How Free Language Education is Saving Lives | Jack Morgan | TEDxPittsburgh



recently I discovered something new about language and it completely changed the way I think about how we all communicate but first I'd like to ask everyone here a question how many of you have tried to learn a new language before show of hands Wow that's most of you how many of you have succeeded not quite as many I know the feeling I'm still working on it well whether you've succeeded in learning a new language or you're still trying you are not alone there are approximately 1.2 billion people learning a new language around the world now the vast majority of them are learning just one language in particular a language spoken by everyone in this room that's right at least 800 million people are learning how to speak English and many of them are doing this to get out of poverty well the reason for this is simple in most countries you can earn between 25 and 100 percent more just by knowing English but what about the other 400 million people right why are they learning a new language well I ask these questions because I am part of a team that is trying to make language education free for everyone in the world it's called duolingo and we have more than 300 million people using this app to teach themselves a new language 100% free now that means that we had one of the largest data sets of language learners in existence and we have studied millions of people spanning every single country on the planet our research has created this map and it shows us the most popular languages to learn in each country around the world and it tells us really a lot of interesting things for example we can see just how popular it really is to learn English right most of the world is learning English now this is something that we expected of course but then we noticed something unexpected something strange if i zoom in here perhaps you'll be able to see it too you see it now the data told us that the most popular language to learn in Sweden is Swedish sounds like a mistake doesn't it it can't be that hard to learn can it so why was this why was the most popular language to learn in Sweden Swedish refugees right Sweden saw more than a 10x increase in the number of refugees seeking asylum in the country between 2015 and 2016 and as they arrived they all began looking for a way to learn Swedish for free but where did all of these refugees come from many of them came from Syria as a matter of fact there are now more registered Syrian refugees than the entire population of the city of Los Angeles right there are more than 6 million registered Syrian refugees and Counting now this is shocking of course but it's really not the first time that we've heard something like this see over the years we eventually received thousands of letters and emails from people who are in this exact situation here's one of them says learning German was a necessity for me to advance in my career and my options beyond Syria living in a country torn by hideous war and daily terrible news was unbearable but learning a new language gave me hope we received many stories just like this one when we discovered what was going on over in Sweden we decided that simply replying to these letters and publishing our language research was not enough so we decided to go further much further actually about 6000 miles further to be exact and we traveled from here in Pittsburgh in the United States to the source of all of this in the Middle East with the hopes of finding and meeting some of the people that had been writing to us all of these years our journey begins here in Gaziantep just over the border with Syria show you some photos of the journey now the first person to let us into his home and into his life was a man named Illya he actually protested against the Syrian government when things started to turn bad in his country and he was arrested during one of his protests and dragged off to jail but as he explained to us this was no ordinary jail he said that he was placed in a small cell with 50 other men so small and so crowded that they all had to sit fold up with their knees to their chests unable to stand up and unable to speak for one whole year he said that he did not see the sky for one year after he was released he fled to Turkey which is where his story takes more of a positive turn thankfully now the first thing he did was teach himself how to speak Turkish using simply a smartphone and free resources fast forward just a couple of years and he has become a school teacher himself teaching Arabic language and computer programming to the kids in Turkey helping to make their lives better and he's doing much better himself as you can see next off is a remarkable lady named Noor originally from Iraq she fled after a car bomb exploded on the street outside her house shattering the windows to the house and sending bullets flying in all directions she told us a story of fleeing in a car with her family while their house turned into a literal warzone now she also fled to Turkey and she also taught herself how to speak Turkish using just a smartphone and free resources she now speaks more than five languages fluently and has become a successful software engineer which requires English her name actually has a meaning it simply means the light which i think is quite appropriate for her I have just one more story for you today and it comes from the final stop on our journey we were granted last-minute permission to enter this place oh this is Osric refugee camp in Jordan and it is one of the largest refugee camps in the world the Osric refugee camp has a population of 37,000 refugees and out of 37,000 refugees 60% of them are children as I'm sure you can imagine this is a very difficult place to gain access to and even once our team was inside the camp they were very hesitant about just how much they wanted to show us see they didn't really understand why we had come there to see them and after a little while we found out why they were so worried about us being there it turns out that the camp was actually using duolingo to teach the refugees English well this is excellent so why would they be worried about us being there of all people it turns out at first they thought we may have come there to sue them for copyright infringement because they were putting our logo on the certificates that they cave to the refugee Heath's they really thought we were lawyers in disguise they were very relieved when we told them this was not why we had come there and then they keep on doing it they introduced us to to this young man and this is math mood Mahmood is 15 years old and he has been at oz rock refugee camp since he was a small child see when his family fled Syria they had to move between more than 30 different towns before they arrived at this refugee camp they fled on 30 separate occasions before they could find somewhere safe and we were introduced to Mahmoud because he is just completely obsessed with learning English he is obsessed with language and we asked him what he would say if he could send a message to everyone in the United States to tell us about himself a daunting question but he said this he said I want them to know about me that I never gave up with the war circumstances that we are in he said I love to learn so that life would continue that's how he thinks about language and we met many countless people on this journey and they all seemed to have one surprising thing in common well they were not learning a new language to earn 25 percent more or to get a better job and they were all learning a new language to survive to triumph over impossible circumstances you see for them learning a new language represents a chance at a new life it's a chance for them to find home again so if you've tried to learn a new language but you haven't quite gotten there yet don't give up it might just save your life thank you very much [Applause]

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