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isiZulu makes it to Duolingo

South African reading-for-enjoyment campaign Nal’ibali has teamed up with the world’s leading language-learning platform

Duolingo has announced the launch of a beginners’ isiZulu course for English speakers, making the language accessible to 50-million users of its app.

The course is made possible by Nal’ibali, a South African reading-for-enjoyment campaign,    which  has partnered with numerous stakeholders since launching in 2012.

At its Duocon annual virtual conference last week, Duolingo says the addition of isiZulu formed part of its efforts to bring cultural awareness and exposure of lesser-known languages to a wider audience. Duolingo will create additional access for learners – locally and around the world – to learn to speak isiZulu via their mobile app and website.  

“At Duolingo, our mission is to develop the best education in the world and make it universally available,” says Emily Moline, senior curriculum designer at Duolingo. 

IsiZulu is spoken by more than 12-million people, making it the most widely spoken African language in South Africa. The Duolingo isiZulu course will introduce learners to the language’s click sounds and familiarise new speakers with isiZulu’s many noun classes. 

In addition to learning how to speak isiZulu for free, users will learn how to appreciate music like amapiano and gqom, communicate with family members, talk about eating amasi, and navigate the South African taxi system.     

Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for ‘here’s the story’) is known for its advocacy for the use of South African languages in literacy. The campaign seeks to address literacy problems in South Africa by helping adults and children fall in love with reading and hearing stories in their mother  languages. 

The largest producer and distributor of multilingual children’s stories in South Africa, part of Nal’ibali’s focus, said director Nqabakazi Mathe-Gina, is to “promote the importance of previously marginalised African languages, and the Duolingo platform is an excellent opportunity in which to do so. We want more attention to be given to African languages, which will help protect and promote the literacy value chain in South Africa.” 

Duolingo offers 103 total language courses for more than 40 distinct languages, ranging from the world’s five most spoken languages, to lesser-known and endangered languages. The courses are built to feel like a game. Users compete via leaderboards, maintain streaks, earn points, level up and get virtual currency as they learn. The lessons are bite-size and can be done on-the-go in five minutes to fit anyone’s schedule. Lessons include reading, writing, listening, and speaking exercises.

As part of the isiZulu course launch, Duolingo has partnered with Vodacom, South Africa’s largest mobile network operator, which will offer free access to the Duolingo platform to Vodacom users for a year.

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