Duolingo Is Offering A Course To Learn How To Speak Klingon

Students can learn Klingon in just five minutes a day through game-like lessons.

Klingon at convention
Carlos Osorio / AP Images

Students can learn Klingon in just five minutes a day through game-like lessons.

A Star Trek fan’s dream has come true. Duolingo’s website claims they have the world’s most popular way to learn Klingon online. Students can learn Klingon in just five minutes a day through their game-like lessons.

It doesn’t matter what level of Klingon you know. They offer the basics for beginners, or just practice reading, writing, and speaking for those fluent in the alien language.

Some find hard to understand why anyone would have interest in learning the language of an extraterrestrial species that doesn’t even exist. According to Engadget, course creator Felix Malmenbeck, who resides in Stockholm, Sweden, explains that learning Klingon is a way to express fandom and a love for the franchise, especially for those who are interested in the mechanics of language.

“Many Star Trek fans become curious about the Klingon language at some point, but learning a language takes time, energy and regular practice, especially when you’re just starting out,” Malmenbeck explained. “Therefore, if the language isn’t one of your primary interests, chances are you’ll end up investing that energy elsewhere, whether it’s cosplay, fan fiction, reading novels or any of the multitude of forms that fandom can take.”

Klingons made their debut during Star Trek. Created to be Captain Kirk’s and the Federation constant nemesis, the Klingons were to show the audience the stark contrast between humans, a species which finally achieved a utopian society, and the Klingons, a race of warriors, who according to Thoughtco, portrayed a coalition of hostile nations. The Klingons began as a representation of Cold War enemies such as the Russians and the Chinese. This allowed the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire to echo hostilities between the United States and communism during the Cold War; however, their role has evolved and changed with subsequent Trek series and movies.

Klingon quotes
Klingon quotes Lobintz / Shutterstock

Klingons became fan favorites. They have appeared in each of the Star Trek TV series and almost all the movies. Fans often dress as Klingons at conventions.

Producers became aware of the impact the Klingons were having on viewers, so they decided to create a language for the extraterrestrials.

Linguist Marc Okrand invented the Klingon and Vulcan languages, as heard in the Star Trek films and TV series, beginning with a Vulcan-dialogue scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. Fans took a huge interest in understanding what the alien characters said, so Okrand published the first edition of The Klingon Dictionary in 1985.

The interest to learn Klingon keeps growing, so Duolingo decided to tap into that market. But it wasn’t easy.

Duolingo’s senior PR manager explained that it was all about the company’s volunteer system.

“While some of our earliest courses were built internally, most Duolingo courses are built by volunteers using the Duolingo Incubator,” Kron explained. “Through an application process, we carefully vet the volunteer contributors to ensure their skill level and commitment to the project needs. Then our team of language learning experts, linguistics PhDs, and tech staff help review the courses and provide QA and testing.”

It took time to find enough volunteers who were Klingon experts and had enough time to commit to the project, which was substantial and covered a lot of ground. Klingon is an exceptionally complicated language.

“For example, Klingon uses apostrophes in the middle of words, which is not something our system was able to handle at first since no other language does it,” Kron recalled. “Klingon also has case sensitivity, which means that a word can take on different meanings if it’s capitalized or lowercased.”

In the latter case, the team was able to implement a tweak they’d already developed for the German language, which has a similar facet.

The Klingon course was released Thursday on Duolingo’s website and the language is expected to be available to users of the company’s iOS and Android apps at some point in the future.