Luis von Ahn

Founder and CEO of Duolingo

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON July 25, 2016

Discussion

Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
Hello, Product Hunt! I'm Luis von Ahn, co-founder and CEO of Duolingo, a language learning platform created to bring free language education to the world. With more than 150 million users, it is the most popular way to learn languages and the most downloaded app in the Education category on iTunes and Google Play. I'm particularly excited to share that we just launched a new app, "Tinycards," which debuted on the front page of Product Hunt: https://www.producthunt.com/tech...! This is our first step towards teaching far more than languages. More about me: I'm originally from Guatemala and mostly known for having developed CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA, (acquired by Google). I'm also a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a MacArthur Fellow! Ask away! Edit [3:05PM ET]: Thanks so much for all the great questions everybody! Unfortunately I have to run to a meeting now, but I had a blast :)
Mugunthan Kesavan@mugunthan_scribe · Curious mind
Hi Luis! Thanks for this AMA session. I have been using Duolingo for quite sometime. It's very helpful in learning new words easily. But, I do feel that if Duolingo can give some exercise based on most commonly used phrases in everyday life, one can learn language faster. Do you have any plans to do something like this?
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@mugunthan_scribe Yes! We're working on a way that will help you practice conversation :)
Mavis Huang@twinkle_huang
@mugunthan_scribe And I would appreciate it if there's less repeated or similar phrases!
Mavis Huang@twinkle_huang
@luisvonahn Thanks for your great product ! But I would appreciate it if I can change the difficulty of my class!
cursorgrafico .com@disenocursor · JhonStark
@luisvonahn , do you invest in projects about education? I have 2 projects at Colombia my country, but here is difficult the government support.
AJ@outthewazoo
Hello Luis, A basic question, How does Duolingo make money?
Jeff S.@flippenjinks
Hello Luis! Appreciate you taking your time to do a Q&A live chat. Are there any upcoming features on Duolingo (whether it's the website or mobile apps) that you can reveal to us or at least give us a preview on? Thank you!
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@flippenjinks We’re working on lots of features! The one I’m most excited about will help you practice conversational skills. I can’t give away more details at this time, but I’ll say we’re already testing it on a small fraction of our users and it’s going very well.
AJ@outthewazoo
@luisvonahn @flippenjinks I've been learning spanish for 3 months now and while i feel like i have a good vocabulary, i still struggle with making conversations because i dont have a means to practice conversations daily, so this feature will be great!
Div Manickam@divmanickam · Product Evangelist
@luisvonahn Look forward to the conversational skills! For my Europe trip, I tried learning Spanish, French and Italian - I could read restaurant menus - but couldn't speak to locals - huge help!
Rodrigo@rodrigo_6simplenotes · Social media communications/marketing
@luisvonahn Hello Luis. Sorry, I missed the live chat. Any chance that you will do this again soon?
Hi Luis! I'd like to know just an estimate date, when Duolingo is going to launch Tinycards on Android (like weeks, months... ), because I think that you don't have an exact date of it. Oh, and are you going to make a website for Tinycards? Thank you!
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@eduardmincu Yes, Tinycards (http://tiny.cards) will be available both on Android and on the Web. Unfortunately I cannot give an estimated date yet. I should say we're really happy with how last week's launch went. Tinycards is already the #3 app in the Education category.
Patrick Zuo@patrick64 · Tech junkie
@luisvonahn @eduardmincu Great!! Keep up the good work, really looking forward to the Android version. Finger crossed!!!
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hello Luis! I am from Carnegie Mellon University Mellon as well. Great meeting you here. I am really curious to know how the idea of Duolingo came about? How did you acquire your first 1000 users?
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@neeeharika The whole thing started as an academic project at Carnegie Mellon between me and my PhD student Severin Hacker. I had just sold my second company to Google, and we both wanted to work on something related to education. Education is very general, so we decided to concentrate on one kind that is in huge demand everywhere (except the US): language education. It turns out there are over 1.2 billion people learning a new language around the world. Now, the majority of these people, like 800 million of them, are learning English, and don’t have very much money. In fact, the reason they are learning a language is to be able to get a better job, or a job at all. The majority are not learning French because they want to get ready for a trip to Paris over the summer. They’re learning a language to get a job at a call center. Here’s the crazy part about this. There’s a huge number of people that want to learn English, and most of them can’t pay, but the ways to learn a new language typically require them paying, because somebody has to make money. It’s either that you learn a language in middle or high school, which means you're pretty wealthy because you go to a school that offers foreign languages; or you learn it in college or adult classes, in which case you’re also pretty wealthy because you can pay for those; or you buy some sort of software like Rosetta Stone or Open English, in which case you have $1,000 to spare. So, the largest part of the market was not being addressed because there was no great way to make money from them. Most people who wanted to learn a language couldn't really afford the best ways of doing it. We wanted to have a way to teach people languages for free. But not just free. We wanted to have the best quality of language education, and offer it for free.
Oded@odedharth · CEO of MDacne
@luisvonahn @neeeharika So how did you acquire your first 1000 user?
David Binns@davidjbinns
