DuoLingo iPhone App

Our portfolio company DuoLingo has released its first mobile app, DuoLingo for iPhone.

Language learning is definitely something that lends itself to doing here and there when you have some downtime, like standing in line, sitting on the train, waiting for the movie to start.

So if you really want to learn a new language or improve your mastery of another language, check out DuoLingo on the iPhone. It's an entirely free app and they are supporting French, Spanish, and German to start. More languages will be coming soon.


Comments (Archived):

  1. spektor

    Between self improvement apps like this one, various news sources and recreational games is there a point at which our brain starts to overload due to lack of downtime?

    1. fredwilson

      yes. i am there already 🙂

  2. takingpitches

    Haven’t tried it but I am interested to do so. Trying to learn French has been an on and off affair (mostly off) for 12 years :-)I love that this company is from Pittsburgh, where my wife is from. It’s transition from a steel town to a technology city is often overlooked. There is a tremendous pool of educational talent with CMU and Pitt, it’s a cheap place to live, and it has a wonderful spirit.In particular, given it is one of the best health care centers in the country with its tremendous hospitals and pool of doctors, it is a place worth checking out if you are launching something health-care related.

    1. Nik Bonaddio

      I couldn’t agree more. While of course I am totally biased, Pittsburgh is a sleeping giant as far as technology. The area – mostly driven by CMU and to a lesser extent, Pitt – is already a hub for robotics, healthcare tech, and entertainment technology; it’s only a matter of time before the confluence of a low cost of living merges with the availability of engineering talent to create a very strong regional hub for startups.One thing that has surely changed has the way that CMU itself has approached startups. When I graduated in 2005, the university was little more than a funnel towards big tech (Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) but in recent years, they’ve really taken a proactive approach to highlighting the benefits of entrepreneurship and startups. They’ve done some incubating, extended some research grants, and have even allowed the little guys some space in their technology recruitment conferences. I think you’ll definitely see that practice continue as a new generation of entrepreneurs with CMU blood will allow the university to use that success as a Stanford-esque calling card.Retrospectively, it’s somewhat shocking that they took so long to really embrace it, given the many great companies that have spun out of CMU research over the years: Lycos, ReCAPTCHA, Akustica, Vivisimo, and of course, all of the robotics stuff.

      1. takingpitches

        Nice background on Pittsburgh.Took a quick glance and I look forward to using your service next year. God knows my fantasy football team could have used the help this year!

      2. ShanaC

        My brother is graduating CMU this year (physics and Math). I don’t think they are reaching enough into the student body from what I hear. He still gets mostly recruited by hedge funds….(and Hi Sammy if you ever see this)

    2. Dave Pinsen

      There was an article in the FT last year about how Pittsburgh could be a model for other cities in transitioning to tech & health care: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/…The article noted that Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate was lower than the surrounding region. But when you get to the part about how Pittsburgh’s population has dropped by more than half in the last 30+ years, it sounds less promising as a national example: the unemployment rate is relatively low today not because most of the steel industry jobs have been replaced, but because half the population is gone. Not an easy trick to accomplish for the country as a whole.

      1. takingpitches

        thanks for that link Dave. A nice read.

        1. Dave Pinsen


    3. Richard

      Do you have anyone in particular in the healthcare space that would be interested in a having a coffee?

      1. takingpitches

        Not offhand, sorry, but will revert if I think of some folks.

  3. Nathan Guo

    As a bilingual Chinese American, I’m really excited to see how DuoLingo’s efforts in Mandarin turn out. French, Spanish, and German are substantially easier for American English speakers to jump into, but I feel like there’s a huge barrier left at an early age that prevents some people from ever really getting Chinese.Specifically, because Chinese is a tonal language, there are some neural pathways that need to be developed early on that are developed in monolingual English speakers. This means that comprehension (differentiation of tones) and communication (producing different tones) are more or less impossible for a substantial swathe of the population.That being said, I know plenty of people who have been successful with learning Chinese. People with musical backgrounds and perfect pitch tend to understand the tones well. My boss is completely tone-deaf and to this day cannot hear or speak the tones, but he is still able to get by conversationally just based on knowing the contextual order of words. The barrier to entry is much higher for Chinese than for learning Indo-European languages, so DuoLingo may need to modify the existing system to focus on basics in a different way than you would with French, Spanish, and German.

