A website called Duolingo can cut the time it will take you to reach basic competence in Chinese from 130 hours to 34, according to the Financial Times. It is free. You can learn Chinese in five minutes a day anywhere, anytime on your i-pad or mobile with game-like lessons.
It was created by Professor Luis von Ahn and his student, Severin Hacker, and now has US$108 million from tech-focused funds, 95 staff in Pittsburgh and 200 million users around the world. Twenty-seven languages can now be learned on the site with 20 more under development. Luis, who is 39, is a pioneer of crowd funding (initial source of finance for Duolingo) and of reCAPTCHA, used for book digitising and bought by Google. Young Professor Luis says, “Free education will change the world.”
Experiment with Duolingo and you find it is amusing and easy. The site talks to you in Putonghua, giving the English translation. You answer multiple choice questions and the site tells you instantly whether you are right or wrong. You are challenged to commit to do five (“basic”), 10, 15 or 20 (“insane”) minutes practising your Chinese per day. Duolingo will give you a nudge if you slip behind. Proficiency exams tell you how you are doing. If well, you don’t get a gold star, you get a heart. The website can be used in the classroom. An App is available on IOS, Android and Windows 8 and 10.
It is not entirely free, of course. Advertising pops up periodically. If you want this removed, you pay a fee.