2018 Update: Duolingo have announced an Arabic course is coming soon.
Duolingo is arguably the world’s most popular online method for learning a foreign language.
There are currently 27 available or ‘coming soon’ languages, including some quite niche languages such as Indonesian (43 million native speakers), Hungarian (13 million native speakers) and even Irish.
However, Arabic, the world’s 5th most spoken language, with around 280 million native speakers, does not feature. Duolingo users have been posting on the site’s discussion forums asking for it for years, but to no avail.
It’s not even in Duolingo’s list of ‘incubator’ languages that are currently being worked on.
The demand for Arabic learning has increased dramatically in recent years. For example, since 2002 the number of people studying Arabic in American universities has tripled (according to the MLA). Despite this, there is still a real lack of good Arabic learning resources.
What could be the reason for Duolingo’s reluctance to jump on the Arabic language bandwagon?
Part of the reason has to be the script.
The rigid Duolingo template doesn’t currently feature a method for learning a new script. There are courses for languages that use different scripts, such as Hebrew and Russian, but they’re much less user-friendly because you are thrown right in at the deep end and shown words in the new script, which are difficult to memorise when you have no frame of reference for the pronunciation.
Another reason might be the vast array of Arabic dialects.
Perhaps Duolingo don’t know which to choose and don’t want to offend any particular region by not choosing theirs. Many Arabic language courses focus on ‘Modern Standard Arabic’ but this dialect is only used in formal situations such as news reports and political speeches, so Duolingo perhaps know it won’t cut it for being useful for everyday usage. As Will Ward puts it, “try to rent a flat using Modern Standard Arabic and people will look at you like you’re speaking Shakespearian English in Tony Soprano’s New Jersey”.
Have you got another theory? Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org
When will Duolingo start offering Arabic courses?
I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think we’re close. Duolingo have 11 languages ‘in beta’ or ‘hatching’ and Arabic isn’t even one of those.
I’ve been running arabicreadingcourse.com for 6 years and I’m planning to expand to other areas of Arabic learning (outside of just the reading and alphabet). I would like to create a Duolingo-like course for Arabic, so if you want to find out when that is available, please leave me your email address.
And if you want to learn to read Arabic using an easy method, check out Lesson 1 of Arabic Reading Course.
Should we get excited about the possibility of Duolingo offering Arabic?
Personally, I don’t think so. Duolingo is very popular but I have my reservations about how effective it really us for becoming genuinely proficient in a language.
Their courses are well-loved because the gamify language learning, but I actually feel they’ve gamified it too much. People enjoy the courses because they get a kick out of scoring points and viewing their progress, but they’re just progressing through the Duolingo method. Have they actually tried using what they learnt in the real world?
My main problem with Duolingo is that it doesn’t teach the most useful words and phrases. You learn quite unnatural phrases. In my first lesson of Hebrew I was asked to learn the phrase “Is love coming?” Huh?
I completed several levels of Portuguese then arrived in Lisbon and needed help finding my accommodation and realised I had no idea how to say ‘Where is this street?’ however I could say ‘The sauce boils’.
Duolingo is good for convincing yourself you’re making progress in a language but until you get out there and try and speak with real people, there will always be something important missing.