New technology is revolutionising language learning for African speakers

2023-03-27 23:37:58
New technology is revolutionising language learning for African speakers

Duolingo, a popular edtech language learning platform, has attracted over 30,000 Zulu learners to its platform in a matter of months, making it the second African language offered on its app.

Swahili, added five years ago, now has over 477,000 subscribers.

In more good news for African language learners, Xhosa for English speakers will be released in December this year, bolstering Duolingo’s 50m users.

Duolingo provides free access with ads. An ad-free version costs £6.49 ($8) per month for UK subscribers. In South Africa, leading local telco Vodacom enables its 45 million customers to use Duolingo for free, eliminating data charges when using the app.

The language learning platform generates revenue from advertising, subscription fees, and exam fees. It accumulated $369.5m in revenue in 2022, according to market research firm Statista – a 47% increase over the previous year. A report by Research and Markets forecasts that the online global language learning market will grow 20.3% by 2029, to reach a market size of $31.81bn.

By incorporating African languages, analysts say Duolingo fosters linguistic diversity, while expanding its subscriber base and ramping up profits.

“The historical impact of colonialism on African languages has led to a delay in the development of tools and resources for local languages,” says Vukosi Marivate, associate professor of computer science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

“There is a growing demand for tools that support local languages, as populations increasingly recognise the importance of preserving their linguistic heritage. Organisations like Duolingo see the potential in developing resources for widely spoken languages such as Swahili and Zulu, making it economically viable to invest in their development. Simultaneously, people are becoming more intentional about teaching their children local languages, despite the challenges in finding resources for them.”

Creating the Zulu course on Duolingo involved tackling an array of distinct challenges. The firm’s learning specialists collaborated with course contributors from Nal’ibali, a South African literacy organisation, to devise methods for teaching unique aspects of Zulu. This partnership was crucial to deal with Zulu’s three click consonants, its fifteen noun classes, and the way that Zulu words are structured by combining smaller components.

With Africa’s population set to double by 2050, its immense market potential should attract investors and marketing professionals with a heightened awareness of the need to understand and engage with local languages, according to Mukindi Lambani, CEO of the edtech startup Ambani Africa. This firm utilises augmented reality (AR), animation, and gamification to teach young students seven African languages, while also offering access to online tutors.

“Language learning companies in Africa are diversifying their approaches, targeting early childhood development, adult learning, and corporate institutions, with an overarching goal to empower individuals to learn a variety of subjects in their native languages,” says Lambani.

Africa’s online learning platform industry is projected to reach $380m this year, according to Statista, and revenue is expected to grow 12.10% annually to 2027, encouraging a raft of market entrants.

Source: African Business


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