communicate using Irish is needed. Of course, Duolingo can help address our Irish language learning requirements too! Again, it’s voluntary. (Oh, “Catch the Pigeon“?)A more human-centric way of encouraging people to communicate using Irish is needed. Click To Tweet

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Conversational User Experience: Language Learning with Duolingo

Language, Personalization and Design, Translation Technology

I’ve previously written for MultiLingual about the language learning app Duolingo. I recall Duolingo’s launch and remarking how it was yet another #haterzgonnahate moment for the language industry critics out there. They’ve been proven wrong again. Nothing new there with the blowhards. Just like with their Google Translate criticisms they don’t get it that the alternative is not a human professional translator charging users for money for top quality grammar, terms and style, but no language option at all.

I also wrote about how my own national language, Irish (Gaeilge), is doing so well on the platform and receiving such high-level recognition.

Personally speaking, Duolingo is an ideal way for me to “get my ear in” before I travel abroad somewhere. I’m constantly adding languages into my learning mix

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Exploring Italian on Duolingo. I think I will wait until I get a bit more fluent before sharing my skills on LinkedIn, but I like it! Social is a key part of the Duolingo experience.

Chatting About User Experience

Duolingo takes advantage of voice-enabled devices of course, although it can be used without that feature. I mostly use Duolingo on my laptop and smart phone (language options in beta are not available on mobile), and have even tried it on Google Glass!

Duolingo’s got it all going on really from a UX perspective. It’s free, fun, global, local, social, all about mobility from the cloud, includes gamification, is powered by the crowd, packs voice interaction, and now bots too. A bot is ideal for language learning conversational interaction, of course (though the bot feature is not available in every Duolingo language option).

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A Duolingo bot can be unlocked to practice your language skills “for real” after a certain level. 

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Chatbots are an ideal way to engage with a languagelearning app, delivering a conversational UI for conversational solutions. Of course, text input and gestural interactions are also available.

The People Have Spoken

Duolingo is being used by so many people and for so many things! I know people who use it to learn French, German, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Irish, Romanian, and more. This might be out of love of learning new languages, getting the hang of some phrases in advance of foreign travel, strengthening the kids’ school language learning, just wanting to converse with others in their own language on a more casual basis, or simply out of plain old curiosity.

For many, Duolingo is the “only game” in town.

This TED talk with Luis von Ahn about large-scale online collaboration will help you get your head around what Duolingo is about. But, honestly, the best way to experience Duolingo is to … start that conversation yourself Go for it!

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Duolingo explains as you learn: Noun gender in Spanish is covered  as you use your own voice on a smartphone, for example.

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Hey kids, you talkin’ to me? Italian lesson with voice input enabled.

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More carrot than stick with the Irish lesson. There’s a change! Listen and then drag and drop the words to translate. Nice!

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Activity stream showing my Duolingo progress.

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Hey You! Your friendly Duo reminder on the smartphone!

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Bring the Bitterballen. Learning with others can be fun too. Duolingo lets you try group learning as well as learning on your own.

Your Duolingo Conversation Is Here

If you’ve used Duolingo, I’d love to hear about the experience: the why, how and what you felt about it. The comments box is open for your conversation.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Kudos and Comhghairdeas* to Duolingo’s Irish Language Volunteers

Language, Language in the News, Translation Technology

The Irish President (Uachtarán Na hEireann) Michael D. Higgins (Micheál D Ó hUigínn) (@PresidentIRL) has publicly recognized seven volunteers for their work in building up the Irish language (Gaeilge) version of the crowd-sourced, languagelearning social app Duolingo (@duolingo).

Duolingo on Twitter

Duolingo on Twitter

This is first time I’ve read about a head of state doing something like this in the language space, although volunteerism is something that’s often acknowledged publicly by officialdom.

Indeed, it is well-deserved recognition for these Duolingo volunteers given the results.

Duolingo Irish in the Top Ten

Over the past two years, over 2.3 million people had downloaded the language app and selected Irish as the language they wanted to learn. This means that Irish is in the top 10 most popular languages offered by Duolingo.

Over 2.3 million users have selected Irish as the language they want to learn on Duolingo

Over 2.3 million Duolingo users have selected Irish as the language they want to learn

About 75% of these Irish language users are outside of Ireland, and the majority of new learners are located in the United States.

President Higgins commended the volunteers’ efforts at the official residence of the President, Áras an Uachtaráin, saying that their contribution was “an act of both national and global citizenship”.

The President also took this opportunity to comment on the status of the Irish language generally and about Government plans for the language.

Well done to Duolingo and to its volunteers in Ireland, and indeed everywhere!

