How BuzzFeed Uses Duolingo Learners To Increase Traffic

Are you unknowingly translating BuzzFeed’s “listicles” through Duolingo?

Topics: Business International Skill Point: Prepositions of Time

There’s a good chance that if you have the Internet, social media, and a decent understanding of the English language, you’ve seen a BuzzFeed article, or rather, listicle, somewhere on the web. With list-articles like “24 People Who Are Totally Nailing This Parenting Thing” and “The 21 Absolute Worst Things in the World,” the website has seen exponential growth over the last 1-2 years, and the strategic maneuvering it took is astounding.

BuzzFeed caught on quickly as a place to see humorous or otherwise entertaining lists about a variety of topics. From Game of Thrones jokes, to a list of pictures that will “restore your faith in humanity,” they eschewed the popular slide format of many other sites (such as The Huffington Post), and went straight for lists with images and gifs. This makes for a very easy-to-consume piece of content that gets passed around social media and email at a very rapid pace.

The founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, released a memo on LinkedIn in 2013 stating the site reached 85 million unique visitors that August. Peretti also prophesized, “By this time next year we should be one of the biggest sites
on the web.” According to Alexa, they haven’t quite cracked the top hundred, but their global rank is 111, and in the United States, they’re the 39th most popular website.

Over the last year and a half they’ve made major changes to continue that popularity. Instead of sticking with list-only content, they’ve branched out into a wide array of quizzes for entertainment purposes, which are easily shared on Facebook, plus they’re creating videos on their YouTube Channel. They’ve also expanded their role as a news outlet by hiring dozens of reporters to provide coverage and information on the latest stories.

These changes are all helping their growth, but the number one thing they did to fuel growth in the last 2 years was to go international. It isn’t just the fact that they did it; it is the way they did it.

Enter: Duolingo. As many language-learners know (and Summit students know works great in conjunction with our teacher-led EnglishNow classes), Duolingo is a free language-learning app that helps users learn and practice the basics of many different languages. What’s ingenious about DuoLingo’s business model, is that once learners reach a certain level of understanding, the text they translate while practicing in the app, helps Duolingo translate content for its clients.

While the company originally used dummy text, the text being translated now it serves a purpose. Much of that text from English to other languages (specifically French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese) comes from BuzzFeed. Duolingo’s founder, Luis Von Ahn, wanted to put his language learners’ efforts to good use, and BuzzFeed wanted to expand into international markets without spending 20 cents per word for a professional human translator, or using a machine. Now, they’re both benefiting from this partnership using what Von Ahn calls “human computation.” The language learners are doing something very useful, but they’re doing it incidentally, almost as a side effect of their language learning.

This method has proven especially successful with tricky parts of language such as colloquialisms and idioms. “The straw that broke the camel’s back” doesn’t translate literally to anything useful, but a human language learner can find an idiom that matches it in the new language, and translate it to that instead. Perhaps other companies will look to this method for international translation in the future, and kill two birds with one stone.

Reading Comprehension

Buzzfeed Growth Quiz

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Have you ever used a tool like Duolingo? In 200 words, explain your favorite methods of learning a language, and what different things you’ve tried.

ADVANCED: How do you think that this new method will affect future methods of translation and globalization? In 200 words, answer this question and discuss how you feel about the BuzzFeed-Duolingo partnership.

Japanese High-Tech Indoor Vegetable Factory

We all know that plants require sunlight to grow, but maybe not for much longer.

Topics:  International  Our Future  Skill Point: Adverbs of Degree

The Japanese have a bit of an obsession with perfect fruit. You might have seen the headlines in May when Dole Japan announced it would sell their fancy bananas for $6 each. Dole developed these “perfect” bananas by selecting the best qualities from over 100 bananas and growing them 500 meters above sea level. Another Japanese fruit company, Toyoka Chuo Seika ripens bananas to the sound of Mozart, which apparently results in a sweeter final fruit. Tokyo has a luxury fruit boutique that sells strawberries for $3 a piece, and square watermelons for $212.

The most recent news in Japanese agriculture has branched out a bit from expensive luxury fruits to sustainable indoor vegetable factories. No, this isn’t a greenhouse; this is an indoor facility that grows vegetables without any sunlight.

