“This is by far the most requested and highly-anticipated course launch in Duolingo’s five-year history,” said Duolingo co-founder and CEO Luis von Ahn in today’s announcement. “No matter what we’d share on social media, tons of people would respond with, ‘that’s nice, but when are you launching Japanese?’”
While the team had long been looking at adding Japanese, the language’s various writing systems and structure made this a relatively hard project. Duolingo could’ve dumbed down its course by simply using Romaji, which represents Japanese sounds in the western alphabet. That, however, isn’t likely to be all that useful when you travel to Japan, so the team decided to also add about 100 Kanji and all the Hiragana characters.
In today’s announcement, Duolingo also stresses that its course focuses on real-life situation (think ordering food, navigating a city, etc.), as well as phrases that should turn out to be useful if you’re planning on travelling to Japan in 2020 for the Olympics (in which case, you at least have a few more years to practice).