Duolingo: Free Language Learning Software & Crowdsourced Translation Service

6 Dec

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/506656/the-cleverest-business-model-in-online-education/

Learn a language for free & your homework is sold as a service:

“Most language-learning software providers have no incentive for you to learn,” he says. “Once [they] get your $500, they’re happy. We’ll do a lot to get you to come back, because it really matters.” His hoped-for translation business depends on it.
That’s why the company’s 20 employees in Pittsburgh spend most of their time getting the software to teach better. Von Ahn says that so far about 30 percent of people who start learning a language will still be visiting the site a week later. That figure may sound low, but it’s impressive for any Web service, he says. Duolingo users are drilled on new words using both written exercises and audio (the software can detect and assess their pronunciation). As they progress, their performance is used to decide what lessons they get next.It adds up to a free course several hundred hours long that can take a student from zero knowledge of a second tongue to what von Ahn describes as “intermediate level” ability—the kind you’d need to get by on a foreign vacation or grasp the gist of a newspaper article.
The other side of the business comes in when students are asked to practice by translating single sentences from one language to another. Those sentences are currently taken from sites von Ahn thinks should be translated anyway, such as English Wikipedia articles without equivalents in Spanish

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