Parlez-vous Français?

What if you could learn French for free on your smartphone where and when you want to?


This is exactly what DuoLingo offers. Well, actually if your English is good enough, you could also start learning Spanish, Italian, German or Portuguese. Conversely, if you speak one of these 5 languages, Dutch, Russian, Hungarian or Turkish, you might want to refresh your skills in English. Your lessons will mainly consist in translation exercises adapted to your level of skills in the language of your choice, and hints will be provided to help you when exercises get difficult.

But wait a minute, how can this app offer lessons in 6 languages for free and without any commercials?

Simple, as you work on the exercises to deepen your knowledge of a certain language, you are also contributing in translating content on the internet. This way, DuoLingo uses crowdsourcing to satisfy the need of clients who pay to have large documents translated while you are learning a new language.

The application has been a great success so far. It was launched in 2011 and now registers more than 25 million users with 12.5 million of active users. (, 2014) How to explain such a great success?

The principal source of motivation provided by DuoLingo is not Money, Love or Glory as described in Malone’s framework on Collective Intelligence (2010). Instead, the app appeals on the users’ hunger for knowledge that they consider to be useful to them. Some auxiliary sources of motivation also come into play. For instance, you share Glory with some of your friends since the application displays the current skills level of your friends who are also keen on learning a new language. In addition, gamification is one of the key elements explaining the success of DuoLingo. As judiciously, mentioned by Seth Stevenson (2014) the app offers short, challenging lessons in which the aim is to score high and reach the next levels. There is also quite a large variety of tasks in every lesson, involving sentences, pictures, drawings, audio recordings and a voice analysis device.

DuoLingo might have found one of the tasks most adapted for crowdsourcing. Indeed, translating texts seems to be a perfect creation task to be completed using crowdsourcing by collection. The texts that need to be translated can easily be split in sentences using a computer code that will detect the punctuation signs. Every user then has the possibility to translate one sentence independently from the work performed by other users. However, one might argue that translation makes more sense when made in relation to the context in which each sentence is foundn instead of sentence by sentence. Finally, DuoLingo uses a little pinch of voting for users to elect the best translation for difficult words or sentences and when users offered different possible translations.

Are you going to give it a try?

Bonne chance!


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