    1. Abs Ghosh

      Yes, would be interesting to see what they do with Mandarin

    2. Matt A. Myers

      I will use DuoLingo regularly once they get into Mandarin. I have a good friend I want to chat with in his language. 🙂 Sure, I could start learning it on my own with him, though structure is nice.

      1. andyidsinga

        ill also get it when they get putonghua in there ..also italian+need android version!

        1. William Mougayar

          From their blog “Android users, we have heard your cries! We have a small team, and it takes a lot of work to make the Duolingo experience excellent on each mobile platform. We are working on the Android version, but it will not be ready until next year. In the meantime, we will continue making the web version better for Android devices.”http://blog.duolingo.com/po…

          1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

            and hence is one reason why I switched to the iPhone. There were a few apps that I wanted immediately and hated waiting for the Android version. The other problem is that when they do come for Android, they are a few steps behind the iOS version

          2. Matt A. Myers

            Agree about the Android version. Though there’s apparently lots of demand for it, so they’ll get it done asap.

    3. karen_e

      Between us, my husband and I can get along pretty well in five non-Asian languages. Yet our child has spent two years in a Mandarin immersion day care program. Boy, does he have his tones down — and he sings on key, too. I can’t wait to practice Mandarin on the fly via DuoLingo someday. Gotta catch up to the kid!

    4. Jork

      I want to point you into another direction: Microsoft. The company has demonstrated a translation technique in which an English speaker’s words get played back seconds later in Mandarin, as if they were speaking that language themselves. Amazing technique, and I am wondering whether it really works…Please have a look at the following movie:http://www.youtube.com/watc…I am sure the same techniques can be exploited to learn (or create materials/programs) more successfully. For you, as a Mandarin speaker, I would love to hear your thoughts!

      1. Nathan Guo

        I did see this last week and it is extremely impressive. Overall, Google Translate’s capabilities for Mandarin translation have been historically weak, and it is interesting to see that they have been able to find some sort of solution.One of the issues I see with this approach versus the hidden Markov modeling (essentially learning from people) is that there are far fewer 1-to-1 equivalent translations for Chinese than say German. That being said, this is a question of vocabulary.As I see it, this new approach does substantially better than the previous one because it addresses the structural difference of Mandarin. It seems to handle sentences successfully that are an order of magnitude (my qualitative assessment) more complex than the sentences Google Translate can handle. That being said, i suspect that a blending of the two methods would yield really great results.

        1. Jork

          Yeah looks fabulous … think of all the people (especially the Chinese , I don’t know why) who are using a handheld translate machine.Re. your qualitative assessment -> I do not speak a word Mandarin… but I am interested to know what the quality of the Chinese translation in the video is? According to you, does it sound (almost) natural?

          1. Nathan Guo

            The translation was very natural, but I’m sure they tested a few phrases so that he knew which ones would come out accurately. A few sources I saw at the time this video came out indicated that it still had ~30% error rate. The qualitative assessment was more discussing the complexity of the sentence translated. Google Translate would have a very hard time with the sentences they used in the video.

    5. fredwilson

      i believe (but am not certain) that they are going to tackle mandarin in the next year.

      1. Nathan Guo

        Yeah I saw that they were hiring a “Chinese Master” on their site, which prompted my comment.

  4. William Mougayar

    They seem to have an innovative approach to learning. But they only support 4 languages- Spanish, German, French & Portuguese. I’d like to improve my very scant Italian, so looking forward to more language choices.

