Learning languages by virtually meeting people from other cultures.

Project type

My role




UX Case Study 

via IterateUX

UX Designer



User Interview

Affinity Map




Figma / Figjam



Google forms

5 weeks



“One fact we’re particularly proud of is that there are more people learning languages on Duolingo in the US than there are people learning languages in the entire US public school system.”

— Luis van Ahn, CEO of Duolingo

“Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club – the community of speakers of that language.”

— Frank Smith, psycholinguist

The world is more connected than ever, and despite the countless translation sources, there is nothing like understanding a language and its idiosyncrasies. Learning a foreign language has a unique way of connecting people from different backgrounds and bringing them together.

How can the user experience in learning a foreign language on Duolingo be improved?

Secondary Research

We first did research on language learning methods. We also found input on how people thought they best learned a language versus what professional language teachers believed to be best. People who had to live in different countries emphasized the importance of immersing and communicating with the locals.

  • Most users spend an average of 15 minutes per session on Duolingo.
  • Over 90% of Duolingo’s users are young adults (18-34 years old)
  • A study conducted by USC on Cross-Cultural Language Learning found “in order to be fully understood, many aspects of culture must be experienced, not taught.”


Bottom line: In order to reach proficiency, the language learner needs to see progress through participation.

Survey and Interviews

Based off our secondary research, we put together a set of questions to send out to language learners.

Survey Findings (58 responses)

  • 31% spent time learning on a weekly or daily basis
  • 39% no significant improvement in ability to speak the language they are learning (after at least 1 year)
  • 48% preferred multi-sensory approach: visual, auditory, and verbal
  • 90% were willing to converse with a real person to practice.
  • And over half of users favored getting to know another culture through television, travel, and food.

User Interviews (5 interviews)

  • Frustration with no noticed progress
  • The lessons can get boring and repetitive
  • No personalized goals within the app
  • The motivation to learn a language is the ability to engage in real conversation

Affinity Map

We gathered and categorized all the data we obtained.

Key Findings

  • Users are learning a language for friends/family, travel and culture, school/job opportunities
  • Seeing progress is an important motivator
  • Users believe lack of live conversation hinders their ability to learn the language
  • Users would like to see more personal goal settings in the app.


Value Proposition

“Cultural immersion right at your fingertips.

Meet a new face, learn a new language.”

Problem Statement

Duolingo learners want to engage with native speakers and understand cultural contexts so that they can feel proficient and recognize progress in their target language.

How Might We's

How might we create an immersive language learning experience for Audre (persona)?

  • real-life interactions with native speakers
  • ice-breakers and guidance to encourage natural conversation
  • incentivize users to share about their own culture too

We looked at the problem from Audrey’s perspective.

How might we get her to learn Spanish fluently enough to be able to connect with her boyfriend’s latino family?

— have her practice with native Spanish speakers

How might we get her to practice with native Spanish speakers?

— create a space where she can converse to Spanish speakers during times that work with her schedule

How might we get native Spanish speakers to help Audrey learn their language and culture?

— have Audrey help them in return by practicing english and sharing her culture with them

User Flow

We brainstormed ways to implement a space for language exchange in Duolingo’s environment. After several iterations, my team and I decided on aspects we thought worked best and put it together to make one coherent flow.


We then sketched out screens based on the user flow before beginning work on the prototype.

To the right is a draft illustrating what the user sees from start to finish of the language exchange portion.

As a team, we put together all of our sketches and discussed screens to take out, combine, or alter.


Next, we transformed our sketches into medium fidelity prototypes. We had time to perform a couple user tests before creating high fidelity work.

Here are examples of the transformation:



  • Working as a team: It’s easy to have a vision of how something should look and work. Working in a team helped me expand on ideas and look at things in a new light. It also helped me to try and understand ideas I didn’t always initially agree with, and in turn these conversations strengthened our need to justify the reasons of the details of the project to make it a strong product. It could be confusing at times to bring all of our individual ideas together but through regular communication we were able to stay on the same page and make the necessary changes that needed to be implemented to get the project done in the 5 week span that was given to us.


  • Having a plan: Having a strategy is vital to the design process. Most projects, including this one, have deadlines to adhere to, which means efficiency and obtaining the most useful information is something to be taken seriously. We created a plan on a shared google doc and altered it as needed throughout the process, but that way everyone was on the same page of our direction of the project and next steps to move forward.


  • Staying Focused: It was easy, and sometimes tempting, to get distracted by all the information out there on linguistics and learning methods; Sometimes we would get carried away on all the other ideas we could build on, so throughout the process we pinned the project goal to our shared workspace to keep our focus on the mission. Likewise, it could get overwhelming to organize all the data without getting sidetracked by the irrelevant feedback given, because it would spur ideas for other improvements we could design (ie. gamification, lesson structures, etc).

Looking ahead

  • Conduct further usability testing !
  • A / B testing to finalize user experience
  • Add privacy constraints for different ages and learning situations
  • Explore gamification to the feature

Hasta luego!