Crowdsourcing while learning

This is an interesting approach. Duolingo promises to translate the Web while users learn a language. I liked their nice intro video, which explains how it works: Duolingo uses your native speaker skills to have you translate foreign sentences into your own language. This is a sensible approach which is also used in translation sciences and interpreting – always translate into your native tongue.

How do you translate from a language you don’t understand? Duolingo adjusts to your competence level and provides help on the fly, such as translation suggestions. I suppose this approach works reasonably well with languages that have an association to yours, e.g. English and Spanish (through their shared Latin vocabulary: library – libereria). But I’d be interested to see how this is done with Chinese or Finnish.

Google does similar stuff with its translation service, but what’s innovative here is that Duolingo promises learning in return for your translations. There are two open questions for me: Firstly, what does translating the Web mean? i.e. how are the translations fed back to the Web, and will they be free and open? Secondly, what is the learning model behind, since merely translating sentences only gets you so far in language learning? In language learning you want to be able to produce the other idiom not only understand it passively. How are repetition and grammatical structure analysis incorporated in the tool?

It’s in private beta, but I am curious about the didactical model once I get access to it.


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