'Sa k ap fèt?' Duolingo is launching a Haitian Creole course for English speakers
“Mwen renmen diri” (I love rice). That’s just one of many sentences students will grasp when they're studying Haitian Creole (or kreyòl) grammar, throat and nasal sounds through Duolingo’s new course for English speakers.
It's also a step-by-step journey through the national language of the world’s first Black republic— Haiti.
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“Language not only tells the present story of what we’re saying but by the words we choose and by the grammar that we have made, it tells a much larger story of who we are,” says Nyya Flores Toussaint, a Haitian-American scholar of linguistics.
Toussaint is a contributor to the Haitian Creole course. He said through more than 114 lessons, English speakers will connect with Haitian language, culture, politics, spirituality, and its revolutionary history.
“We have a proverb that says ‘kreyòl pale, kreyòl konprann'… [which means] 'Creole spoken is Creole understood,'” Toussaint said.
The app is partnering with Haitian-run restaurants across the country, such as Manjay Restaurant in Miami, to spread the word and give away a free month of the app’s premium subscription service when customers patronize and practice Haitian Creole at participating businesses.
And now local leaders want to learn how to show love or order Haitian food in kreyòl. Duolingo recently challenged Miami Mayor Francis Suarez to keep a 30-day streak of Haitian Creole lessons in exchange for a $30,000 donation to Haitians in Tech, a Miami-based organization that supports Haitians in technology careers.
Toussaint helped create the language course alongside his mentor Nick “Tiko” André, professor of Haitian Creole and French instructor at Florida International University.
André says the language program goes beyond a cross-cultural exchange and language education. The newfound attention toward Haitian Creole is also an opportunity to expand business relationships — the language is spoken by more than 12 million people and it’s one of the top three languages in the tri-county area, behind English and Spanish.
According to the U.S. Census, Florida has the largest Haitian population in the United States. André is also a contributor for the app. He said even Haitian Creole speakers in the diaspora can benefit from the app as well.
“Well, interestingly, a lot of people, a lot of Haitians who know Kreyòl can learn English by using this app. They can learn English,” said Andre. “I can ask my students to use the app to complete assignments from the classroom.”
Cindy Blanco is Senior Learning Scientist at Duolingo. She connects research and language pedagogy to the curriculum, “how best to teach and how learners learn languages.”
Blanco said Duolingo is using gamification throughout the course, from earning points to keeping up with lessons that gradually increase in difficulty. “Language learning should be fun,” said Blanco.“It should be enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be the case that language learning is kinda of sitting alone in the corner memorizing verb tables.”
“We want learners to be excited about coming back to their lessons.”
The Duolingo team is working on more Black tongues, such as Zulu and Xhosa, two languages in South Africa.
As for Haitian Creole, the Duolingo course follows the linguistics standards set by the Haitian Creole Academy, or Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen in Port Au Prince, Haiti. André is a founding member of the academy.
“The primary role of the Haitian Creole Academy is to make sure that Haitian Kreyòl is used everywhere,” André said.