Duolingo offers language-certification tests via mobile devices

Duolingo, the free language-learning service, is releasing an app called Test Center that lets users take a standardized test on their mobile device and potentially earn certification for their English skills.

Test Center is designed to make standardized tests more accessible to Duolingo users, particularly those outside the U.S., who want to apply for jobs and schools that require English certificates. Previously, you could get a language certificate only by physically going to a center and paying at least $250 to take a test, Duolingo Chief Executive Luis von Ahn told The Times.




An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Carnegie Mellon University would help Duolingo get more academic partners to accept its certificates. Carnegie Mellon University said it is not working with other schools.


“Most of these tests are usually being taken in developing countries, and there, $250 can be up to a month’s salary,” von Ahn said. “You have to invest a month’s salary in order to get ahead.”

Initially, Duolingo will offer free standardized tests while the service is in beta, but eventually it will charge users $20 a test. Test Center will be the second source of revenue for Duolingo, a Pittsburgh start-up that launched to the public in 2012 and that says it has 15 million active users. The company is not yet profitable, but it has media partners that pay Duolingo to have their articles translated by its users.

Test Center’s certification tests are the first high-stakes standardized tests that users can take whenever and wherever they want, von Ahn said. Most standardized tests are taken in person to prevent cheating, but Duolingo’s Test Center monitors for cheating by using devices’ front cameras and microphones to record video and audio as users take their tests. Those recordings are saved to Duolingo’s servers (not users’ devices) and reviewed by proctors, who ensure testers don’t look at notes or receive help from anyone.

Users who pass the standardized test receive digital certificates, which are displayed on unique Web page addresses. Each certificate includes the recording of the student taking his or her test, allowing potential employers and school administrators to see for themselves if a student cheated.

For the launch of Test Center, Duolingo has teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University, ODesk and Google. As Duolingo’s first academic partner, Carnegie Mellon University will be assessing Test Center’s effectiveness in evaluating English proficiency.

Meanwhile, ODesk, a service that connects businesses with freelancers, will be the first company to accept Duolingo’s certificates. It will display a special icon on the profiles of freelancers who are certified by Duolingo. And Google will help Duolingo promote the app, which will launch exclusively for Android devices.


“We are excited to see Duolingo transform standardized testing through mobile technology and help millions of Android users around the world gain access to better opportunities,” Purnima Kochikar, the global director of Google Play Apps & Games, said in a statement.

Eventually, the app will be made available for Apple iOS devices. A Web version of Test Center also launched Wednesday and is available at Von Ahn said Duolingo plans to have certification tests for the other languages it teaches -- Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Dutch -- by the end of 2014.

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