Hello Luis! I've been looking forward to this thank you so much! Will the grammar tips section will ever be available on the Duo app, and does Tiny Cards' flashcards have gender for German nouns? (android user who hasn't seen the app) Thank you so much for this great resource! It has inspired m to practice everyday and I can see myself improving in German and French all the time! David
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@davidjbinns Hi David. Lots of people ask for the grammar section on the apps, but our internal tests tell us these don't make any difference in terms of learning outcome (probably because most people don't actually read them). We really really don't like clutter in our apps, so we probably won't be adding them any time soon. And yes, the Tinycards decks have gender :)
David Binns@davidjbinns
@luisvonahn Thanks for the reply! Is there anywhere then I can download the German grammar sections as a doc or something? Thanks again 😊
Szymon Kulak@skarseld
@davidjbinns @luisvonahn Not Luis, but if you visit Duolingo through Chrome, you will be able to get a shortcut to an app called Duolingo Notifications, and it had these grammar notes! :D
David Binns@davidjbinns
@skarseld @luisvonahn Cool thanks man I'll check it out! :D
Sub Effect@sub_effect
Hi Luis. Great that you're doing this. One of the great things about Duolingo is the number of languages you have on it. Do you have plans to expand and if so - do you add languages based on popularity, demand, ease of translation or something else? I ask because as an English speaker I can learn Irish, which only has a few thousand native speakers, but I cannot learn Lithuanian, which not only has over 3million native speakers but which is historically a very important/interesting language.
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@sub_effect Yes, we have plans to expand! We're working on adding Czech, Indonesian, Greek, Hindi, Yiddish, Swahili, Korean, Romanian, and even Klingon!
Sub Effect@sub_effect
@luisvonahn But no Lithuanian? I shall write you a piece on why it's so important to European languages!
Uhma@deleted-594972 · Brr
¿Qué pasa tío :-) Как долго вам понадобилось, чтобы выучить английский язык ? ありがとうございました
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@victorpolyushko ¡No pasa mucho! Estoy aquí respondiendo preguntas muy interesantes.
Roy Calderon@roy_calderon · Technology Entrepreneur
Hey Luis, great to see you here. Why Duolingo doesn't have a direct user interaction? Beyond the obvious it could be interesting to meet language partners and create a new languages communities.
Xiomara Lorenzo@xiomara_lorenzo · Society of Grownups
Hi Luis, Thank you for taking the time to do this AMA. This question is about setting up the data gathering needs early in a start up's life. Early on as you and your team were building Duolingo, how did you determine which data to capture and what were metrics used to track that information?
Antonio Bustamante@antonio_bustamante · Designer, Engineer. Cofounder at Silo
Luis, thanks a lot for your time. I'm a big fan of Duolingo. Any plans to include Japanese or Chinese (Mandarin) in the list of languages to learn? Thanks!
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@antonio_bustamante Yes, we plan to do so but not very soon. In the meantime you can learn basic Chinese and Japanese on our new app Tinycards (http://tiny.cards)!
Joey Johnson@joeyj_218 · Ordinary Kid That Likes Cool Stuff
What is your favourite part of your job?
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@joeyj_218 That I get to work with an amazing team!
Xiomara Lorenzo@xiomara_lorenzo · Society of Grownups
Hi Luis, A follow up question, if you will ;-) I also work tangent to the education space - my company provides personal finance education. Given that it takes time to build a user base to prove your concept, are you able to share how you worked with your investors to build near, medium, and longer term goals in terms of what the success of your company looked like at those periods?
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
How does Duolingo choose languages to feature and how do you structure the course?
Div Manickam@divmanickam · Product Evangelist
Hi Luis - thank you for making learning a new language easy - one of the challenges I face is continued engagement. Once I use Duolingo to learn a language, I am motivated for the first few weeks, then day to day responsibilities get the better of me. And as the score goes down if I don't learn with Duolingo, I lose my motivation. Are there plans to help users get engaged, other than the emails/push notification? Also, another experience I had was - I used to use duolingo during my commute to work, any chance duolingo will be support offline. Look forward to checking out tinycards on android/web, when it is available :)
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@divmanickam Yes, we're working a lot on this -- in the coming months you'll see that Duolingo will become more gamified (in a good way!).
Div Manickam@divmanickam · Product Evangelist
@luisvonahn awesome :) love Duolingo!
Div Manickam@divmanickam · Product Evangelist
@luisvonahn do you have communities in SF to help learn languages with Duolingo as a group?
Mark Dodd@markbrooksdodd · Founder @ Curias | Marketer @ LexisNexis
What's your favourite language to learn?
Prashant Sharma@nitprashant
We had to shutdown our startup just a week before money in the bank for our angel round. My GF told me about Duolingo, believe it or not you guys played an important role in getting over the sad state. Thank you for building this. I have never seen any UI like this ever in my life :)
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@nitprashant Thank you so much for saying this. It’s things like this that keep me motivated!
Sarim Haq@sarim_haq · AI Whisperer
Hey Luis, thanks for the AMA! Do you think recaptcha tests will become ineffective in the near future due to the recent advancements in Machine Learning?
Luis von Ahn@luisvonahn
@sarim_haq Not in the near future, but eventually yes. For now, there are still many things that computers cannot yet do that humans can easily do. Some day, however, I think computers will be able to do everything humans can.
Luis Romero@unluisco · Constructor Digital.
Hola tocayo! This is a semi technical question :) I am going to build some decks, but what is the ideal size card for tinycards? and whats are the future plans for tinycards? Thanks