With India being the second-fastest-growing market for Duolingo and the fifth largest in terms of daily active users, the US edtech company is working overtime to push deeper into the country. It is planning to add one more local language this year over and above the two — Hindi and Bengali — already available on the platform. That apart, its Duolingo English Test (standardised test of English proficiency) witnessed over 100% user growth in cities such as Kochi, Nellore, Bharuch, Malappuram, and Eluru among others last year. So its drive into tier-2 and tier-3 markets makes perfect sense.
According to Karandeep Singh Kapany, country marketing manager, Duolingo, the company is banking on gamification, localisation, and personalisation to quicken the pace of growth in the country. “India offers a big growth opportunity and we have just scratched the surface,” he says. “The next big growth for us is going to come from the smaller towns. That is where a big chunk of our base is sitting and we need to talk to them more consistently.”
IMIR Research Analyst estimates the global language learning market at $36.79 bn in 2021, which is projected to reach $187.54 bn by 2028. In India, the market is expected to touch $1.7 bn by spending by 2025. With such a large population and the innate ability of Indians to pick up multiple languages, it is quite natural that the language learning market presents a huge opportunity to players, say experts.
Duolingo has about 60 million users globally and offers over 100 courses for users to learn 40 languages including Spanish, French, German and Japanese. It claims to have over 45 million users in India, with 10 million added in 2021 alone.
Indian languages are a great opportunity for Duolingo to make inroads into the country, notes Rutu Mody-Kamdar, founder, Jigsaw Brand consultants. With rising job opportunities and migration, many young people from rural and semi-urban areas are looking beyond their current bases for better work opportunities, and this makes it essential for them to learn new languages. The availability of Indian languagues beyond the de rigueur Hindi and Bangla will help draw more people to the platform, she says.
Mobile penetration in India is not a problem so mobile access is the best way to grow its base in the country. However, the app ought to also make the content rich and interesting using video, gamification, and rewards, she adds. Collaborating with educational institutions and offering certifications would be a good way to draw users since Indians attach a lot of value to certificates from prestigious universities.
Localisation is key
Even though India claims to have the largest population of English speakers globally outside the United States — with 129 million English speakers across all 29 states — less than 10% of the total population actually speak the language. In other words, 90% of the population is in need of English learning resources. It’s no surprise that English is the top language of choice for Indians to learn on Duolingo, followed by Hindi, French, Korean, and Spanish. That apart, over 75% of its learners are under the age of 30.
Kapany says the platform is looking to launch at least one regional language this year and the toss up is among Tamil, Telugu, and Punjabi. “Our growth enabler is localisation, which is tailoring our app to meet the needs and demands of our audiences in India. We’ll be launching other vernacular languages soon and that will help us stay relevant. Localisation for us is also in terms of the content we put out there on social media,” he adds. The platform is working with a lot of YouTubers for integrations and select influencers for whom the core target audience is tier-2 and tier-3 cities. “Social media is really a great platform for us and we see huge participation from smaller towns in terms of engagement,” he says.
The cities where Duolingo is seeing growth all have a common factor – aspiring migrants who want to travel abroad for studiy or work. Hence, brand communication should target these segments digitally during their search journey, advises Nisha Sampath, managing partner, Bright Angles Consulting. As this audience relies heavily on word of mouth, positive testimonials and success stories of users could help. “Duolingo could find opportunity not only in one-on-one but in corporate training packages for the workforce or contract workers. For instance, taxi drivers or QSR personnel for whom language proficiency is a must because they interact with local customers,” she says.
According to a Technavio market research report, the rising adoption of game-based learning is one of the key drivers for market growth. Multiple platforms are designing lectures based on interactive games to aid learners. Kapany says, “We have utilised a gamified approach to learning, and the courses have always been presented as a series of interactive games with prizes. We feel users learn best when they are having fun.”
Apart from the not-so-intimidating user interface, clourses are peppered with fun phrases and sentences, which breaks the monotony of learning. Allowing users to personalise content and courses will be key to its growth in the country. Experts say leveraging AI would be the next big user interface move for the brand.
Globally, 75% of the platform’s revenues comes from paid subscriptions, while the rest is spilt between ads, gamification, and in-app purchases. So what are its plans to monetise the platform? “We don’t have any plans to monetise the product or create a stream of revenue at the moment,” he adds.