Foreign language instruction in U.S. schools is terrible. I know that because I sat through two years of advanced French in high school and was appalled at how badly it was taught — and I say this as someone who speaks it natively and spent her elementary school years in a French-speaking part of the world.
So it’s no surprise that Duolingo, a data-driven language learning software on web and mobile, is launching Duolingo for Schools today. The new offering will enable teachers to leverage the app as part of — or all of — their curricula with the help of a dashboard to track students
Duolingo’s free software gamifies the learning process. As the language learner answers short questions, the software picks up on their pace, strengths, and weaknesses, and tailors the questions accordingly.
For schools, Duolingo has built a dashboard that connects to students’ Duolingo accounts and enables teachers to track their progress, something that Duolingo’s flagship software didn’t allow for.
According to Duolingo head of communications Gina Gotthilf, the new offering will appeal to teachers for three main reasons: It’s free (teachers and schools are often low on money), it’s data-driven approach has yielded an optimal curriculum for teaching each language (which continues to be improved), and its game-like interface appeals to students and keeps them engaged.
“Teachers have started using Duolingo naturally” before there was even talk of a classroom-specific product, Gotthilf told VentureBeat in an interview.
The company expects to see both teachers in North America using the software to teach foreign languages as well as teachers in other parts of the world using it to teach English, a language commonly seen as a professional advantage in other countries. Language-learning software and services have become quite popular for the latter, creating a lot of business for companies like Verbling, Babbel, and others.
While teachers will be using the standard Duolingo curriculum for their classrooms, Gotthilf added that the company is toying the idea of extending its Duolingo Incubator — user-generated language courses — to the school product to enable teachers to submit curriculum suggestions based on what they see in their classrooms, among other ideas.
The company is also committed to keeping its product free to learners, and to their teachers by extension, so it’s not planning on charging for the new offering. So far, Duolingo has been making its money from user-generated translations of news and other materials, which users perform as optional extra practice. Duolingo also launched its English certification program last summer, which it will eventually start charging a small fee for.
Duolingo was founded in 2011 by Severin Hacker and Luis von Ahn and is based in Pittsburgh. The company has raised $38.3 million in funding to date from Union Square Ventures, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Ashton Kutcher, and Tim Ferriss.