Can Duolingo destroy the TOEFL?

A few months ago, Duolingo launched their Test Center, which tests users on their English proficiency. The idea is that their Test Center can accurately determine a user’s command of English after a 20 minute exam taken on a mobile device or web browser. Duolingo offers this as an alternative to the TOEFL, which most non-native English speakers have to take at some point to prove their ability to understand English. Why are they tackling this problem? Well, the TOEFL happens to be the only widely accepted English proficiency test so anyone that needs to prove their English abilities must take it. It costs over $200 to take, is administered in special facilities often far from the test taker’s home, and can also take months to calculate the results. However, none of these reasons have hurt the popularity of the test because it is still the only recognized English proficiency test. On the other hand, Duolingo’s test can be taken for $20 (free for a limited time), from home, and the results can be calculated within 48 hours.

The test must be taken with a phone or computer that has a front facing camera to prevent test fraud. Duolingo will monitor the sounds and video to make sure no one else is taking the test for the person signed up. I’m worried that if this Test Center does gain in popularity and become recognized as a valid test of English Proficiency, wouldn’t hackers from all over the world be jumping on the chance to sell a program that can help you cheat on the test? I guess Duolingo can try to solve that issue when it arises, but at least the test seems secure for the time being.

The biggest challenge Duolingo will face now is getting companies and universities to recognize the validity of this test and accept it as a way of proving English abilities. It looks like they’re already starting to make that case – by proving the correlation between the Duolingo test results and the TOEFL results. Until it is widely accepted as an accepted way of proving English skills, the price to take the TOEFL will remain artificially high and the test will continue to be cumbersome.

Check out the video below for an overview of the test.

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