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Duolingo Translates the Web and Teaches You a Language

Duolingo supports English, German, French, or Spanish, and there are plans to add Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese in the near future.

Crowd-sourced translation site Duolingo came out of private beta Tuesday, and offers Internet users a way to learn a language for free, while at the same time helping to translate the Web.

Duolingo's potential lies in its possibilities. Take this for example: If one million people used Duolingo to learn, the company says the entire English Wikipedia--some 4 million pages--could be translated in just 80 hours.

That's a win/win both for site owners looking to expand their reach beyond the English-speaking web, which the site partners with for translation services, and for those looking to learn a foreign language.

Duolingo currently supports English, German, French, or Spanish, and there are plans to add Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese in the near future. To start you off, the site offers basic lessons in your selected language, including words and grammar.

Learn At Your Own Pace

The nice thing is you won't be slammed with the hard stuff at first, and the easy translations come first, like "She is a woman," and so forth. As Duolingo detects increasing fluency in your selected language, the translation difficulty will also increase.

Duolingo's crowd-sourced translation model offers the best translation, considering people will interpret a sentence differently. At the same time, these repeated translations give Duolingo the capability to provide feedback on translations, as well as weed out troublemakers, the company says.

Other users will provide feedback too, and vote on the best translations. Duolingo feels this additional human feedback enhances the comprehension and learning process, and provides valuable perspective since often there's more than one correct way to translate a word, phrase, or sentence.

"When we started working on Duolingo we noticed that most language-learning methods outside of the classroom didn't do this," co-founder Luis von Ahn said of the system. He sees the feedback system as essential for learning and believes it is what keeps people coming back.

If the site's early success is any indication, von Ahn is right. The private beta attracted some 125,000 users to Duolingo, which translated over 70 million sentences. 30,000 of these users spend at least 30 minutes a week on the service, the company says.

For more tech news and commentary, follow Ed on Twitter at @edoswald, on Facebook, or on Google+.

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