Hi Reddit! I'm Luis von Ahn. I helped create CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA. In my defense, most people like reCAPTCHA better once they hear that it's being used to digitize books at a rate of 100 million words per day. I am not Lord Inglip, but for a while I had full control of the words shown in reCAPTCHA.

My new project is Duolingo, where you can learn languages 100% for free and help translate the Web at the same time. It may be crazy, but I really want to crowd-translate the whole Web into every major language, and you should help me! Btw, Duolingo has a pretty rocking subreddit.

I'm also a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon and I'm from Guatemala.

Twitter proof.

I'll start at 2pm ET, so ask away!

Edit: Severin will kill me if I don't say this: Duolingo is hiring!

Comments: 1651 • Responses: 50  • Date: 


well... this is awkward.

vonahn1082 karma

I see what you did there.

shoewizz1371 karma

Ill present my question in your native language: http://i.imgur.com/g3oMD.jpg

vonahn1913 karma

vonahn420 karma

Props for using my language :) They are in the process of switching to reCAPTCHA, so this should get much better.

zdmonk524 karma

Is it case sensitive? I want to know right now, right here becauseI always panic before entering a code not knowing if I'll be turned down or not and always second guess myself.

vonahn746 karma

It's not.

compilingpenguin151 karma


vonahn390 karma

I guess it takes time to migrate big systems in large companies. Have you seen office space?

NotaMethAddict118 karma

What does this say? I couldn't read it.

steinman17456 karma

It means strength, bro.

vonahn294 karma

I got that joke :)

SerHeisenberg347 karma

First off, thank you so much for Duolingo! It's exactly what I've bene looking for in terms of learning a language.

I know you guys recently did a poll on it, but what languages should we expect in the future? Have you considered teaching English through it as well? Thanks!

vonahn374 karma

The next language is definitely going to be Portuguese. After that Chinese, and then I think Japanese. Eventually, our goal is to allow the community to add languages themselves.

Laspimon123 karma

The thought of the community adding languages sounds extremely interesting. Have you got any idea how it would be implemented?

vonahn137 karma

Not a very clear idea. But the first step will be allowing people to edit the lesson sentences themselves.

murrax319 karma

Just wanted to say I loved your TEDx talk and keep up the amazing work you are doing!

vonahn132 karma


AngryCripple245 karma

So how many times has a word come up as "nigger" due to the efforts of 4channers attempting to sabotage Captcha?

vonahn319 karma

Cmon people.

If answer == "nigger": continue

compilingpenguin229 karma


vonahn428 karma


dhaffner225 karma

How do you convince yourself that an idea is worth pursuing?

Also, 251 was painful but the problem-solving skills it gave me are invaluable.

vonahn278 karma

When enough people don't think the idea is really dumb, I start working on it.

eipipuz100 karma

Can you elaborate more? What's the heuristic? How many is enough?

vonahn511 karma


MyAntiAlterEgo147 karma

You sir, are my hero.

Don't forget your towel.

PointyOintment112 karma

What's 251?

Edit: Never mind. I figured it out. It seems to be a university course that Luis von Ahn taught.

auswa100160 karma

Never took it, friends have, from what I hear it takes your soul, spits it back out at you, and if you survive that then you kind of win at life.

vonahn263 karma

That is exactly the goal.

Fox1s2190 karma

When is the Android app of Duolingo coming out?

desertjedi85280 karma

After Half-Life 3

vonahn456 karma

Right after.

vonahn253 karma

This year.

beaverteeth92180 karma

How does reCAPTCHA deal with odd characters or chemical symbols that are hard or impossible to input with a typical keyboard?

vonahn621 karma

By pissing off the user!

Delmain154 karma

Hey Luis, great to see you on here!

I've been loving Duolingo so far, especially the poll that was put up on Facebook asking about languages to tackle next.

