When he first announced Duolingo, co-founder Luis Von Ahn’s stated goal was to crowd source the translation of the internet. As the site (and subsequent application) have undergone extremely transformative development, this original goal has been tossed by the wayside. No longer do Duolingo users translate web articles for algorithms to decide which inputs are the most accurate. Instead, we have a free-to-use language learning application which overly focuses on vocabulary and rote exercises, developed mostly by computer scientists rather than trained language educators, and monetized through ads (or a paid version without ads) and high-rolling investors.
Don’t get me wrong–I’ve used Duolingo on and off since the Beta release, and I assign weekly homework through Duolingo to my middle school French students. I love the “Stories” function, and I love the community interaction. That said, Duolingo is not without its flaws and lack of essential functionality for serious language enthusiasts: almost no support for grammar, no way for a Duolingo Classroom to force audio exercises, complete decontextualization of input (outside of the “Stories”), and essentially no creativity or higher-order critical thinking for responses (again, “Stories” is a good start with some of its follow-up questions). These flaws are not enough to make me stop assigning Duolingo as a supplemental activity for middle schoolers, but the recent investment from Google parent company, Alphabet, is enough for me to take a step back and question the security of my students’ (and my own) data.Read the rest of this entry »