Duolingo, the language learning app recognized for the owl that haunts our dreams every night, now has a companion app to teach you mathematics.
To get the most critical question out of the way: yes, the owl is present in the latest app, Duolingo Math. However, said bird seems to have been compressed into a cube. You may be uncertain if it continues to qualify as an owl in this new form factor.
We consider a mascot reclassification wouldn’t be amiss here since owls can’t do the math. Come on now. It isn’t fantasyland.
As someone who has studied several languages through Duolingo but lost any natural affinity for mathematics once the letters got involved, you may consider yourself the perfect candidate to test out Duolingo’s math course, which starts with “Multiplication 1.” Perfect. That’s about where you are at.
The subjects that pursue multiplication include area, perimeter, angles, telling time, division, fractions, and other things you promptly overlooked how to do as soon as you graduated from high school. As you go along, you get a vertical progression of lessons that build on each other.
You might have gone through some multiplication and division units, and the knowledge and experience are aesthetically similar to the language app. The little “ding” you hear when you get a valid answer is similarly satisfying, but not identical, to the one you listen to in language courses. The lessons are equally quick, taking less than two minutes to conclude. You manage your little circles to fill up as you finish the assignments. If you don’t look as often as you should, you gain a passive-aggressive statement from the cubic bird of prey.
No two workouts are the same as with the language app. Duolingo’s language assignments generally have you interact with a set of new words in many different ways. You listen to them, say them, type them, spell them, and the hope is that some assortment of those exercises will succeed at jamming them into your brain.
The approach to math appears similar. You add three fours together, then match them to a snapshot of three blocks of four dots, and then click a block of four dots three times. Then you calculate by fours up to 12, and you beat away at the foundation of multiplication before you remember that three times four is twelve.
Some queries even have you handwrite the explanation in a box, which the app does an excellent job of recognizing and converting to typed text. Unfortunately, you cannot support this feature; you might repeatedly get a division question wrong because it turned out you might have been writing “5” backward. But, of course, if you’ve been writing “5” backward this whole time, you will entirely blame yourself. One of you should’ve told us.
The resemblances between the two apps are no coincidence, states Sammi Siegel, the senior software engineer who created “most of what you see” in the new math program. Siegel aspired to take the setup and exercises that have brought Duolingo success in the language sphere to make the math. Siegel has been working on Duolingo Math for over a year. He was the only architect on the project for much of that time.
“We have all these additional mechanics to keep people engaged. So we liked to use everything we’ve learned from training language and apply it to another subject,” Siegel states.
“Whether it’s computing the tip on a check or modifying the pieces in a recipe, math is essential for our lives,” Siegel says. “We also understand this proliferation of math anxiety where people don’t feel comfortable with their math skills. We think we can cut into that with a fun and fascinating app and break it for folks.”
There are, of course, ways in which math learning varies from language learning. The primary limitation is that most people starting a Duolingo language, regardless of age, can reasonably be presumed to be beginners of that language because they are using Duolingo. So while some people might be bored at the beginning, starting everyone who downloads Korean you with the basic alphabet seems like the correct move.
But math learners, one would suspect, will come in with highly variable math knowledge and ability. So figuring out where to start everyone so the material won’t be too easy or too hard to keep them engaged strikes me as a tricky prospect. Of course, you can start on whatever unit you want to, but there doesn’t appear to be any comprehensive placement test.
To address this, Duolingo does plan to offer courses at multiple levels based on age. Currently, there’s one for elementary school students and one in the works that are geared more toward adults who want to brush up. More levels, including some for high school, aren’t out of the question, though the team is currently focused on the two courses they already have.
Duolingo: Expanding into Math lessons & Brain training
Duolingo is maintaining its annual Duocon event today to reveal some of what it’s working on. One of the big things the business has in the pipeline is a Duolingo Math app, which marks its first move outside language learning.
The app has two major elements. The first is a math course created for elementary school-level kids. The app also has brain training for those aged 13 and older. The vision is to support you improve your math and day-to-day thinking skills.
Meanwhile, Duolingo is positioned to add another language course. Again, Duolingo will suggest short, gamified math lessons if you’ve employed the main app. This time it’s for Zulu, the most widely articulated first language in South Africa. Duolingo said the foreword of the Zulu course is part of its endeavors to increase cultural awareness of lesser-studied and endangered languages.
In addition, the company will suggest a look at a redesign for Duolingo ABC, a literacy app for kids. Duocon will also include components on some upcoming social features. One of those is called Friends Quest. Duolingo states it hopes to help folks have more fun while they perform toward their language learning objectives.