Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Duolingo’s Language-Learning and Translation Service Gets a $15M Endorsement From VCs

Duolingo, the ambitious new crowdsourcing start-up from Captcha and ReCaptcha co-creator Luis von Ahn, now has $15 million more in the bank.

The Pittsburgh-based company’s Series B round was led by New Enterprise Associates and included return backer Union Square Ventures.

If it works, Duolingo could be one of the best examples ever of a win-win scenario. The site teaches languages (English, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese, and soon Italian and Chinese) for free, and aims to use the combined power of those language learners to deliver fast and accurate translations for paying customers.

Duolingo now has 250,000 weekly active users, who visit the site for an average of half an hour per day. It’s about to start taking translation work in October, and is working on pilots with news organizations now.

The big questions are: Will Duolingo get language learners to stick around, and will people who have just learned a language be able to do professional-grade translations?

Von Ahn told me he thinks the answer to the first question is definitely yes, and the answer to the second question is preliminarily yes.

The earliest users of Duolingo, who have been on the site since March, are already testing at the equivalent proficiency of students who have taken four semesters of college language classes, von Ahn said. He has said his team is currently turning that pilot test into a full study.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work