American startup Duolingo launched its language learning platform in Russian last week in a bid to reach the over 90 million Russian-speaking Internet users around the globe. These users can now study English free of charge via the US company’s online and mobile platform.

“There’s a very high demand for foreign language education in Russia, and an immediate need to learn English for business opportunities and in preparation for the World Cup in 2018,” Duolingo co-founder and CEO Luis von Ahn told East-West Digital News.

“Unfortunately, learning a foreign language is very expensive, and we hope that offering education to everyone for free will be well received. We’re launching English first; German for Russian speakers will be available within the next few weeks,” he promised.

In addition, Russian language instruction will soon be offered to Duolingo’s English-speaking users. “There is a high demand for learning Russian in other countries,” von Ahn noted.

Among Duolingo’s strongest competitors on the Russian market are Rosetta Stone and Lingualeo. The former, a global leader in language learning software, was established in the US in the early 1990s.

Lingualeo is a Russian startup launched in 2009 and backed by Runa Capital, a major venture fund operating from Moscow and Silicon Valley. So far Lingualeo has attracted 6 million free and paid users, its founder and CEO Aynur Abdulnasyrov told EWDN.

Von Ahn claims that Duolingo has three advantages: “First, we’re 100% free (while Rosetta Stone is quite expensive), with no in-app purchases or ads distracting the experience. Second, Duolingo is built like a game which makes it very addicting, and skills can be learned in bite-sized portions. Finally, Duolingo is completely science-based.”

In Russia, just as in every other market, the US startup’s only marketing strategy is word of mouth. “We believe our product needs to be so good that people will just want to tell their friends and family about it – and this has worked well for us so far,” von Ahn claims. “Perhaps we should improve our presence on VKontakte so our new users can communicate with us easily,” he concedes.

Crowdsourced localization and translations

The Russian version of Duolingo was created in the startup’s Language Incubator by community members Roman Kuprov, Larisa Larionova, and Valery Tsyplenkov, with help from Sergey Abramov as a contributor. This incubator, to which 20,000 volunteers have already applied, allows Duolingo expand its language offerings in a scalable way.

Attracting more than 20 million users worldwide, the Pennsylvania-based startup claims to be the number one education app around the world on both Google Play and iTunes. It was chosen by Apple as the iPhone App of the Year and by Google as the “Best of Best” Android app of 2013.

The startup also claims that its approach is scientifically proven to be more effective than university education.

Instead of charging users, Duolingo finances its high-quality education platform using a crowdsourcing model. Users have the option of translating texts as a method to strengthen the skills they learn on Duolingo – for example, after learning food vocabulary, they have the option of translating a menu. Duolingo sells these translations to international media companies.