For $20, You Can Test Your English Skills on Your Smartphone

A blog about business and economics.
April 25 2014 5:34 PM

Duolingo Moves Into Language Proficiency Exams

Can tests be addictive too?

Screenshot from Duolingo

Duolingo has made language learning cool. The popular app has millions of English speakers brushing up on their Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese, and is teaching English to speakers of those languages plus half a dozen others. It's a fully gamified approach to foreign language education and one of the most productive means of procrastination ever created, as Seth Stevenson wrote in Slate earlier this year.

Starting next month, users of the app will have a chance to see their language progress rewarded with more than a trumpet fanfare at the end of a lesson. Duolingo announced this week that it will begin offering a cheap app-based English proficiency exam starting May 13. The $20 test will be available on Android-based phones, the Wall Street Journal reported, and designed to compete with existing exams like the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

The tests might not be as addictive and fun as Duolingo itself, but they'll be important in another way: by bringing affordable language exams to people who might not afford them otherwise. The costs of a TOEFL exam alone, for example, can range from $160 to $250. Luis von Ahn, the creator of Duolingo and a MacArthur fellow, sees part of the app's mission as teaching free-of-cost English to people for whom the skills can be a huge step up on the socioeconomic ladder.


Will people cheat on a smartphone test? Duolingo thinks not. Or at least, the company thinks it will have enough measures in place to catch any wrongdoers. According to the Journal, tests will only be given on smartphones with front-facing cameras and the test-taker will have to rotate the device 360 degrees to demonstrate that no one else is present. Duolingo will record all sound and video during the exam, and can review 60 exams an hour. And besides, with someone like von Ahn running the show, cheaters won't want to take the chance.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.