Reading is an essential skill that impacts all other educational outcomes. Research has shown that students with low reading levels are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, repeat school years, or even drop out of school entirely.

But not all kids have access to high-quality literacy instruction that’s based on current research. At Duolingo, we're committed to supporting free, high-quality education for all kinds of learners, and we know how important literacy is to learning throughout your life. That's why we created a new app to teach learners around the world how to read. In this post, we're excited to introduce you to Duolingo ABC, a literacy app for kids ages 3 and over!

Why did we create a literacy app?

In October 2019, we asked 100 parents what was most challenging about helping their kids learn to read. Here’s what they told us:

  • They lack expertise in teaching reading skills.
  • They don’t feel like they have enough time to facilitate learning.

Parents also reported that they feel guilty about giving their kids screen time if it’s not educational. And that was before COVID-19! Now, many parents are struggling to play an even bigger role in their child’s education. We knew that parents needed a great reading program that their kids could use on their own, and kids needed a reading program that was as fun as a game.


That’s what we had in mind when we created Duolingo ABC, a step-by-step reading program developed by our learning experts. Its intuitive design makes it easy for kids to use with or without a grown-up to help guide them. And did we mention that it’s free? Yep, it’s all free, and there are no ads or in-app purchases, either. And just like you've come to expect from Duolingo, using the app feels more like playing a game than doing homework.

When schools had to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Duolingo decided to release Duolingo ABC earlier than planned in an effort to meet the needs of parents and kids. Currently, Duolingo ABC is available on iOS and includes lessons up through the kindergarten level of our English course. Soon, we’ll be adding first grade lessons, working on a version for Android, and eventually adding other languages!

How does Duolingo ABC teach kids to read?

Reading is a really hard skill to learn. Kids have to learn how to match little squiggles on a page to the sounds they represent, and that takes a lot of practice! It's especially hard in a language like English with so many spelling rules—and exceptions. Duolingo ABC includes all of the essentials of reading, from knowledge of the alphabet to understanding the meaning of words and sentences, and more!

Recognizing sounds and the arbitrary symbols used to represent them—matching the letter “w” to the first sound in “water”—is a crucial literacy skill. This knowledge of sound-symbol correspondence is called phonics. Our curriculum teaches one sound-symbol pair at a time and helps kids decode (sound out) their first word as quickly as possible. Each lesson builds on previous lessons so that kids are guided forward on a step-by-step path to reading.

But there’s more to reading than sounding out words; that’s just a means to an end. The real purpose of reading is comprehension, or unlocking the meaning of written language. Readers need to actively engage with words, sentences, and longer passages in order to understand all kinds of text, from the words on a cereal box to the directions on their math homework. To make sure readers understand the purpose of learning about letters and sounds, we include mini-stories in every unit of the curriculum from the very beginning. Each fully illustrated mini-story includes lots of fun examples of each sound-symbol pair. Kids enjoy the story as they read along and interact with the story in a variety of ways.


In addition to mini-stories, learners take their first steps toward independent reading in an interactive experience where they hear the beginning of a sentence and then decode the final word and select the corresponding image.


How does Duolingo ABC keep kids engaged?

The best part about Duolingo ABC is that kids love it so much that they want to keep learning! After all, even a high-quality reading program doesn’t work if kids don’t want to use it. ABC keeps kids motivated with a clear lesson path, mini-games, and a variety of interactive, multi-sensory activities packed into each bite-sized lesson. When using ABC, kids don’t stop learning to do something fun. Learning is fun!


The biggest reward of all

Underlying all of the game-like features in Duolingo ABC is the principle that learning is its own reward. We believe that if each lesson is just one step above the learner’s current ability, kids will enjoy the challenge without getting discouraged. They also experience a huge sense of achievement with each new success! We use engaging activities, careful sequencing, and rewarded progress to maximize intrinsic motivation. Ultimately, kids learn with ABC because they enjoy using it.

And of course, learners will discover the biggest reward of all: the magic of reading!

Want to try it out? Find Duolingo ABC in the App Store!