Duolingo: learning through translation

Effective language-learning program with a unique approach

“We come together from across the world at varying language levels with the same goal in mind – to learn. Curiosity, questioning, and cultural understanding are something we celebrate.”

-Duolingo Guidelines

Why do so many people yearn to learn English and other languages? The reasons–whether for work, friendships, travel or challenge–originate from a desire to understand each other. Duolingo brings this concept to life through its translation-based language learning program. With millions of learners across a dozen or so languages, Duolingo has emerged as a popular website and app for learners.

This free service focuses on translation of the internet. Students learn lessons in a “game” scenario; they have three ‘hearts’ throughout lessons, collect XP points and restart lessons once they run out of lives. Learning vocabulary, phrases and grammar centers around translation. A separate part of the website focuses on translating for other real websites, like Buzzfeed and CNN, which Duolingo recently partnered with.

Duolingo encourages language-learners with its online platforms for discussion among users. Members can post on forums, ask and answer questions and support each other’s progress.


In 2012, Roumen Vesselinov, PhD of the City University of New York and John Grego, PhD of the University of South Carolina conducted an eight-week independent study with English native speakers learning Spanish using Duolingo. The results found that 34 hours with Duolingo boost language test scores the same amount as one semester of university study. Clearly, these results reflect strong indications that Duolingo implements effective language-learning methods. The full study can be found here. Isn’t it amazing how technology can transform ancient activities like language learning?


Duolingo emphasizes reading, writing and listening skills. However, conversation skills matter. Duolingo, like too many language classrooms, neglects actual speaking skills. Practicing conversations, refining pronunciation and role-playing real-life situations remain essential aspects of learning a language. After all, the Compelling Conversations book series centers around learning English through sparking conversations. After all, knowledge of new vocabulary and basic phrases only proves important and useful if it can be employed between living human beings!


Duolingo represents a glimpse into the future of language learning. It has helped millions of people become autotelic (self-directed), learn new languages and offer real-world translation of authentic internet materials. And free of charge, what’s not to like?

Read more about Duolingo on Wikipedia or check out Duolingo CEO Luis Von Ahn’s Tedtalk. If you plan to use this Tedtalk in your ESL class, you might want to take a look at the TED worksheet I use in my advanced oral skills classes.

Do your students use Duolingo? What other sites and apps do they like?

Ask More. Know More. Share More.
Create Compelling Conversations.

Photo source: “Duolingo logo”. Via Wikipedia -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Duolingo_logo.png#mediaviewer/File:Duolingo_logo.png

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