Learn A Language And Translate For Practice With Duolingo (Now Open To All!)

Angela Randall 28-06-2012

learn a languageIf you’ve ever tried to learn a second language, you know that it’s never a bad thing to have many ways to try to learn. The internet has given us some fantastic tools for language learning, and Duolingo is the latest site to give it a go. It’s just come out of closed beta and is now available for everyone to use, after being the talk of language learning communities online for months.


Duolingo is currently teaching German, Spanish and French for free to anyone who wants to learn. The site is kept free by getting students to help with translating the web as they learn. As for the lessons themselves, they’re really easy to understand and are broken down into manageable pieces to help you learn.

Sign Up & Social Connection

You can sign up for free to Duolingo with an email address, Facebook login or Twitter login. Of course, whichever you choose, Duolingo then encourages you to connect Facebook and Twitter in order to interact with your friends via Duolingo.

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Each user chooses a primary language to learn, but it’s possible to learn multiple languages with Duolingo. Simply click in the top-right corner and switch to the language you want to learn today. Duolingo will keep track of how much you have learned for each language.

How Does Duolingo Work?

Duolingo essentially takes you through step-by-step lessons to teach you the basics of a second language. It will teach you everyday sentences and useful words for situations, rather than dwelling on the grammar involved. This is great for developing your working language vocabulary, but not perfect for developing a higher-level understanding of the language. That said, most newcomers to a language really just want to jump in and get a feel for it, learning as much useful language as possible in the shortest amount of time. Duolingo will be perfect for these new learners.


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Like many online language learning tools, Duolingo does not allow you to jump ahead to different lessons. You can, however, choose to work on different paths up to a point before revising the things you already know.

learn languages

Find out more by watching the Duolingo video.


Translation As Practise

In order to be doubly useful as a business, Duolingo aims to translate websites using student translators. This is one of the reasons that translating is a large part of the student’s learning process at Duolingo. The other reason, though, is that translating short passages of text is such a great way of reinforcing your language lessons and testing your comprehension.

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Within Duolingo, you translate really short 2-5 word phrases which are somewhat out of context. The only context you have to place it in is a short summary of the article you’re translating from. In order to gain translation points, and practise your language skills, you pick the phrases to translate from a list.

Each translation list is made up of phrases chosen with your individual skill level in mind. All users can re-rate the difficulty of a phrase whenever they come across one. Users can also rate the overall document itself, so that the better articles are offered for translation more often than the others.



Duolingo has a well organised questions section where students are encouraged to ask questions about the language they’re studying. Anything goes as far as questions are concerned: grammar, word usage, exceptions. You can search the questions, answer other people’s questions or post your own questions. When you post, you can choose a category for your question to ensure it gets seen by the right people.


One problem many students have is that they forget to practise their skills. Duolingo lets you choose whether to be reminded to learn more of your chosen language on a daily basis or not.

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More Language Learning

If you’re a keen language learner, here are some more articles you’ll enjoy:


What do you like about Duolingo?

Related topics: Education Technology, Language Learning.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. fatihamzah
    September 12, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Wow, thanks! :)

  2. Ben
    July 2, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Time for me to learn a new language!

  3. Ravi Meena
    June 30, 2012 at 5:52 am

    Started Learning Spanish :), thank you for this article

  4. Shai
    June 29, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Well, first of all it is not for free, this is a crowdsourcing project. While using the website you actually do a translation WORK that is later on being used. This project operates under the same model as reCAPTCH (same person heading them both).
    I personaly oppose all crowdsourcing projects (please do not confuse with volunteer work or Pro Bono work), and though different people have different opinions, I strongly advise to carefully consider such project before participating in them. In essence, people take your work and capitalize on it while in return give you no or minor compensation compared to the value of your work.
    Also, while participating in crowdsourcing projects, you ultimately cost some professional their job or a project, and at the same time inflict another damage by lowering (not intentionally of course) the quality of that service because this business model harnesses the power of the masses to get a job done quickly, "dirty" and on the cheap (what is cheaper than free labor?), and while you might not even know the affected industry, or maybe don't care if such projects will continue to gain momentum, someday it will reach your line of work, and you will find yourself at the affected end.
    This whole model is flawed. A lot of effort is being invested in creating new ways to get people to do a work for free (or with negligible compensation) just to later sell it to them back.

