Duolingo translates the Internet for free

The free language-learning service that doubles as a crowdsourced text translation platform will open to the public on June 19.

Dan Farber
2 min read

Translating the Internet into every language is a massive undertaking, and one that machine translation isn't up to handling. Luis von Ahn is tackling the problem with Duolingo, a free language-learning service that doubles as a crowdsourced text translation platform.

Users follow a step-by-step instruction process to learn a language, and at the same time they are translating Web sites and other kinds of information available on the Internet.

The service has been in private beta, starting with lessons for English speakers to learn Spanish and German, and Spanish users to learn English. Von Ahn, the A. Nico Habermann Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the creators of Captcha and reCaptcha security, said that Duolingo would be publicly available on June 19.

Speaking at Techcrunch Disrupt today, von Ahn announced his goal was to get 100 million people to translate the Web into every language. He said Duolingo overcomes two obstacles -- the lack of bilingual speakers and the lack of motivation to get people to contribute to the translation effort. He noted free would be the major selling point -- 1.2 billion people are learning foreign languages, and millions are paying $500 for software to help them learn a language.

"Learning a language for free while simultaneously translating the Web is as accurate as professional translators," he claimed. Duolingo can compare translations from multiple people taking the same lesson to increase accuracy.

Duolingo will also have an interactive element, providing activity streams, allowing users to contact one another and write on their stream.