Duolingo: Learn a Language for Free While Helping to Translate the Web


September 19, 2012


Luis von Ahn


Carnegie Mellon University


I want to translate the Web into every major language: every webpage, every video, and, yes, even Justin Bieber’s tweets.
With its content split up into hundreds of languages – and with over 50% of it in English – most of the Web is inaccessible to most people in the world. This problem is pressing, now more than ever, with millions of people from China, Russia, Latin America and other quickly developing regions entering the Web. In this talk, I introduce my new project, called Duolingo, which aims at breaking this language barrier, and thus making the Web truly “world wide.”
We have all seen how systems such as Google Translate are improving every day at translating the gist of things written in other languages. Unfortunately, they are not yet accurate enough for my purpose: Even when what they spit out is intelligible, it’s so badly written that I can’t read more than a few lines before getting a headache.
With Duolingo, our goal is to encourage people, like you and me, to translate the Web into their native languages.


Luis von Ahn

Luis von Ahn is the A. Nico Habermann Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He is working to develop a new area of computer science that he calls Human Computation, which aims to build systems that combine the intelligence of humans and computers to solve large-scale problems that neither can solve alone. An example of his work is reCAPTCHA, in which over one billion people – 15% of humanity – have helped digitize books and newspapers. Among his many honors are a MacArthur Fellowship, a Packard Fellowship, a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship, the ACM Grace Hopper Award, and CMU’s Herbert A. Simon Award for Teaching Excellence and Alan J. Perlis Teaching Award. He has been named one of the “50 Best Brains in Science” by Discover Magazine, one of the 50 most influential people in technology by silicon.com, and one of the “Brilliant 10 Scientists” by Popular Science Magazine.