Complex Made Simple

Duolingo aims to launch other language courses in the Middle East

Q&A with Gina Gotthilf, the company’s VP of marketing and communications

Who are your biggest consumers?

Duolingo is the most popular language-learning platform in the world, available as mobile apps (on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone) and on the web. It has more than 100m users. These vary quite a bit in terms of demographics and intent; they include, on one hand, casual learners looking to pass time productively while acquiring knowledge and, on the other hand, serious language students. We don’t collect user data because we want to make Duolingo easy to access and to protect our users’ privacy, but we know that we have students of varying ages: from the very young (the minimum requirement is that they be able to read and write) to grandparents looking to communicate with family. We can estimate that the vast majority of users are probably between the ages of 15 and 35.

With the launch of Duolingo for Schools, earlier this year, thousands of language classes have also adopted it formally as a technological companion.

In terms of regions, our biggest markets are the US, Brazil, Mexico, the UK and Colombia. Our single most popular course is English for Spanish speakers. That being said, we’re constantly adding new courses so this may change over time.

Finally, companies such as multinational retail store Staples have their employees using Duolingo for professional development.

Where do your funds come from?

This June, Duolingo closed a $45 million Series D investment round led by Google Capital, with participation from its previous investors. Duolingo had previously raised a $3.3m Series A investment round led by Union Square Ventures in 2011, a $15m Series B led by NEA in 2012 and a $20m Series C led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2014. Other investors include actor Ashton Kutcher and author Tim Ferriss.

Last December, we launched the Duolingo Test Center, a platform that allows anyone to conveniently and accurately certify his or her English skills. Duolingo certification tests can be taken from anywhere, in only 20 minutes and for only $20 (tests such as the TOEFL typically cost $200-$250).

These can be taken on the web or via our Android and iOS apps. With scores comparable in accuracy to the leading assessments on the market, the Duolingo Test is increasingly accepted by universities and companies around the world. We believe this to be the future of certification.

What led Duolingo to launch in the Middle East?

Our mission is to provide free, high-quality language education for the entire world. A large fraction of the world’s population learning a new language is doing so to find new education and employment opportunities to improve their life. This is certainly true in the Middle East. According to the ICEF, Middle Eastern professionals with English proficiency earn up to two times more than non-English speakers. With the potential to transform the lives of the more than 340m Arabic speakers in the world (and growing), we believe that launching there is central to our mission. For now, Arabic speakers can learn English with Duolingo but we hope to launch other courses soon.

How do you anticipate the success of this launch?

Even before we launched our English course for Arabic speakers, there were more than a million people from the Middle East using Duolingo, which was one of the most popular education apps on iOS. In just the last few days, we have seen the number of new users joining Duolingo every day go up 14 times, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

We expect a relatively high adoption in the Middle East (and North Africa) based on the above. It is important to note that we don’t do any paid advertising, so the only way we will become more popular is if people like the platform so much that they tell their friends. This has been the case in other places and how we have reached 100m users and we hope it will be the case in the Middle East as well.