Since Japanese won (is winning?) that poll, do you have anything to share about the possibilities of implementing that, and the hardships you'll likely face trying to teach a non-latin alphabet?

vonahn174 karma

We're definitely going to work on Japanese, but we haven't started yet (the poll was just last week). I think non-european languages present a very interesting challenge for us, so I'm very excited about Chinese and Japanese. I hope they work out as well as European ones :)

latenightlurk97 karma

the poll was just last week

So you've had a whole week. What's taking you so long? :)

vonahn205 karma

Sorry, we took Sunday off.

newyankee142 karma

Do you think crowdsourcing and gamification of workflows are the future of work ? What implications do you think this has for the job market as such ? This is especially important because machine learning and AI are beginning to perform more and more human tasks of late and seem to be constantly improving ?

vonahn171 karma

I think we'll continue seeing a mix: certain tasks are best done by small teams of experts, others are best done by crowdsourcing, and others by computers. That said, I assume the fraction of crowdsourced and computer tasks will increase over the next 5 years.

thatdrunkgirl24 karma

If you do end up making it more of a game, will we have the option to stay with the original Duolingo, which I like? I think competitiveness is really all that keeps it a game. If it was linked with social networking, for example, it would seem more like a game because you would want to beat the scores of your friends.

vonahn44 karma

We've been making changes to Duolingo almost daily for the last 6 months. Every change is tested on a small fraction of the users, and we only go with the ones that people like. Not sure where exactly this will end up though :)

steinman17137 karma

I had an idea to fix the text to speech engine. Eliminate it. Then, crowd source for translations. Dict.cc does this for their words. Native speakers say the things, and their peers vote on the best pronunciation. Does this seem feasible? I have gotten so many errors because I couldn't understand the T2S engine.

vonahn130 karma

We may do something like this.

punk225128 karma

How far away is Chinese on Duolingo? How do you plan to go about teaching a non-Latin based language?

vonahn227 karma

Our internal goal is to have Chinese in 2012. However, things usually take twice as long as you think, even when you take this rule into account.

christ_tian125 karma

Are there any big websites, for instance websites of big newspapers, that have shown interest in having their content translated by Duolingo?

vonahn161 karma


raforther78 karma

Can you give us any examples?

vonahn138 karma

Not yet.

dangerous_eric122 karma

I love duolingo so far, thanks for making it. I'm Lv8 in Spanish and just hit Lv9 in the French beta.

Question: I'm curious is there any chance of duolingo being extended to captioning videos on YouTube?

vonahn202 karma

I can neither confirm nor deny this ;)

deqqef93 karma

What's proven to be the biggest challenge since Duolingo launched the beta last year? Since it launched publicly last month?

vonahn122 karma

The whole thing has been challenging. We've had to overcome a lot of technical hurdles. For example, when you click on word, the top translation that we give is (usually) the best translation for that word in that context. That's hard to do. Almost every aspect of the site, even the ones I take for granted now, has required quite a bit of work. Fortunately, we have an amazing engineering team, and they are working really hard.

taz98279 karma

First, I have to say I LOVE duolingo. I've been trying to learn french and its been going pretty well so far (still at the beginning). It seems though that I couldn't hope to learn all of french from your lessons.

Are you planning to expand duolingo to include more lessons?

Are you planning on making the microphone component work better? Unfortunately it seems to me it accepts garble that wasn't even an attempt at trying to say the words, but when I do try to say them it often doesn't accept it and makes me say it repeatedly. Weird I know, but it would be neat if that could get fixed, by working with Dragon Naturally Speaking or something lol. Seems more a novelty to get people to attempt speaking more than anything right now.

Any new projects for the future we should look out for?

vonahn80 karma

Thank you for the kind words!

Yes, we are adding new lessons all the time. At some point we want to have swear words even (for people over 18 only, of course).

The microphone...yeah...our internal testing actually shows that it works quite well, but we know of some good ways of improving it, so probably in a few months there will be something better.

FBSerkan70 karma

The question is really, would Lord Inglip identify himself as such or would he prefer to remain incognito, posing as a computer scientist and entrepreneur...

vonahn74 karma

Inglip icognito.

vonahn60 karma

I just looked at the username and realized it's you Serkan! I saw you're also doing an AMA :) I'm gonna go recruit engineers from the FB office in NY. That's my new goal.

pridkett59 karma

You're big on using human computation for various things that are hard for computers to accomplish (image tagging in the ESP game, object recognition in Peekaboom, and digitizing books in Recaptcha). However, these are all things that, conceivably, computers could one day get really good at. We all know that computers are gonna be really smart some day in the future. And when they do they're gonna be pissed because you've been saying they're bad at stuff.