    If you ask me, there are more moral and ethical ways to learn or brush up on a language.

    • SM
      June 29, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      I completely agree with you about the crowdsourcing thing.
      But I am not sure if the website is one of them

      • Shai
        June 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm

        The business model is just like that of reCAPTCHA. People who have translation job and don't want to pay for it much submit their content (hence the affect on the translation industry), and it gets translated for them by the crowd.

        Here is a quote from Duolingo's terms, under paragraph 10. Proprietary Rights in Service Content and Activity Data:
        "...As between you and Duolingo, all data and information generated from your access and use of the educational activities made available on or through the Service, including translated content generated by you (collectively, the “Activity Data”), shall be exclusively owned by Duolingo, and you shall not have any right to use such Activity Data except as expressly authorized by these Terms and Conditions. By using the Service, you hereby assign to Duolingo any and all rights, title and interest, including any intellectual property rights or proprietary rights, in the Activity Data. All rights of Duolingo or its licensors that are not expressly granted in these Terms and Conditions are reserved to Duolingo and its licensors."

        So, you do the work, assign all the rights to your work to the company that now owns them and can do what ever it wants with them, and you have no say about how, where and if your translation is used (imagine your work ending up in website that has ethical/legal issues, or just a website to which you oppose, but when translating you didn't know that this piece of text is part of it). Just read some more about this imitative around the web, the information and true intentions of monetizing this project are there. The mere lack of transparency by the company as to what is done with the translated work (much like reCAPTCH in which this information is not really what I would call available or transparent) is enough for me to stay away. After people have digitized content in reCAPTCH (many without knowing the true use of this mechanism), some of which is now being sold back to them, now it is time to translate the web by exploiting the naive nature of the crowd, masking the true use under well crafted and thought hype and PR, and then, in due time, capitalize on it, and what that will be done, it will time to move forward for the next new big (crowdsourcing) project, the ultimately will get something for nothing and then resell it to the same crowd who contributed to its creation.

        There is a huge difference between volunteer work for a worthy cause by helping non-profit organization, and providing free work for a for-profit organization.
        People are easily tempted these days by hype and other kinds of manipulation, and though everyone is entitled to their opinion and are certainly free to participate in every legal activity, there are also (or at least should be) moral and ethical considerations as well. I think that people need to be more aware and educated about the whole crowdsourcing trend.

        In my opinion the whole notion of crowdsourcing it immoral. No one would have volunteered to work at a for-profit organization, it is called a job and people expect to get paid for it. But when it is on the web and called crowdsourcing or any other well thought title, people are so avidly rushing to contribute, be part of the hype and have something to talk about around the cooler or on their social media of choice. Little do they understand sometimes that contributing to this trend only means that sooner or later a similar project will hurt their job stability, and there will no longer be a cooler to gather and talk around .

        • Teodoro Villamarzo
          June 30, 2012 at 3:45 am

          Basically it boils down to a an exchange of values. The value to me by learning another language versus the value of being used for translation. In the beginning, the value of learning overshadows being used. Eventually, with the new learning, you will feel exploited. But it's the same as paying for tuition in a learning institution. What is important is that it is upfront, meaning you know what the exact values are to be exchanged.
          It's similar to playing the lotto or gambling. Nobody forces you into it. Yet many people do even if they know that their money is essentially being given away. But never mind, I get a thrill. So money versus the thrill.
          While many right minded individuals will never go into the casino, yet you can see many indulging in it.
          The difference here is that the value is something that can't be taken away from you.
          As they say, education, or learning another language, is a treasure that can't be taken away.
          How much is it worth?

