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Hawaiian, Gaelic, Yiddish: so you want to learn an endangered language on Duolingo?

Friday 14th February 2020

Languages do not become endangered peacefully. Duolingo’s efforts to teach such languages have entangled the company in often fraught historical contexts

In October last year, Meena Viswanath, a 31-year-old civil engineer from Berkeley, California, joined a small team of volunteers who were developing a Yiddish course on Duolingo, the free language learning app with over 300 million users. Having grown up in the only Yiddish-speaking family in a majority English-speaking New Jersey neighborhood, the prospect of broadcasting her mother tongue to a global network of students was exciting.

Throughout October, Viswanath and three other contributors regularly met to discuss the curriculum over a shared Slack channel. They had a target to get the course up and running towards the end of 2020, and to begin, progress was solid. But then they hit a roadblock.

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