Duolingo, FREE Language Learning App

 Originally posted by anouk tenten on January 31, 2020. Now updated with changes.

Enterprise name: Duolingo (founded in 2011)

Co-owner and CTO: Severin Hacker (photograph)

Duolingo is a company that offers a language education platform that suggests lessons in a number of languages. In addition, it  provides “Duolingo for Schools” with features designed to allow teachers to track their students. The learning platform includes a language-learning website and mobile app, as well as a digital language-proficiency assessment exam. The company uses the freemium model; the app and the website are accessible without charge, although Duolingo also offers a premium service for a fee.

As of March 2021, the language-learning website and app offers 106 different language courses in 38 languages. The app has over 300 million registered users across the world.

Business model:

Most language-learning features in Duolingo are free of charge, but it uses periodic advertising in both its mobile and web browser applications, which users can remove by paying a subscription fee. This feature, which is named ‘Duolingo Plus’, includes benefits such as having unlimited hearts and being able to skip levels. It originally employed a crowd sourced business model, where the content came from organizations that paid Duolingo to translate it.

Ambition and Experience:

Initially, Hacker and his former graduate advisor, Luis von Ahn, wanted to develop an application that could translate internet sites, so that they would be accessible for non-English speakers. They felt that automated translation software wasn’t as effective as using the skills and knowledge of bilingual speakers.[9] During Hacker’s doctoral studies, Duolingo became a by-product of this idea, or “happy mistake.”[10] Hacker’s goal for Duolingo was to make it “100% free” so the most disadvantaged person with an internet connection would still have access to it. Hacker completed his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, where he researched large scale human computation. He is also a recipient of the 2014 MIT Technology Review TR35 award.


Duolingo has 7 board members and advisors, including Brad Burnham. The employees collectively consists of a wide range of expertise from , coming from over 30 countries and speaking more than 30 languages.

History and growth:

The project was started at the end of 2009 in by Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn (creator of reCAPTCHA) and his graduate student Severin Hacker, and then developed along with Antonio Navas, Vicki Cheung, Marcel Uekermann, Brendan Meeder, Hector Villafuerte, and Jose Fuentes.

On October 19, 2011, during in its “Early Stage Venture” stage Duolingo raised $3.3 million from a Series A first-round of funding, led by Union Square Ventures, with participation from author Tim Ferriss and actor Ashton Kutcher‘s firm, A-Grade Investments.

Duolingo launched into private beta a month later on November 30, 2011, and accumulated a waiting list of more than 300,000 users. On June 19, 2012, Duolingo later launched for the general public.

On September 17, 2012, while still in its “Early Stage Venture” stage, Duolingo raised $15 million from a Series B second-round of funding led by New Enterprise Associates, with participation from Union Square Ventures bringing Duolingo’s total funding to $18.3 million.

On February 18, 2014, Duolingo entered its “Late Stage Venture” stage, and raised $20 million from a Series C third-round of funding. It was reported Duolingo had about 25 million registered users, 12.5 million active users, and 34 employees.

On June 10, 2015, Duolingo raised $45 million from a Series D fourth-round of funding led by Google Capital, bringing its total funding to $83.3 million, a valuation of $470 million, as well as passing 100 million users – In April 2016 it was reported that Duolingo had 17 million monthly users.[36][37]

On July 25, 2017, that Duolingo raised $25 million from a Series E fifth-round of investment from Drive Capital, bringing its total funding to $108.3 million, a valuation of $700 million, as well as passing 200 million users and having 25 million monthly users

On December 4, 2019, it was announced that Duolingo raised $30 million in a series F sixth-round of investment from Alphabet’s investment company CapitalG, bringing a total funding of $138.3 million, a valuation of $1.5 billion, reporting 30 million monthly active learners. Duolingo will use the funds on developing new products and expanding its team.

Duolingo had a revenue of $1 million in 2016, $13 million in 2017,[52] $36 million in 2018,[53] and $180 million in 2020.

I have used Duolingo personally for learning French, and I have found it useful in reinforcing reading, listening, and speaking skills. Although it is not comparable to taking an in-class course, I have found it to be tremendously useful in learning in bite sizes on the go and have made some considerable improvement in grammar and sentence structure. The instant feedback is a key piece in the experience for me and the gamification of the learning experience motivates me to continue progressing in their curriculum. I also know of many French teachers who have used Duolingo as a part of their teaching practice due to its benefit of providing personalized learning for each student.

( Average Rating: 4 )

3 responses to “Duolingo, FREE Language Learning App”

  1. Menghan Guo

    Severin Hacker and Luis von Ahn are two successful and passional founders. Before Duolingo, there was a huge cost barrier to learning a new language. In that time, there are some learning platforms allows users from all over the world to learn different languages in their own homes. But the problem is that even for the most basic language learning courses, users need to pay at least a few hundred dollars. Severin Hacker and Luis von Ahn had the courage to develop a completely free language learning at the time, which is worthy of admiration. Duolingo employs a game-based learning approach to make learning more enjoyable and appealing. My mother is having a great time learning English with it.

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  2. Feras Alachek

    I think Hacker succeeded because he provided a service that is widely needed across the world simply in a free, better way. Another perk is that the app helps to teach minority languages in an entertaining approach. His partner Luis reported that much of the app’s success was not because of ads but word of mouth, and that’s ample evidence of its validity. Duolingo now has annual revenues of $90m (£69m). Some $15m of this comes from the adverts included on the free, standard app, while $75m is from the 2% of users who pay for the advertisement-free premium version.

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    1. helena wright

      Feras, you’re totally right! Duolingo teaches minority languages like Navajo and Gaelic, which might be inaccessible to most if they are not within those geographical spaces. I think platforms like Duolingo can present a real opportunity for “dying” languages, where there is only a small population that continues to use the language. The Guardian came out with a list of “endangered languages” and their degree of vulnerability, of which some of which are on Duolingo.


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