Instead of harvesting the natural energy of the sun, Japanese plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura teamed up with GE to create an indoor plant-growing facility that uses specialized LED lights that emit wavelengths optimal for plant growth. The LED lights are probably the most important part of the farm’s magic. Shimamura controls the night-and-day cycle, and says, “We want to achieve the best combination of photosynthesis during the day and breathing at night by controlling the lighting and the environment.”

The benefits of growing vegetables in an indoor facility are many. Their initial motivation was born out of a desire to do something about the food shortage in the Miyagi Prefecture following the earthquake and Tsunamis of 2011. Shimamura found an old Sony Corporation semiconductor facility and converted it to the indoor farm. It is about 25,000 square feet, or almost half the size of an American football field. This small farm is already producing 10,000 heads of lettuce a day, without any interruptions by pests, viruses, or pollen, or the use of pesticides.

While an indoor vegetable farm is definitely one way to avoid a freak summer storm or a really bad drought, Shimamura says the vegetables themselves are healthier. They’re packed with more vitamins and minerals because of their growth cycle, and without soil cultivation, the risk of contamination by E. coli and Salmonella is practically nonexistent. Additionally, since 90% of the plant is cultivated for consumption, the food waste is reduced significantly. With the complete control of temperature, humidity, and irrigation, the farm uses just one percent of the water used by field farms. Considering these benefits, Shimamura estimates the indoor facility is 100 times more productive than a standard outdoor farm.

With better irrigation, higher productivity, and protection from pests and the elements, indoor gardens, farms, and vegetable factories might be a future we can all expect in the next few years. Shimamura is prophetic with the name of his company, Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese. Is the “future” of agriculture realistic? Is it better? Only time will tell.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: In 200 words, mention each of the benefits of this indoor farm, according to the article, and give your opinion. Write whether it is good or bad for Japan, the world, or your country, and how it might help or hurt.

ADVANCED: Explain how you believe agriculture, international trade, or your home meals might change as a result of worldwide indoor vegetables farms.

The Culture of Giving Directions

You might believe some cultures give terrible directions, but maybe you’re just bad at receiving them.

 Topics: Culture International Skill Point: Imperatives

When travelers and businesspeople set out for trips abroad, they sometimes forget that carrying a map is just as important as knowing your hotel name! When you’re lost in a foreign land, even if you do have a map, the first thing many people do is ask the safest-looking person on the street, be it a street vendor or a mother with kids for directions. Often, one simple question will lead to a slew of locals offering different advice, routes, arguments in another language, or even a ride on someone’s motorbike.

When you’ve done enough traveling, you realize that a country’s culture has a massive impact on the way they offer directions, and whether or not they give you the right directions to your destination. Let’s take a look at why.

Your Hometown’s Layout

Believe it or not, a lot of how we give and understand directions has to do with our hometown’s layout. If you are from a major metropolis with a grid system, you’re more likely to give cardinal directions with street names and map-like phrases in mind.

“Head west on 8th street and turn right on Park.”

This seems pretty straightforward to many of us, but what about those of us who grew up in rural areas with just a couple of main roads? The cardinal directions might be confusing to someone who’s never had to consult a map or street sign. These individuals tend to favor landmarks (commonly referred to as a “referencia” in Spanish).

“Drive until you see the McDonald’s on the left and turn right at the stop light.”

Now think even further to areas of the world without any street signs whatsoever, and landmarks in the form of hole-in-the-wall eateries and unnamed convenience stores. Direction in these countries are even more confusing, and tourists often feel they’ve been led astray when trying to navigate the alleys and dirt roads.

You might hear, “Take this road straight for, say, 10 minutes, and then you will see a road on the right, keep walking for 2 more minutes and you will see an alley on the left. Turn at the alley and you will get there in a few more minutes.”

If you’re from a developed country, the third example won’t be nearly as easy to follow as the first two. In short, one of the reasons we give directions the way we do is based on how we see our surroundings, which is often based on where we grew up.

High-Context vs. Low-Context Culture

Another huge factor in the way we give directions is based on cultural context. High-context cultures use fewer words, and more nonverbal clues, and are less likely to give direct or blunt instructions (They’re also less likely to say they don’t know where something is!). High-context cultures include those in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Greece, Southeast Asia, among others. You might have to judge the confidence of the speaker’s directions based on his or her body language, since many things are left unsaid in a high-context culture, letting the culture fill in the blanks.

Low-context cultures are much more direct, and rely on accurate words to describe a situation. Eye contact and body language are much less important, because they are more likely to say directly whether they do or do not know where something is. Directions will be much more direct, and are likely to use more specific instructions, like street names, rather than guesstimates of time and distance.