  5. panterosa,

    While most of India speaks English, I have a hankering to learn Hindi. I didn’t get a chance to comment in the recent airline post, but one of my faves is Virgin because they have amazing movie choices. I watch Bollywood/Indian films with the subtitles, and somehow after a RT to London I found I had a good ear for Hindi. My motivation is to learn the words to the songs – not just to sing them, but to know what I’m singing.I will check out DuoLingo for my daughter, who has a good ear. She can catch up with me on SPanish, French, and Italian that way. Mind Snacks is another app which she loves for languages, it quite well done.

  6. Yalim K. Gerger

    I find DuoLingo’s intentions admirable and wish them all the success in the world. I just think this is not going to work out. Obviously, you are in a much better position to make a decision. What made you invest in DuoLingo, if you don’t mind me asking.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      I disagree based on my first impressions when I logged into DuoLingo many months ago. It’s structure from a language learning tool was exciting to me. If they can support all of the functions and needs of learning a new language then there’s no reason it can’t become the #1 tool used.

      1. Yalim K. Gerger

        I hope you are right. I’d be very happy if I am wrong. It is not like I am the expert here. I just don’t think there is a problem to solve from web’s perspective. I am quite happy with Google Translate for the languages I don’t know. It is good enough, isn’t it?

        1. Matt A. Myers

          If you want to be more fluent than not in a language, then not good enough.

    2. JimHirshfield

      Lrge network of connected users, is my guess. That’s the usual answer around here 😉 …and for good reason.

    3. fredwilson

      Luis, the founder, is a special entrepreneur. we believe in him and his vision.

  7. Fernando Gutierrez

    I’ve tried two established players in this field to learn German, LiveMocha and Busuu, but it is not easy at all. Materials need to be really good and the community has to be really involved. I prefer Busuu materials and LiveMocha community, so I’m not really satisfied with them. Nor with my (lack of) progress. As far as I know neither of them are doing great financially.I really hope that the other part DuoLingo has, the ‘translating the web’ side, holds the key to really making this great, but I don’t really get it to be honest. I’m pretty satisfied with Google Translate for my other-languages-reading, but I’d be open to any other thing… as soon as they release their Android app.

    1. William Mougayar

      I hear you. Successful language learning has a lot to do with the person wanting to learn it and how much time they put into it. You really need to work at it, whether it’s software A or B that helps you is a secondary factor.That said, if DuoLingo has figured how to keep the person motivated to continue learning, then that’s a critical factor I think.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        Motivation is key. A big part of my English semi-knowledge derives from the moment I realized that what I had learnt in school and a couple summers abroad was insuficient. There were no fancy tools back then, but I committed myself to only read English books, watch movies in English (in Spain most are doubled to Spanish) and speak as much English as I could. In the beginning it was painful but it paid. I guess that with apps it would have been smoother, but the key was wanting it. Badges are not enough to keep someone involved in such a hard endeavour as learning a language.

  8. kirklove

    Que Bueno! Felicidades.Now only if it had Guaraní, it’d be perfect for my trip to Paraguay.

    1. fredwilson

      have fun Kirk.

  9. Abdullah Alshalabi

    Love it!!! Seriously considering dropping my Spanish class

  10. Robert

    I’d love for DuoLingo to support Czech. I realize this is a long shot because of the size of the country, but there’s not much out there to learn the language. My girlfriend is Czech and I feel bad that I can’t communicate with her parents more than a dozen words (most of which relate to alcohol or food).If I had an app to learn the language off of, I feel like I’d work at it so much more since I always have my iPad and iPhone.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      Livemocha offers Czech and community there is quite good.

  11. Richard

    I dont think approaches like Duolingo are right for everyone. Im looking to improve my spanish skills and just met with someone who teaches newbies at the state department. We had a great brainstorming session on how to teach foreign language, particularly for the right brain oriented crowd.

  12. Joe Yevoli

    I just started learning Italian! When’s that coming out?! 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      i think soon. they can knock out european languages quickly now.

