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Star Trek's Klingon language comes to Duolingo

We speak with Klingon expert Felix Malmenbeck about the ins and outs of learning how to wish someone "qapla'."

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2 min read
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

You can use Duolingo to learn the language of the Klingons.

Jan Thijs/CBS Interactive

You can now learn  Star Trek's Klingon language just by putting down your bat'leth and picking up the Duolingo app.

The free-to-use language learning service announced Thursday that an entire course dedicated to the fictional language is now available. (It's under license from CBS Consumer Products, which has the same parent company as CNET.)

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Watch this: Qapla'! Learn Klingon on Duolingo

Klingon expert Felix Malmenbeck is part of a small team of five volunteer members who have been developing the course for Duolingo since 2015. Some 170,000 Duolingo users have registered their interest in learning the language. Malmenbeck notes that the Star Trek language has simple grammar that makes it different from real world languages such as Spanish or French.

"My goal has been to gradually introduce grammar and then hit people with lots of vocabulary and try to make the sentences at least occasionally a bit fun," Malmenbeck says, hoping that some levity can help puny human learners to grasp fluency of the noble magnificence of Klingon.

Klingon generally has a meaner, more powerful direct translation from the informal phrases we might use in English. For instance, "hello" in English is said as "nuqneh" in Klingon, which translates back into English as "what do you want?" A safer bet if you want to give a compliment would be "qapla'," which translates directly in English as "success" and can be used similarly to "good luck" or "have a nice day."

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"This course should serve primarily as a complement to literature studies, like for instance reading 'The Klingon Dictionary'," Malmenbeck says. The dictionary was his start at diving into this Star Trek language. When he's not translating Klingon, Malmenbeck is working on his master's degree in theoretical physics at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Malmenbeck advises any fans hoping to compare their own Klingon to the Star Trek source material should take cues from the latest "Star Trek: Discovery" series and less from the earlier shows.

"For the latest series, they've really taken the language very seriously. They've had both a translator, Robyn Stewart, who is really good and also a couple of dialect coaches, whereas in previous series they mostly made stuff up as they went along," he sniffs.

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