Luis von Ahn builds systems that use the internet for the greater good.
In reCAPTCHA (acquired by Google), he crowdsourced the digitisation of books. In ESP Game he gamified tasks for humans that computers couldn’t do on their own, like picture recognition. And then his latest project, Duolingo, gamified language learning.
Launched in 2011, Duolingo has 170 million users and is described as the world’s most popular language-learning platform.
Taking to the stage at Design Indaba Festival 2017, von Ahn unveiled the next phase of evolution for the platform: the launch of the first African language, Swahili.
“We’re really excited about launching Swahili on Duolingo, our first ever African language course. While we’d love to offer every language in the world, our resources are limited and we have to be selective,” said von Ahn in an interview.
Spoken by more than 100 million people worldwide, Swahili will remain a key language for the next generation of leaders, explained von Ahn.
“There are more people learning languages on Duolingo in the US than people learning languages in the entire US public school system today. It’s used by education ministries in developing countries and some of the wealthiest people in the world alike,” he added.
According to von Ahn, the new course took shape through a collaboration with the Peace Corps in a development process that began in October 2015 with the help of 4 volunteers in Tanzania.
“Now, after 17 months of hard work, we’re excited to officially launch this course! We have more than 44,000 users on the waiting list who are eager to learn Swahili,” he said. “As far as we can tell, this course also represents the most widespread access for free Swahili language education that has ever existed.”
“Additionally, the team that created the course noted that when Peace Corps volunteers in Tanzania speak Swahili, they become more effective in the communities they serve and earn more respect from local people as a result of speaking the language.”
Through the launch, von Ahn hopes to inspire empathy and understanding through language learning.
“It can feel like speaking different languages divides us, but we hope that learning new languages helps to mitigate the fear and prejudice that comes from a lack of understanding other cultures,” he adds.
Watch von Ahn take you through his journey above or see who’s speaking at Design Indaba Festival 2018.