If you learn a little bit about the culture before you arrive, you’ll have a much easier time navigating directions given by a local.

Reading Comprehension

 

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Look at this map, and write directions from the following places, using proper grammar. 1) The Airport to the Belleview Hotel 2) The Pet Shop to the Zoo. 3) The Laundromat to the Fire Station to the Department Store.

ADVANCED: Write a 100-word dialogue in which multiple people from different countries offer directions.

Learning Another Man’s Language – The Foreign Language Effect

It looks like Mandela was right: You should always talk to a man in in his own language.

Topics:  International  Business  Skill Point: Affect or Effect

When it comes to business and home negotiations, we know there are numerous factors that can affect our decisions. In general, rational and logical thought processes can help us to keep an even keel, but research on The Foreign Language Effect shows that simply conducting negotiations in a foreign language might be all you need to do.

Many remember the famous Nelson Mandela quote, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Little did Mandela know that he was right on the money, as a 2011 study shows. The Foreign Language Effect was working in Mandela’s favor, and he didn’t even know why.

It all comes down to logical and rational thinking. Our emotions are very strongly tied to our native language, but much less so to a foreign language. Therefore, when we speak in a foreign language, we can see things more clearly, and our decisions are less clouded by emotions. We know that Mandela learned Afrikaans while imprisoned, and used it to his advantage when negotiating the end of apartheid.

One of the strongest factors affecting our decision-making is the fear of loss, referred to as the loss-aversion effect. It is even stronger than the pleasure of gaining something. This bias in decision-making is closely linked to our emotions as well.

Hayakawa Keysar and his colleagues knew this when they set out to test The Foreign Language Effect. They set up a problem, and explained it in two ways: one in terms of losses and one in terms of gains, even though the results would be the same. The results showed the loss aversion clearly, but only when the respondents participated using their native language. When participants responded in a foreign language, they were equally likely to choose both options. Essentially, when engaging in a foreign language, the loss aversion effect disappeared across all languages and levels of fluency studied.

The authors of the study proposed that these effects took place because communicating in a foreign language “Provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native tongue does.” Essentially, our emotions are not as prominent in a foreign language, allowing us to think and negotiate in a more detached manner.

Further studies found that the foreign language effect is only related to emotional topics. When deciding on topics that are already free of emotions, it doesn’t seem to matter what language you choose. This information supports the idea that the foreign language effect happens due to the lack of emotional connection in a foreign language.

So next time you’re making an incredibly difficult emotion-laden decision, take a moment to write or speak about it in English! Maybe you’ll see things much more clearly.

Reading Comprehension

 

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: With your newfound knowledge of The Foreign Language Effect, how do you plan to use English to your advantage? Explain with examples in 200 words or fewer.

ADVANCED: How else do you think emotions affect your daily decision-making? Explain what you do when you have emotional decisions to make.

Alibaba’s IPO and What it Means for You

In a country where eBay rules supreme, there’s a new competitor in town, and its expected to have the largest IPO in history.

Topics:  Business  International  Skill Point: Relative Pronouns

Ten years after the ecommerce giant expected to take over China, eBay’s Chinese counterpart, Alibaba, is hitting the U.S. market with its initial public offering this year.  Many of us are clueless when we hear the name, but it is the largest international ecommerce site of its kind. Think back to a time when you searched online for wedding favors, party favors, cheap merchandise, and a variety of other international products; there’s a good chance that you have come across Alibaba in your hunt for cheaper products. Although Amazon and eBay currently rule the American market for ordering online, their days in power might be numbered. In 2012 alone, just two of Alibaba’s portals handled $170 billion in sales, which is more than Amazon and eBay combined.

Alibaba was started by a schoolteacher in China, hoping to provide a place where small manufacturers could connect with commercial buyers overseas, but since then it has become so much more. It became a place for middle class individuals in China to buy and sell products, and both TaoBao and Tmall were launched as offshoots for consumer to consumer selling and business to consumer selling.

In 2012, just two of the Alibaba portals handled more than $170 billion in sales, which is more than both Amazon and eBay combined. The company announced this month that it is planning its initial public offering (IPO) this year. The company will be floated on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) this fall, and it is expected to break the record book.

Even though Facebook’s IPO was a bit of a joke, they rebounded quickly. Alibaba remembers Facebook’s cautionary tale, but the company is still expected to launch the largest-ever IPO in the United States.

