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Gaelic is Scotland's ancient living language. Spoken for at least 1,500 years, it is woven into the culture of Scotland and the Scottish diaspora. However, like the majority of our planet's 7,000 or so languages, Scottish Gaelic is classified by UNESCO as endangered. In this blog post, we'll discuss reasons to learn Gaelic that range from connecting with the culture of Scotland to playing a role in Gaelic’s recovery and revival.
Back from the brink
Gaelic was once the principal language of the Kingdom of Scotland, stretching from the Northern Highlands to the Southern Borders. However, following the upheaval of the Jacobite Rebellions in the 17th and 18th centuries, the language was heavily persecuted. The infamous Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in large swathes of the Gaels being sent overseas, often under great duress; these emigrants took their language to Canada, where they founded Gaelic-speaking communities who still maintain their language and culture today. Back in the British Isles, however, the Education Scotland Act of 1872 effectively banned Gaelic in Scotland's schools. Some of those caught speaking the language faced physical punishment.
Despite everything, Gaelic hung on in Scotland, where it is now spoken by just under 60,000 people. And the seeds of Gaelic’s revival have been sown: in 2005, the Scottish Parliament passed an act aiming to secure Gaelic’s status as an official language of Scotland, and since then the number of speakers under 20 has begun to rise. Around 5,600 children are currently being educated through the medium of Gaelic. Surveys show the majority of Scots view the language favourably, and a growing number of people are learning Gaelic worldwide.
Gaelic now has its own television ...
“True! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses --not destroyed --not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily --how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”
This distraught character from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart begins with a sense of immediacy that compels the audience to listen, providing the engaging sort of material that we like to bring readers of Duolingo Stories. But our learners come from a range of second-language reading proficiencies, and so we grapple with the task of adapting such material into simpler forms, while retaining its substance. For instance, we might rewrite the above passage into the following text, aimed at beginner English language learners:
“It’s true! I am very nervous, but crazy? I was sick, but I could hear much better. I could hear everything in heaven, earth, and hell. How could I be crazy? Listen and I will tell you the whole story.”
This text adaptation task poses a difficult challenge for us in efficiently producing accessible content for learners from many levels—not only for our Stories, but also for Podcasts and other features across Duolingo products. So, we’ve built semi-automated machine learning systems to aid in our content creation process targeting various language proficiencies, as measured by the CEFR standard. In particular, we’ve built the CEFR Checker to help transform and check that content across languages appropriately targets beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners. Today, we’re making ...
The most obvious reason to learn a new language is so that you can use it to speak to people. You might learn Hindi, for example, so that you can talk with your cousins who don’t speak English, or maybe you’d study Korean so you can chat with fellow K-pop enthusiasts online. But some languages, like Sanskrit and Latin, have no native speakers currently living. So why study them?
In this blog post, we’ll outline a few reasons why you might want to explore learning Latin. (And if these reasons are enough to catch your interest, you’ll be happy to hear that learning Latin is free and easy with Duolingo’s new Latin course.)
Verba volant, scripta manent
For hundreds of years, the Roman Empire governed a swath of land stretching from the British Isles to the Caspian Sea. This was a multinational, multilingual state; to speak to one another, people used a casual, spoken form of Latin sometimes called “Vulgar Latin.” (It wasn’t called “vulgar” because it was full of swear words or anything — it’s because the word vulgus means “the people.”) Meanwhile, the writers and orators and scientists and lawyers of the Roman Empire used a more formal version of the language, now known as Classical Latin.
Over time, the casual spoken version of Latin changed, with every group of speakers making the language their own. Eventually, these language varieties evolved into the Romance languages — Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, et cetera.
Classical Latin, meanwhile, lived on in the courtroom (many legal terms come from Latin), the science lab (every species has a Latin name), and the medical field (Latin has been used used to describe a vast number of medical conditions).
Ex nihilo ...
Here are two fast facts about Duolingo that you may not have known before:
Our products are used by people from every country in the world.
Over half of the learners of our main product, the Duolingo learning app, are women.
One of our key company operating principles is “learners first”: our mission and entire reason for existing is to make sure everyone in the world has access to high-quality language education. To develop a product that meets the diverse needs of our learners, the teams within Duolingo must reflect the diversity of those learners.
Of the 175 or so people who work at Duolingo, our employees represent 25 different countries and speak over 15 languages fluently. But we know we need to continue to press forward to increase the types of diversity represented at the company – specifically in terms of women and people of color.
During the 2017-2018 university recruitment season, we had a ton of success bringing in a new college graduate engineering class of 50% men and women.
Recruiting a diverse group of new hires for 2019
For the 2018-2019 university recruiting season, we wanted to build on the success we had in the previous year. We set a goal of 50% female representation, 50% people of color representation, and we also wanted to double our total number of hires from the previous year.
In tackling these goals, our plan was to target top computer science programs with diverse student populations. We found that active and diversity-focused computing clubs were strong indicators of a university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion at a larger scale, so we also prioritized schools that had active student organizations.
During our interview process, we ...
What is a “hard” language?
If you tell someone that you’re studying Japanese, they’ll very likely comment on how hard the language is. And if you’ve studied Japanese, you probably agree that the language is a tough one. But what does that even mean? When we say a language is hard, what are we talking about? After all, babies can learn to speak any language on earth — and so can adults, given enough time and effort. But when you’re learning a language as an adult, there are a few languages that take more time and more effort to progress than others do.
Why is this? By the time we’re adults, we speak our native language (or languages) like a master guitarist plays their instrument: smoothly, automatically, and quite beautifully. The process of learning a new language is like that master guitarist learning a new instrument. If you give the guitarist a mandolin, a lot of the skills they already have will help them: tuning the instrument, strumming, etc. A flute, though, requires a very new set of skills. And drums? Our guitarist is practically starting from scratch when they’re studying the drums.
If English is a guitar, then a language like Dutch (a very similar language) is a mandolin. Something like Japanese, though, is more like the drums: you have to learn all-new ways of playing. So this is one of the big factors affecting language difficulty: how different is the language you’re learning from the language you started with?
In this post, we’ll discuss why Arabic, our newest Duolingo course, is often considered a “hard” language for English speakers to learn — the drums, in the musical analogy above. But we’ll ...
At Duolingo, we’re constantly experimenting with new features that improve how we teach, such as Crown Levels, Stories, Podcasts, and Events. But did you know that the course content is continuously evolving, too?
Duolingo has always been committed to applying research findings to teach languages effectively. In addition, we’ve built a product that motivates users to keep learning — not an easy feat to accomplish! Now we’re excited to share several improvements that take Duolingo courses to the next level:
CEFR course alignment
Quick & helpful tips
Improved in-app assessment
The new additions mean that — if you’re taking one of our most popular courses (Spanish, French, or English1) and you haven’t used Duolingo in a few months — there’s a ton of new content to come back to! There are over 800 new words to learn and dozens of new illustrated tips on grammar, pronunciation, and common phrases.
CEFR course alignment
We’ve rebuilt our most popular courses from scratch, ensuring systematic coverage of what you need to learn to be able to communicate in your second language. In addition, we presented the material in a new sequence that follows a well-established international standard, the CEFR.
Wait, what’s the CEFR?
The CEFR is the most commonly used language standard around the globe. It stands for Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and it was developed to provide a common basis for talking about language education. Even though the CEFR originated in Europe, it's meant to apply to any language, not just to languages spoken in Europe. The CEFR defines what a learner should be able to do (the so-called “Can Do” statements) at different levels of proficiency in their new language (such as “the learner can order food” ...