Luis von Ahn, Guatemalan entrepreneur and founder of reCAPTCHA, has launched an ambitious new translation project this week called Duolingo. The free service tasks internet users with translating short phrases from across the web, all the while teaching and rewarding them for their hard work.
On top of web translations, Duolingo provides short lessons to get users up-to-speed. As you complete each lesson, you progress through a skill tree, unlocking tougher sessions as you go. The basic lessons will task you with translating simple phrases, typing what you hear, and finding a common theme between a set of images. The skill tree will take you from basic nouns and phrases all the way to abstract ideas and advanced verb tenses.
No need to worry if you’re just starting out at any of the three available languages, the service won’t throw you in the thick of it. Users can gradually make their way into harder material by advancing through the levels. And if you’re already advanced far beyond the sentences Duolingo has you currently working on, it’s easy to test out of the section. Duolingo even offers translations for every word you see, viewable by hovering the mouse over any phrase you’re unsure of. The service currently supports translations from Spanish, French, and German into English.
The most addictive part of Duolingo is its rewards system, which gives you coins after successfully completing lessons or translating a sentence from around the web. Earn enough coins and you’ll be able to level up. You can even earn points by rating translations made by other users, which serve as an additional learning resource of the various ways phrases can be translated.
I have to admit I had a good deal of fun earning coins by translating some phrases from around the web. During my time on the service I worked mostly in Spanish, which I still hold in some capacity post-college, especially when it comes to text, but I have yet to try out any of the other languages.
Head over to Duolingo today to try out the language learning service for yourself. With all the text out there on the web ready to be translated, and all those coins waiting to be earned, you may find yourself there for a while.