The Duolingo Lessons for Other Languages

The Journal.ie quotes Oisín Ó Doinn, one of the volunteers, who was clearly delighted so many are enjoying the benefits of the contributions made to the Irish language lessons on Duolingo:

“The fact that an average of 3,000 people a day have begun using the Duolingo Irish course shows the massive worldwide interest in our native language and makes all the hard work we put in worthwhile.”

Aodhán Ó Deá (@aodhanodea) of Conradh na Gaeilge (@CnaG) was also quoted by the Journal.ie about Irish language proficiency and the reasons behind it. Some of his remarks will resonate with many Irish people:

“The thing I hear again and again from people is ‘I’d love to learn the language’, and I wish I learned it in school’.

So, despite all the negativity we hear about the Irish language, particularly from within Ireland, Duolingo’s success with their Irish language version again proves that not only do people want to try and master conversational Irish but that when the digital user experience (UX) of language learning suits their world, and it is made easy and is fun, they will give it an honest shot and try to learn.

Duolingo Irish language lesson in action

Duolingo Irish language lesson in action

Again it is also clear how smart use of technology and an ever-improving UX can benefit the health of “minor” languages.

Duolingo language learning options. Duolingo also offers gamfication and social ventures to the experience of learning Irish.

Duolingo language learning options. Duolingo also offers gamfication and social features to the experience of learning Irish.

It will be interesting to see how the Duolingo impact plays out, if at all, in the responses to questions about Irish language usage in the next Irish census!

Other languages, please take note!

The Irish President's speech to Duolingo's Irish volunteers and about the Irish language generally is on SoundCloud

The Irish President’s speech about Duolingo’s Irish volunteers, and about the state of the Irish language generally is on SoundCloud.

You can listen to the Irish President’s Áras an Uachtaráin speech about Duolingo’s Irish volunteers and about the Irish language on SoundCloud.

  • Congratulations (in Irish).
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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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The Politics of Irish Language: Gaeilge (Never Gaelic)

Language in the News

I was going to write about the politics of the Irish language (Gaeilge) in the North of Ireland/Northern Ireland (see? in trouble already).

But I won’t.

Curry my yoghurt. Funny on one level, deadly serious on another.

Curry my yoghurt. Funny on one level; deadly serious on another.

The topic’s just too hot to handle (see what I did there?)

Recent news about the Irish language in that part of the island of Ireland is a reminder that language everywhere has powerful political and cultural dimensions. Language is a deadly serious business that can raise passions of the heart that no head can rationalize.

Still, on the subject of Gaeilge, it’s great to see how the Duolingo mobile is helping to spread Irish language learning elsewhere.

I bet that news fires up the passions too, huh?

Duolingo mobile app helps increase Gaeilge learning

Duolingo mobile app helps increase Gaeilge learning worldwide.

As far as I’m concerned, whatever your views, just don’t call it Gaelic.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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The Future of Web Translation: Haters Gonna Hate

Language in the News, Translation Technology

Just lurrve this TEDxCMU talk by Luis von Ahn of CMU called Duolingo: The Next Chapter in Human Computation. It’s all about smart people working together to solve worldwide information problems.

You know those annoying reCaptcha word combinations that you have to enter on some sites to verify that you’re a real person? Did you realize that they were part of a crowdsourced solution to digitize millions of words, for example twenty years of the New York Times? Again, CMU folks behind that one. Check out the video.

Luis goes on to tell us about Duolingo, a crowdsourced solution to translate the interweb’s information that solves those problems of motivating people to contribute translations freely and the lack of bilinguals. How? By leveraging the millions of people who want to learn another language. The solution is not only smart from a translation perspective, but much fairer in terms of language education too. Not everyone can afford those expensive languagelearning solutions.

Example of Duolingo-based translation shown by Luis von Ahn in the TEDxCMU video

Example of Duolingo-based translation shown by Luis von Ahn in the TEDxCMU video

Of course, Duolingo is now sure to attract the same decontextualized criticisms that Google Translate, Facebook crowdsourcing translation, and the rest of the community-based or ‘free’ approaches, attract from the ‘professional’ quarter. However, as Renato Beninatto points out, the battle is already won and nobody will be out of a job. So fess up folks while the rest of us call out such criticisms what they really are: a sales pitch for paid translation linked to fears about as credible as ye olde claims that the introduction of steam locomotives would turn cows milk sour (hat tip for analogy: @renatobeninatto), while being dismissive of those who desire to actually help the world to exchange information and communicate freely in any language they like (I don’t care if someone then wants to sell ads off the freely translated content).

The Duolingo.com site hasn’t gone live yet, but you can sign up for a beta preview. If you’re interested.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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