        • Angela Alcorn
          June 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm

          True too. I like getting to learn things for free. I don't mind that they get something from me in return. :)

        • Shai
          June 30, 2012 at 9:07 pm

          I think that you have missed my point a little.
          Whether to participate or not based on the exchange of values is a subjective measure and there isn't any absolute truth or one correct answer.
          However, you minimize this to the most basic level while ignoring wider aspects. This is what crowdsourcing people know and rely on, the fact that most people examining the project in terms of their own narrow interests and ignoring (or being unaware of) the other aspects that I have mentioned above, mainly, moral and ethics.

          It's like creating a website to learn programming and than use the data received to create complete code segments and then sell them, or a website to teach graphic skills by offering real graphic content that will later be used on the web, other communication channel or print, and the crowd participating will do all the cropping, touch ups, preparations, etc. under the mask of learning graphic skills.
          This results both in lowering the quality of service (it is done by complete amateurs, for example, if you need to translate something, would your first thought be giving it to someone who is just learning the target language? I guess not. Profession is not just the technical skill, it is also an in-depth understanding of the needs, nuances and ins and outs of the task. This is acquired by a combination of talent, education and real world experience).

          When you volunteer to a worthy cause in an organization the promotes that cause and don't look to turn profit out of it, it is great. When you are active in an online community and help it develop by harnessing your skills such as graphic design etc. to improve the community, this is also great. But this is not the case here. This is working for free for a for-profit organization that, most probably, will earn more than the value it is offering (let's say what you would have paid for a 1 hour of language tutoring), while at the same time lowering the quality of the service rendered by that project, hurting the profile of the underlying profession (hey, if a complete amateur can program, design, translate, etc., why do I need to pay someone a lot of money to do the same).
          Crowdsourcing aims to make everything a commodity while in reality almost no profession is. Not all programs, translators, designers, consultants, etc. are alike, and therefore the quality of the end product is not the same no matter who provide the service or work.

          And as I said, crowdsourcing - an imitative headed and encouraged by the more bigger corporations that have found a new way to earn free (or near free) labor and then sell your work back to you - is already hurting people's livelihood. This alone should make everyone carefully consider their position on encouraging such initiatives.

        • Angela Alcorn
          June 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm

          Very interesting thoughts.

          About the articles though, you can choose which ones you want to translate from. There's no need to pick one you don't approve of.

    • Angela Alcorn
      June 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      It encourages you to do it, but it doesn't force you to. You can do all the lessons for free. :)

      Interesting point you raise about taking away jobs, though.

      • Shai
        June 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm

        This is exactly the point.
        This is not a free offering. It might look like it at first, but it is not. It is like going to work at a law office for free. In return you will get a lot of experience, learn about the legal system, maybe even make a connection or two, but at the end of the day the legal firm will monetize your work, and it will probably be worth to them more than the value of what you have learned if you would try to use it to make an income.

        But the core issues here is moral and ethics. If not for this project, would you have introduced yourself as a translator and offer your translation services to paying customers (and you can replace "translator" with "programmer", "designer" and any other similar profession)?
        Not only that participating in such projects is hurting the professionals in those fields, but also someone out there is paying for a service that is being rendered to them by people who are not necessarily qualified, some don't even have the basic skills. For moral reasons I am very uncomfortable with this idea.

        • Angela Alcorn
          July 2, 2012 at 7:32 am

          I definitely worry about the quality of the translations these clients are paying for. And yes, these "translators" wouldn't be applying for translation jobs normally. You're right there.

        • Angela Alcorn
          July 2, 2012 at 7:38 am

          I can't reply to the longer comment, so I'll add another one here. You have certainly hit the nail on the head in terms of why we should reconsider supporting for-profit crowd-sourcing projects like this. It does seem to hurt the industry and de-value the work involved.

          Thanks for your opinions.

  5. G W
    June 29, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Excellent! I needed to work on my German.

  6. Humza
    June 29, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Wow, i'll give french a try. Best of luck to me then :D

  7. raymond mcnatt
    June 29, 2012 at 7:10 am

    free is cheaper than rosette stone

    • iStoopKid
      June 29, 2012 at 7:43 am

      Thanks. My Spanish could use a little touching up.

  8. venkatp16
    June 29, 2012 at 1:53 am

    seems gud interface... let me try.