Duolingo Wants Its Bots to Level With Human Language Tutors by 2020

by Monica Hunter-Hart
Getty Images / Sean Gallup

You may know Duolingo as the world’s most popular language-learning app, but by 2020, you may know it as just “my tutor.”

Self-taught students of a foreign language often find speaking to be their biggest challenge, particularly if they aren’t immersed in the language. It really helps to have a good teacher to improve pronunciation and fluency.

But not everyone has access to a language teacher or can afford a one-on-one tutoring experience, and Duolingo’s mission has always been to give everyone equal access to good language education (the company has promised that its app will always be free).

So, in October 2016 Duolingo created “Duolingo Bots,” an artificial intelligence service that will talk to you in the language you’re learning. Currently, the bots are available for only four languages — Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese, and all for English speakers — but the company has bigger plans. Not only are they working on adding other languages, but they hope to dramatically increase the bots’ AI capabilities.

“By 2020, our goal is for the Duolingo Bots to become as advanced as a high-quality 1-on-1 tutor,” Michaela Kron, the company’s PR manager, tells Inverse.

An example from Duolingo's website.


In large part, this will be made possible by the users themselves. The bots can understand and respond to “thousands of unique responses” right now, but they get smarter the longer they operate. When users say new things or make new mistakes, the bots add that data to their ever-expanding knowledge sets.

In addition to serving students who don’t have access to a tutor, Kron indicates that the bots may be useful to those who are just plain shy about making mistakes in front of a human teacher. They can alleviate “the fear of embarrassment that comes from talking with native speakers,” Kron tells Inverse.

Right now, there are three bot personalities to choose from: Chef Roberto, Renée the Driver, and Officer Ada. These characters can also prompt you with things to say if you’re unsure.

It’s a brilliant tool, and will be all the more so if Duolingo can bring it to its remaining 86 language courses. Who would have thought that speaking a new language could be anxiety-free?

Correction: An earlier version of this article implied that Duolingo hopes to eliminate the need for teachers altogether, but the company instead aims to service students who don’t have access to a teacher.

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