In their own words:
“Learning languages in Duolingo is completely free – now and forever – with no ads or hidden fees. Wondering how that can be? It’s because you create value by translating real-world documents while you’re learning.
Here’s how it works: Somebody who needs a webpage translated uploads it to Duolingo. That document then gets presented to Duolingo students who can translate it in order to practice the language they are learning. When the document is fully translated, Duolingo returns it to the original content owner who, depending on the type of document they uploaded, pays for the translation.”
I actually learned about Duolingo quite some time ago. I love TED Talks and happened to be recommended a video in which Luis Von Ahn talked about Re-Captcha and Duolingo. For anyone not familiar, Re-Captcha is the initiative to turn those “I’m not a robot” verification codes into “I’m not a robot and I’m helping translate digitized manuscripts” verification codes.
Luis Von Ahn – Massive Scale Online Collaboration
I was reminded of this program recently when I was talking with a friend who wanted her daughter to start learning a foreign language now (middle school) in preparation for the language requirement at their high school. I told her about this site because it has the same dual purpose as Re-Captcha. As noted in their blurb, it helps you learn a language while translating the web. It also translates in both directions, so if you only speak Spanish you can use Duolingo to improve your English as well. This helps to increase access to materials across lingual divides. The languages currently offered for translation from English are Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian.
The site has full Facebook integration including login, sharing, and inviting friends. It also has a mobile presence so you can learn on the go with the iOS version or (after 5/29/13) the Android version. They also have a blog, a help (FAQ) page, and quite active discussion forums.
The actual learning is based on skill mastery, so lessons build from simple to complex and include multiple learning modalities. You may be asked to pair a picture with a word or words, speak a word or phrase into the microphone on your computer, listen to a phrase spoken to you, reverse translations, repetition, and remediation. The more you practice your vocabulary the more points you gain and visiting the site each day allows you to build up hot streaks. If you are away from the site for some time, the vocabulary will decay and have to be reinforced before moving forward again. If you are in a module, you are allowed to make four mistakes before you will be required to start over again from the beginning. If you feel you have mastered a level before making it to the end of the module, there is a test out option.
New words are highlighted, and hovering over them will give you the definition for those words. Hovering over any word will also give a translation if you are having difficulty. Each lesson has a button for bug reporting and any discussion threads associated with it. The threads can include many different types of conversations including questions about tense, gender, or usage of words or phrases. If you have a typo in one of the answers to your lesson, it is identified and a correction is shown below the typo.
Finally, visiting the Immersion tab allows you to visit actual documents and translate them. These documents include web pages that can range from menus to autobiographies to news articles. They are a great way for learners to apply their knowledge as well as practice understanding the contextual elements of the language.
This site is great if you want to have an understanding of a new language for work, school or leisure, while at the same time increasing access to information through translation. It’s free and easy to use, not to mention fun!