The Duolingo English Test
I wrote about our portfolio company Duolingo’s English Proficiency Test back in August of last year. I have always loved the idea that a company that helps people learn a language can also help people prove their fluency in a language. It is two sides of the same coin.
But the road to success with the English Proficiency Test has been hard. The “incumbent provider” of English proficiency tests, Test Of English As A Foreign Language (aka TOEFL), has had all of the companies and universities who accept it locked up for many years. And if you are required to certify with TOEFL, well then you take TOEFL.
The Duolingo English Test is and has always been a way better product than TOEFL. But in some markets, incumbency matters more than better. One of the primary benefits of the Duolingo English Test is you take it at home on your computer versus having to go to a proctored location. It costs less ($49 vs $205). And the test takes one hour vs three hours. And yet, it has been hard to crack into this market.
And then the pandemic hit. No more in-person testing. As the international higher education publication PIE News puts it:
With the suspension of traditional English proficiency tests in countries most affected by the coronavirus, a wave of US institutions are now accepting the results of the Duolingo English Test, either as stand-alone proof or as a supplement to other measures of English-language proficiency.https://thepienews.com/news/us-more-heis-accepting-the-duolingo-english-test-amid-uncertainty/
Duolingo’s co-founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn, told me this in an email yesterday:
1. The number of tests we administer per day has gone up 10x!
2. 500 new university programs have begun accepting the Duolingo English Test in the last 8 weeks (we had 1,000 before this).
3. Both TOEFL and IELTS, after spending a lot of time saying that online tests were no good, now have online options.
So now the market is open to competition and the best product can win. I’m betting on Duolingo (and have been since we made our seed investment in the company in 2012).