So, here's my question, given that you're likely one of the first people to be targeted in a machine uprising, what's your strategy for staying alive in the coming war between humans and machines?

vonahn72 karma

Good question. Fortunately, I already have some experience from the professional translator uprising Duolingo is causing!

thegreatopposer45 karma

I have used Rosetta Stone and the Pimsleur program for languages but so far I prefer duolingo's format.

You say that you want to be able to translate the Internet. I don't think that my Spanish will be good enough after the ~65 lessons you have provided. Will you be adding any additional lessons?

I am through level 10 after a week. do the formats of the lessons change? I would like to see where I am asked a question and then instead of repeating it....I answer it.


vonahn46 karma

Yes, this will happen in a couple of months.

souprcrackr37 karma

Are you in Gates right now?

vonahn72 karma

No. I'm at the Duolingo Galactic HQ.

nicksnare37 karma

Have you ever tried to fill out a form and become frustrated when you see CAPTCHA at the end of it?

vonahn61 karma

Yes! Especially with Google's CAPTCHA. For the love of God I can't do that one.

VolvoDonkeyPunch35 karma

How would you compare Livemocha to Duolingo? Do you think one is better than the other?

vonahn108 karma

I'd like to think Duolingo is better, but we haven't done a scientific study comparing the two. I can say, however, that Duolingo is "freer" :)

MyAntiAlterEgo34 karma

First off I loved the TED talk you did, it was incredibly inspiring.

Thank you for doing an AMA!

I have a few questions:

  1. Where can we see reCAPTCHA's results?

  2. I've noticed more and more that I'm getting not just text from books, but also pictures of text on objects like street signs, this seems brilliant to me, is this a trend or am I mistaking something else for reCAPTCHA?

On Duolingo:

I love Duolingo, I'm a (relatively) active user, learning German (10) and de-rusting my Spanish (5).

So here's my Duolingo questions/comments:

  1. How will you handle languages that rely heavily on pictograms? (Japanese, Chinese, Korean) Will you use romanized versions? Or will you dive straight in?

  2. Mobile App? I know it's coming, please let us in on the beta. I find that I get my Duolingo on in fits and starts, I can sometimes sit and do it for an hour, but more often it would be best in the 5 minutes while I'm waiting for a pizza or something.

  3. When can we start seeing fully formed community translations of web pages? Can you make this easy to do? (For example: After we've completed a full page translation, show us what the page looks like with our translated text and/or the "best translated" version)

  4. Sometimes, I find that translations with poor (English) grammar are the top rated translation, how can problems like this be corrected once the collective gets ahold of them and upvotes en masse? (Simply put, how do we ensure quality?)

  5. Can we get a little stats porn on how Duolingo is doing thus far? I know when you went public you released some info, but I'm curious as to how going public has affected the output.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!

Edit: Added language levels.

vonahn40 karma

Where can we see reCAPTCHA's results?

On Google Books.

I've noticed more and more that I'm getting not just text from books, but also pictures of text on objects like street signs, this seems brilliant to me, is this a trend or am I mistaking something else for reCAPTCHA?

The reCAPTCHA team at google is running some experiments helping to decipher streetview images.

I've noticed more and more that I'm getting not just text from books, but also pictures of text on objects like street signs, this seems brilliant to me, is this a trend or am I mistaking something else for reCAPTCHA?

No decision has been made on this.

Mobile App? I know it's coming, please let us in on the beta. I find that I get my Duolingo on in fits and starts, I can sometimes sit and do it for an hour, but more often it would be best in the 5 minutes while I'm waiting for a pizza or something.

Patience my friend :)

Mobile App? I know it's coming, please let us in on the beta. I find that I get my Duolingo on in fits and starts, I can sometimes sit and do it for an hour, but more often it would be best in the 5 minutes while I'm waiting for a pizza or something.

1-2 months from now.

Sometimes, I find that translations with poor (English) grammar are the top rated translation, how can problems like this be corrected once the collective gets ahold of them and upvotes en masse? (Simply put, how do we ensure quality?)

You can suggest an edit.

matheod32 karma

Have you plan to add other base language ? (because for the moment we have only english <=> other language and i hope we will have other language <=> other language).

vonahn50 karma

Yes, as mentioned here, we already have Spanish <=> English. That said, we would like to cover all directions between the languages we cover. The next base language is likely French.

