Duolingo was part of a free education wave that hit the internet in the early 2010s, as entrepreneurs saw the tools of the web and mobile to as a way to open up entrenched institutions to the masses.
Luis von Ahn, who already had success selling two businesses to Google in his 20s, saw an opportunity to turn the language learning model on its head. Instead of having to pay-per-hour or subscribe, Duolingo would be free to all, enabling people from all backgrounds to learn a new language.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2014, von Ahn said: “There are 1.2 billion people learning a foreign language and two thirds of those people are learning English so they can get a better job and earn more. The problem is that they don’t have equity and most language courses cost a lot of money.”
Duolingo was a hit even before its official launch. In November 2011, the team launched a private beta and within a month 300,000 people had signed up on a waitlist. Over 10 million people downloaded the app in the first 12 months.
Instead of building a classroom-style product in an app, Duolingo took cues from the world of gaming to enhance the experience and keep users engaged. Users can compete against friends and random people by completing courses and receive rewards for streaks.
Duolingo also separated itself from other language learning services by using data to its advantage. It regularly runs tests to find an optimal way to design a course, testing users on how quickly they learn part of the language and changing the formula to smooth the learning curve.
In the past few years, Duolingo has embedded artificial intelligence into the app, to analyze mistakes and slightly alter the course to fit user requirements.
As Duolingo started to grow, users asked for more obscure and fictional languages to be added. Von Ahn used his experience as one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing to launch Incubators, which pull together linguists, native speakers and book readers to design a fully optimized course.
These incubators are responsible for several courses Duolingo now offers, including Welsh, Catalan, Latin and fictional languages from Star Trek and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
As part of Ahn’s commitment to Duolingo being more than a game, it offers English language certification for $20, much lower than the $250 it can cost in India, China and other countries. Users are able to take the test on Duolingo and results are sent back in 48 hours.
Duolingo has been criticised for its lack of depth, as people who complete a course will only reach an A2 CEFR level, which is considered basic understanding of a language. In 2020, the company added more B1 and B2 level content, and plans to make courses even more in-depth with podcasts, freeform writing and audio lessons.
We have collected data and statistics on Duolingo users, revenue and course availability. Read on below to find out more.
Duolingo key statistics
- Duolingo has added over 500 million registered users, 42 million are active once a month
- Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn projected $180 million in total bookings for 2020, which comes from the three percent of users who pay for the premium version (TechCrunch)
- In 2019, Duolingo was valued at $1.5 billion. Plans to IPO have been shelved indefinitely, with no mention of it since 2018
- Duolingo has 95 available courses in 38 languages. A few courses are for made-up languages from TV shows like Star Trek and Game of Thrones
|Launch date||19 June 2012|
|People||Luis von Ahn (CEO), Severin Hacker (CTO)|
|Available platforms||iOS, Android, web|
Note: *Total bookings, revenue may be lower
Duolingo available courses
Sources: TechCrunch, Duolingo
Duolingo available languages
Sources: TechCrunch, Duolingo
Duolingo users by language
Note: This accounts for registered users, not active
What is Duolingo’s most popular course?
English for Spanish speakers is Duolingo’s most popular course, followed by Spanish for English speakers
How many Duolingo users pay for premium?
Less than three percent of Duolingo users subscribe to its premium offering (BBC)
How many schools use Duolingo?
Over 100,000 schoolteachers use Duolingo in foreign language classes