  13. Richard

    Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases. Four experiments recently showed that the “framing effect” (bias etc.) disappears when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. I’ve always suspected this. Anyone experience this effect?

    1. JimHirshfield

      Please elaborate Are you saying that if I learn a little French, that my clients in France will be more inclined to buy from me?

      1. Richard

        The experiments showed that a foreign language reduces fearof loss. They showed this by asking participants if they would accept a bet with positive “expected value”. (Ill give you 1.5:1 odds for a flipof a coin) They think these effects arise because a foreign language provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native tonguedoes, less anchoring.

        1. ShanaC

          err, where does it say that?

    2. Wavelengths

      When I have traveled, I’ve found that if I make even a modest effort to speak a few words of the local language, I am treated with more courtesy. I am not likely to become fluent in Bahasa Malayu. But the fact that I could order kopi and roti telur got me more smiles and a much greater chance that I would end up in an English conversation with someone local.Is that what you mean?

      1. ShanaC

        bahasa malayu?

    3. jason wright

      Interesting idea. So L1 words are unhelpfully ‘overloaded’?When I’m in Germany I find that my mind can “cut through’ my native ‘clutter’ using L2 words. It’s very refreshing. Even the mundane seems brand new, clearer, and sharper.

  14. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    I have used Duolingos web application and it was extremely useful. However, I didn’t keep up after a few weeks. I am hoping the new mobile app will keep me more active! I liked how they released at different times depending on the time zone!

  15. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    If they do one for Arabic it will be awesome. My wife wants to learn Arabic and is looking for good online courses!

  16. JimHirshfield

    I don’t need this. I have Google Translate.ha ha ha

    1. ShanaC

      ba da bing

      1. JimHirshfield

        Oh, you use Bing Translate? How’s that workin’ for ya?

  17. matthughes

    Also supporting Portuguese – que bom!

  18. jason wright

    Windows Phone version? :-)I don’t do evil, but my cousin chose to make a pact with the devil only this last week. She loves it. Satanist.Nihongo wa doko desu ka?

  19. nilb

    Learning the basic of any language from any software (or even in some case teachers;) is ok. However, communication with the non native language is the key issue. Many people start to learn a language (and even feel semi-confident about it), but when they start to speak with a native, it becomes really sad and it is not about their vocabulary but the speed of talk and lack of practice speaking with real people (at a decent speed).It also seems that they are focusing mainly about reading/translation (and basic reading but not dialog oriented)Hope DuoLing will have also a solution t to the next step – real dialogues where the user can also practice real people speaking speed.

  20. adjwilli

    How will they make money?

    1. fredwilson

      that is the brilliant thing about duolingo. as the website explains, it is both a language learning tool and a translation service. the latter pays for the former.http://duolingo.com/

  21. Aaron Klein

    My wife will be all over this when Italian ships. 🙂

  22. unlisted

    Lovin’ the new Turntable.fm redsign!

    1. fredwilson

      my post of the day today

    2. leigh

      I would love to see it. But unfortunately i live in Canada. I freakin’ hate the whole country issue.

  23. ShanaC

    Now if only there was an app for doing that with programming languages on a mobile phone. A girl can dream…

  24. Gareth Ochse

    Looks interesting, however its not available outside of the USA on itunes. grr

    1. fredwilson

      that is strange. i will inquire why.

    2. fredwilson

      i just inquired and duolingo tells me it is in the top ten in many countries outside the US. what country are you in?

  25. iPhone app development

    To make better use of the cellular mobile mobile cellular mobile cell mobile phone’s touch-screen interface, the Duolingo group, led by CAPTCHA co-inventor Louis von Ahn, determined to add a few cellular app-only functions as well. New in the app, for example, is a unique interface that “gives you a phrase loan company and allows you tap circumstances to get into your reaction.

  26. fredwilson

    this is fantastic feedback. i really appreciate it.