Duolingo is Getting More Serious

Duolingo, the rising star in the language learning space, is this year’s most downloaded application in the education category on Google play. On iOS, however, the app did not make it in the top ranks this year.

This difference in rankings on the two leading mobile operating systems is a good indicator for the different mindsets and needs learners in industrialized countries and the developing world each have. According to Gina Gotthilf, head of marketing and international development for the company, 67% of Duolingo’s 50 million users are now located outside the United States.

Android is clearly dominating the smartphone market in developing countries which are also relevant markets to companies in the language learning space. Duolingo’s approach of quality education free of charge without hidden cost or annoying advertisement seems to resonate with serious learners who see language learning as an opportunity to score better jobs in the global economy.

Having access to a growing selection of languages to learn, currently Duolingo is offering Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, and English, and a recently launched Test Center that provides certificates at a very low fee, is a very compelling offer compared to most paid and free competitors in the space.

Duolingo started to generate revenue by selling global companies, like CNN and BuzzFeed, translations of their content. The translations are crowdsourced by the users on Duolingo while they are learning a new language. Now the startup is shifting towards an adaptive learning approach, one that has been requested by its growing group of learners that are also more serious about what they want to achieve.

In an interview with Fast Company, Luis von Ahn teases the next step in Duolingo’s evolution. Based on the data of learners, von Ahn and team developed an adaptive learning path that will change based on the individual strengths and weaknesses of a learner. This is a shift away from the current model that set Duolingo in a more game-like environment. In February, around the time Duolingo raised a $20 million Series C round, von Ahn told re/code

“Our users aren’t hardcore. They are procrastinating and don’t want to feel as bad, so they open our app.”

At that time Duolingo had 25 million users, 12.5 million of which were active ones. The new version that is being launched next month will now also cater to the more serious Duolingo learners, who most likely also have better retention rates and use the app for a longer period of time. According to Gotthilf, learners outside the US often use Duolingo to prepare for language certifications.

Further Reading

Duolingo’s New Mission: Watching You Learn | Fast Company