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Duolingo to releases Android app of translation program |
Local Stories

Duolingo to releases Android app of translation program

Thomas Olson
| Wednesday, May 29, 2013 12:01 a.m

Duolingo Inc., a startup that operates a website and software to help users learn and translate languages, is releasing an Android app on Wednesday that could expand its reach to about 6 million students.

Duolingo is making the app available for free on mobile devices using the Google Play store, said co-founder Luis Von Ahn, an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Shadyside company provides computer tools on its website and through an iPhone app that are used by about 3 million language students. The company helps people learn or translate English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese, Von Ahn said.

“We expect that (the Android app) will double the number of students we have,” Von Ahn said. He said more than half the world’s Web content is in English only.

Duolingo drew one of the largest venture capital investments, $15 million, in the Pittsburgh region last year, according to a MoneyTree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

Some of the language exercises Duolingo presents students with involve translating information on other websites. The young company, founded in 2012, expects to earn revenue from selling some translations by more-seasoned students to the companies behind the websites.

Here’s how Duolingo works: Users sign up for an account and, based on their skill level, learn words and phrases and begin making simple translations or tackle more complex text, with Duolingo providing assistance on unknown words.

Those who are more fluent eventually will work on material from sources that will pay the company for translation services, von Ahn said.

Site users will vote on the best translations, which will rise to the top of results.

“It’s certainly new. Whether it’s viable or not, time will show,” Jiri Stejskal, a spokesperson for the Alexandria, Va.-based American Translators Association said of Duolingo’s business model.

“It depends what the translation is eventually used for,” said Stejskal. “You don’t want to have medical translations by someone who’s never done a medical translation, for instance.”

Von Ahn has scored well in the marketplace before.

In 2007, he was lead developer of a spam-thwarting system of distorted letters that a website viewer must untangle before accessing restricted areas. The system became reCaptcha Inc., a CMU spinout acquired by Google Inc. in 2009.

Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or at

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