If there’s one thing you remember about Alibaba’s, it might be the high-profile fraudulent cases. The company’s history is marred by counterfeit products and fake companies, but as the company heads into the American market, those issues are being left behind. Another new portal, 111 Main, is in the beginning stages, and it combines elements from Etsy, Pinterest, and Amazon, to provide a more comfortable buying and selling experience without fear of fraud.

It’s hard to know exactly what will come of Alibaba’s IPO, but there’s one thing that’s certain: it is receiving a lot of hype. This could be the most impressive IPO of all time, even with conservative numbers. As part of a previous agreement, Yahoo! will be forced to sell over half of its 24% stake in the company, which is likely going to provide them with a gigantic chunk of change to use however they desire. (Buying even better talent in Silicon Valley?) With the numbers to pick and choose anyone you want from a highly concentrated talent pool, this IPO might make bigger waves for Silicon Valley companies than for anyone else. Only time will tell.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Have you ever bought anything online? Explain in 200 words the types of things you buy online and explain what you look for in an online buying situation and how you might protect yourself from fraud. (Ex: what makes you trust or distrust a company)

ADVANCED: In your 200 words, explain how you think this large IPO might affect the rest of the tech industry.

IPA: the International Beer

The Original Global Beer, IPA, is Making a Massive International Comeback

Topics:  Lifestyle  International  Skill Point: Order of Adjectives

If you don’t know what an IPA is, you won’t be considered a beer enthusiast in most of the more exclusive beer-drinking crews around the globe. An IPA (India Pale Ale) is one of the most popular beers amongst small-batch brewers throughout the United States and abroad. Due to its current popularity (and varied flavor profiles), many beer lovers consider IPAs one of the newest styles around, but history tells us IPA is the original global brew, dating back almost two hundred years.

Any beer enthusiast knows the old IPA story by now: back when beer was used as a safe alternative to questionable water, excessive hops were added as a preservative to ensure that the beer would survive the journey from Britain to India. The details of the historical story are a point of contention, as the exact origins are debated by brew masters around the world, but one thing is certain: Britain’s territories in India were too hot for brewing, and the British stationed in the colonies wanted their beer!

Thus, the IPA-style of extra hops (and higher alcohol content) was created in Britain in order to ensure the beer would make the long trip. (Although Porters can also be heavily hopped, and likely make the journey from Britain to India as well.) But after the World Wars, breweries ditched this style in an effort to create more mass-marketable beers. The 20th century was full of bland, boring beers that were palatable to just about everyone, including light-style lagers and ales. American and British companies bought up their small-batch competitors and began making their own versions of thin beer.

Towards the end of the 20th century, small beer makers were interested in creating beers with more character, and became quite adventurous with different ales, lagers, stouts, and porters. Now, the craft beer industry is growing fast, despite an overall decline in beer drinking. In 1970, there were about 50 breweries in the United States; now, there are over 2,500. Right at this moment, the craft beer industry in the U.S. is all about IPAs. Whether you’re strolling around the streets of San Diego, Portland, New York, or Miami, you’re likely to see a wide array of IPAs available at every bar.

Now that small craft breweries throughout the United States are brewing up IPAs around the clock, the same is happening in countries around the world. Craft breweries throughout Europe are taking cues from the U.S. and are now unable to resist the temptation of showing off their skills by brewing hoppy IPAs. Some European nations are even borrowing recipes from the U.S. brewers and adjusting them to their own nation’s taste, bringing the history of the IPA-style beer back to where it began.

If you’re not into the distinctly hoppy and slightly bitter flavor of beer with excessive hops, you’re probably more interested in stouts, pilsners ales, lagers, and Belgian brews. However, the more beer you drink, and the more styles you try, the more likely you’re going to follow the same flavor-trails as brewers. According to the annals of history, it looks like all beer trails end at IPAs.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Answer the following questions in 200 words. What kinds of beers are popular in your country? Have you ever heard of an IPA? Do you think beer is very popular in your country, and if so, do people prefer high-end beers with high alcohol levels, or standard mass-produced lighter beers?

ADVANCED: In your own words, describe what makes IPA the “original global beer.” Can you think of anything else that might fall into the category as historically global, specifically in your country’s history? Explain your answer in approximately 200 words. (ex: Spices like cinnamon were traded between countries long before currencies existed.)