Duolingo, a popular online language education service, is making it easier for students and job-seekers to receive English language certification with the introduction of its new app, Test Center.

Language certification is necessary for some visas, universities and job applications. But the costs can be prohibitive, especially in countries where monthly incomes average at just few hundred dollars.

For a flat rate of $20, Test Center allows users to test for and receive accredited English language certification online or through a mobile application. This is a lot less than the average cost of in-person certification processes, which are priced between $160-$250 and can take up to eight weeks to receive.

Making Tests Accessible

Test Center is a response to  students were having problems receiving English certification, Duolingo cofounder and CEO Luis von Ahn, Duolingo told ReadWrite.  The company receives a lot of emails from potential users about difficulties such as a lack of resources, especially for people who live in remote areas, he said. What’s more, many in-person testing facilities are located only in major cities.

“When we got enough emails, we started looking at the space,” von Ahn said. “There are 30 million people every year who need certification, a majority in English.”

Duolingo’s English certification program won’t be accepted by many institutions right away—so while the tech education firm works to partner with university and companies, it is offering free certification.  

The company is in talks with the top 25 universities in the U.S.—at least one university is involved so far. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is the company’s first educational partner, and von Ahn said Duolingo is working with the university to research the effectiveness of the proficiency exam. Carnegie Mellon hopes to accept Duolingo’s accreditation soon; research will compare applicants’ tests to the TOEFL exam, the current standard for language proficiency. 

“Universities seem interested because they want to increase the number of international applicants,” he said.

oDesk is the first corporation to accept Duolingo certification—the freelance work marketplace will provide a way for job-seekers to add their Duolingo English proficiency score as a way to showcase their knowledge of English while searching for potential jobs.

Taking Language Mobile

Test Center will be available on the Web and as an app on Android devices, and because it’s entirely Web-based, students will receive certification in less than 24 hours.

The only hardware requirement? You’ll need a front-facing camera.

For traditional language proficiency exams, students need to take the test in-person to prevent cheating—such tests can be susceptible to fraud, like the student visa exams suspended in the UK’s visa program earlier this year.

To provide that same level of honesty when taking the test online, Duolingo will record the test-taker through the front-facing camera. Once the test is complete, a Duolingo representative will will review the video. The entire process takes less than 24 hours.

The choice to build and launch the Android app first was one based on demographics.

“Most of the people taking these tests are in non-English speaking countries where Android is more popular,” von Ahn said.

The total cost of an Android device, the test, and data to take it could be less than the $250 traditional exams cost, giving people in developing markets a better opportunity to elevate themselves out of poverty.

Test Center won’t be Android-only for long; von Ahn said an iOS version is coming soon.

Google is one of the biggest supporters of Duolingo’s Test Center program. While the company doesn’t require English proficiency among all its employees, it will promote the new service as a way to learn and master language—and opportunity. 

Images courtesy of Duolingo