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

The Economic Times - - Disruption: Startups & Tech - Shash­wati.Shankar @times­group.com

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.

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