At TechCrunch Disrupt New York this morning, Luis von Ahn, the founder of the ambitious free language learning and text translation site Duolingo, announced that the site will come out of private beta on June 19. Duolingo was founded by reCaptcha founder Luis von Ahn in 2011. The site opened its private beta in late 2011 and currently focuses on teaching its users English, Spanish and German.
Von Ahn, of course, is well-known for his work on reCaptcha, which Google acquired in 2009. As von Ahn noted today as Disrupt, more than 200 million captchas are now typed in every day. This insight led to the development of reCaptcha, which doesn’t just help developers distinguish between bots and humans, but also helps to augment optical character recognition. About 10 percent of the world’s population have now helped recognize at least one word. Now, with Duolingo, the team is pushing this idea forward.
As von Ahn noted, virtually all major projects before the Internet were done with less than 10,000 people. Now, thanks to the Internet, a project that involved 100 million people become a possibility and with Duolingo, the idea is to get all of these people to help translate the web for free. The obstacles here, said von Ahn, are that there is a lack of bilinguals and that it would be hard to motivate these people to spend their time translating the web.
The language learning market, of course, is huge and millions of people pay for it. With Duolingo, users start to translate easy words and then move to complex sentences. Duolingo says its users learn about as well as those who use Rosetta Stone, and that its translations are about as good as those from professional translators (thanks also, of course, to the fact that it can compare multiple translations from multiple learners).