Duolingo, the startup that aims to translate the web while helping people learn new languages, announced Tuesday it has raised $20 million led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to bring more languages to the service and offer a certification program.
The translation startup has grown to 20 million users since its launch in 2011, and it is one of the most popular free educational apps on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. Last fall, Duolingo teamed up with Buzzfeed to translate its viral, attention-grabbing listicles in French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese, and also has a similar agreement in place with CNN.
The company also launched a community-driven language incubator in October to grow from six language courses to 18 language courses. “We get asked for new languages all the time, hundreds of new languages,” Duolingo cofounder Luis von Ahn told Fast Company. “We realized basically we weren’t able to add all the languages we get asked for, so what we decided to do is to let our community add them.” The incubator has 11 language courses currently in production and plans to offer 50 courses by the end of the year, said von Ahn.
Also in the works is an online certification program for language learners. Von Ahn said current language-certification programs, especially for English, are offered in select cities, requiring some test-takers to travel long distances. The tests can cost hundreds of dollars, often a few months’ salary for people in developing countries looking to enroll in English-speaking universities or work at multinational corporations. In the coming months, Duolingo plans to offer a certification test on a mobile app for $20. Though the test is automated, the fee will cover the proctor, who will use the devices’ camera to make sure test takers aren’t cheating. Getting Duolingo’s certification accepted by organizations will be an uphill battle, von Ahn admitted, but he said at launch the company will announce partners that will recognize the certification.