YSCapital28 karma

Hey thanks for saving my site from spam attacks. I mean for the most part captchas are annoying but they're effective and the ends justify the means.

vonahn13 karma


KeyboardOnMyDesk28 karma

I have a serious question. My fiancee is deaf and from Italy. She does not speak english and wants to learn. Obviously this is much harder for her than a regular italian since she is deaf. Will duolingo ever have some kind of alternative that is available for deaf people who want to learn a new language?

vonahn50 karma

You can use Duolingo without any of the audio components.

john070327 karma

How do you feel about creating the one, true and almighty Lord Inglip?

vonahn43 karma

I am a gropaga as well. It's a strange loop.

newyankee24 karma

What suggestions would you give researchers who are trying to incorporate gamification techniques in their own work ?

Any pitfalls to avoid ? Do you think that there has been an overpromise as many "experts" today cite Open collaboration using techniques such as gamification as a panacea to everything ?

vonahn44 karma

Gamification is very hard, and simply "adding points" doesn't get the job done.

ademu523 karma


I loved your TED talk, it turned me on to Duolingo and now I'm hooked. My kids are learning languages too. There are numerous studies that identify the rather rocking benefits of being multi-lingual. You sir, are bettering humanity. Thank you.

Dr. Bia­lystok - Neuroplasty

Marian and Kaushanskaya - Better at Learning even More Languages

Bialystok (again), Craik, Green, and Gollan - Better Learning, Protect Against Alzheimer’s, Inhibitions of Distractions

A Great Meta-Research Sourcing Numerous Studies - Academic Progress, Basic Skill Development, Creative Thinking, Cognitive Development, Sense of Achievement, Higher Standardized Test Scores, etc.

TL;DR ♥ and Language Learning Studies

vonahn8 karma

Glad you like it!

KosherNazi21 karma

Can/Do you sell crowdsourced digitization services to pulishers?

Do you think you'll eventually run out of books that need digitizing, as the new stuff is natively digital?

vonahn61 karma

That's Google's decision now (they bought reCAPTCHA). Currently it's mostly being used for the Google Books project, but I don't know what their future plans are. Did you see they are also using reCAPTCHA to decipher street addresses from streetview images? I thought that was pretty cool.

oskalingo20 karma

At present on Duolingo all the translation material is text. Have you considered possibly providing audio/visual material to translate? For example tv shows, lectures, TED talks etc. I can see there would be some issues in breaking up that sort of material into small chunks for translating but maybe it could be done with user input.

I think translation of audio/visual material would be both very interesting for users and also meet a demand for quick translation of recent shows, news broadcasts etc. It would also add more balance to the language learning, which at the moment is tilted more towards reading/writing than listening/speaking.

vonahn16 karma


redfoot8017 karma

I watched your TED and enjoyed it greatly.

I am aware that there is a campaign to essentially subvert the process by which you crowdsource words by properly typing the obscured word and typing a vulgar / racist word for the other one. I was curious if you had heard of this effort, and if so if you had thoughts or a response to it.

Edit: please see Dongopolis's comment at the bottom for more information. I also would like to apologize for his comment.

vonahn39 karma

Yes, we have been well aware of these efforts (e.g. by 4chan) to do this. To this day, fortunately, they haven't succeeded (it's hard to compete with 100 million legitimate answers per day).

crocodilesareforwimp16 karma

Do you really believe that Duolingo is a tool for fluency? What kind of language/education experts do you have backing that opinion? How does one increase their chances of success with Duolingo?

What planned features will increase the effectiveness of Duolingo?

Personally I don't see how you could learn a language without being presented with the opportunity to create your own sentences, rather than just answering questions based on generated questions.

Also: Why a green owl? Where did the mascot come from?

vonahn62 karma

Yes, I do believe Duolingo can help you become fluent. That's our goal at least.

The green owl was better than a broken stone with foreign characters in it.

deqqef14 karma

Which fictional duo are you and Severin most like?

vonahn35 karma

Beavis and Butthead.

optimusprimus14 karma

What kind of things have you got planned for the future? Not only for Duolingo but, well, anything.

vonahn54 karma

For now it's all Duolingo. I think translating the Web will take...a bit of time...