Duolingo Looks to Learn More Indian Languages
Language-learning app is working on English courses for Punjabi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil speakers, along with adding more offline features
San Francisco: For Duolingo, among the world’s most popular language-learning apps, India has quickly become its largest emerging market — reason enough for it to chase a few million more native speakers. Duolingo launched in India early last year with English courses for Hindi speakers. By December 2016, it had raced to 500,000 monthly active users in India and has since added another 200,000 users.
The Pittsburgh, US-based company is now working on introducing English courses for Punjabi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil speakers next year, as well as enabling offline features.
“Since Bengali has over 250 million speakers, Punjabi has over 100 mil- lion speakers, Telugu has over 74 million speakers and Tamil has 70 million speakers, it made sense to develop English courses for speakers of each of these,” Luis von Ahn, chief executive of Duolingo, told ET.
To be sure, those numbers would include many already familiar with the English language. But getting even a small percentage of regional language speakers to take its Total active English courses would make for a huge customer base. Many Indians use Duolingo also to learn other foreign languages including French, Spanish and German. The company earns money mostly through ads and in-app purchases but in India, according to Ahn, there are challenges with users seeing the ads. “Whether or not users see ads is dependent on the version of the phone they have. For instance, if a user in India has a very old version of An- droid, they may not see any ads because of memory restrictions,” said Ahn. The company has another medium of monetisation in India — the Duolingo English language certification test, available to those who need such a certification to study or work abroad. The test is available for $20 and is primarily used by students applying to American universities. The certification is accepted at more than 90 foreign universities, including Yale, New York University, and Notre Dame.
Another key aspect the company is focusing on for its India users is offline access. From enabling users to take lessons offline to eventually accessing Duolingo bots, the company is looking to increase its offline feature offerings.
“One major challenge in India will be allowing the Duolingo bots to be accessed offline. Technically speaking, it’s a big undertaking but we have already seen big gains in India by offering more offline features,” said Ahn. According to the company, on an average, users in India spend about two hours every week on Duolingo, completing about two lessons per day.
Duolingo recently passed 200 million users globally. Over the past year, the company has created learning features such as artificial intelligence-powered chatbots for conversation practice and social features like language clubs.
The company recently raised $25 million in series-E funding led by Drive Capital, taking is total fundraise to about $108 million. Duolingo will use the money from the latest fundraise to accelerate hiring and product development.