After five years and over 70 language courses, freemium language-learning app, Dualingo, finally adds Japanese. Financial magazine, Forbes, reported that the developers received a lot of request for a Japanese course for English speakers. According to the report, Japanese received the most requests in Dualingo’s 5-year history. Their co-founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn, said that “No matter what we’d share on social media, tons of people would respond with, ‘that’s nice, but when are you launching Japanese?’”
Dualingo now offers the Japanese language course in their app, as they added it back in April through their 5.1.0 update. The app boasts over 70 courses across 26 languages, but why did it take so long to add Japanese? Duolingo engineer Masato Hagiwara said that “Japanese is very difficult to teach.” He also added that “We did extensive research and read papers on the optimal way to teach the language.” In other words, they left no stone un-turned to ensure they can teach the language in the best way possible.
Hideki Shima, who helped develop this Japanese course, said that during their yearly hackathon, he spent the event trying to develop ways in teaching Japanese. He then added that “Right after that, I got a note from a product manager to keep going.”
Studies show that Japanese is actually one of the languages that English speakers would have the most trouble learning. Apart from a grammar structure that lists nouns and verbs “backwards,” Japanese also includes three syllabaries—hiragana, katakana, and kanji—which learners must memorize in lieu of an alphabet. “Japanese hiragana characters aren’t in ‘alphabetical order,’ or anything; they’re by sound,” said Hagiwara. “Instead starting with A, B, and C, we teach i (い), chi (ち), and ni (に).”
And then there’s the issue of appeal, as English speakers must be attracted to this new course. According to Forbes, “the real appeal of the course comes as you advance toward the end. Some of the most advanced courses in Duolingo for Japanese involve subculture, including anime and cosplay, which should motivate people to go the extra mile.”
“English speakers love food, culture, and anime from Japan, and it makes them want to learn the language,” said Shima. “You’ll learn to say ‘I cosplay on the weekend,’ and ‘I am a little bit of an otaku'”.
Right now, their ultimate goal is to keep people on the app as long as possible so they can see the greatest results. “Since it’s not a physical class, and we can’t make you attend, we worked to make it like a game,” said Hagiwara. Gamelike features include earning points and getting rewards for “streaks,” when the user practices for a certain amount over consecutive days.