BERLIN: Duolingo, the free language learning service, announced the launch of Test Center, its digital language certification program. The company is launching this service with an English Proficiency Exam that will rate your language skills on a scale from one to ten, but it expects to expand to other languages as well. For the time being, the certificate is available for free, but the company plans to start charging $20 for it once more universities and companies accept it.
Standardized English exams like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) that almost every foreign student who has ever wanted to study in the U.S. has to take are a big business and essentially operate like monopolies. Duolingo wants to break these monopolies up. This project wasn’t always on the company’s roadmap, but more and more users were starting to ask the team for ways to certify that they really learned a language.
Another major problem with today’s tests is that they are prone to fraud. Too often, test takers have somebody else who looks a bit like them take the test for them or they actually bribe the proctors. That’s clearly something the Duolingo team took very seriously when it developed its application. When you take the test, the camera and microphone on your phone or laptop record everything you do. After you have completed the test, that video is then watched by a Duolingo proctor who checks that everything is kosher. The video is also attached to your digital certificate, so if somebody else ends up taking the test for you, it’ll be pretty easy to spot by a university administrator or potential employer.
This rather labor-intensive fraud protection mechanism is the biggest cost factor for Duolingo in bringing this service to market. For now, however, the company has decided to take a financial hit and make the test free while it works on finding more partners that will accept it.