The empowering side of crowdsourcing: Duolingo


I’m a huge fan of duolingo … a free, online language-learning tool.  It approaches language training in a similar way to Rosetta Stone.  You move through small lessons on key words, and it uses a variety of learning styles.  The language training involves identifying pictures, listening and translating, speaking and assessing verbal fluency, as well as traditional text-based writing tests.  Each lesson builds on the previous, and you can not progress without a certain level of mastery.  Plus (according to its main page), it’s scientifically proven to work better than taking university-level language courses.

The process is game-ified, and you win competitions and medals, so it feels like other social media games you might play.  You earn points for progressing, and your progress is listed on a leader board with your friends.  Because language skill can slip away over time, some of the earlier points may go away, so that you need to refresh older material.  It is very fun, and I used it every day for a few months last summer.  I’ll confess that since grad school started up again, I haven’t had time to do that (or socialize or exercise or relax or always wear clean clothes…).  But it was fun while I had time, and I will most certainly pick it up when I have time to breathe again.

All that being said, that’s not the coolest part of duolingo

The coolest part of duolingo is that it is harnessing the power of internet users to translate the internet … starting with Wikipedia.   Yep!  To get the whole story, watch this:

If you don’t have time to watch that, here’s the gist.  Luis von Ahn, one of the creators of capcha, got an idea to use his software (which was being used by millions of people daily) to be used to translate webpages.  He then designed a site that could train people in new languages, and he would then use their mental byproduct of learning to translate sites.  As part of the learning process, people could then test their skills out by translating various pages … which would then be evaluated by other people to make sure they were accurate.  In the best sense, he has found a way to harness the wisdom and power of crowds to do incredible things.

The language learning tool is incredibly impressive … but the story behind it is even more.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The empowering side of crowdsourcing: Duolingo

  1. Thank you for posting this!

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