When you’re trying to learn a language for school, or maybe just trying to brush up on one you’ve already learned a little, there’s a large number of options available to help you practice your vocabulary. If you’re willing to pay, that is. But if you’re trying to do so for free, the options become considerably more limited, and often aren’t necessarily the best way to practice the skills necessary in becoming proficient. However, a new site called Duolingo is here to help by allowing users a unique method of learning a language at no cost.

Launched this June by Luis von Ahn, creator of reCAPTCHA and associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Duolingo is a site dedicated to both allowing users to learn or practice a foreign language and a translation service for documents for free. According to the site, they operate on a philosophy of altruism in which the expense of creating and distributing language learning software is offset by the users providing a free translation service.

To begin, users earn skill points by completing a series of audial and visual language learning lessons on their language skill tree, which are used to unlock further sections of the tree. As they progress, new words are added to their vocabulary section, which they may practice outside of the lessons for additional skill points. Once they feel competent, users may then begin translating documents found in the translation area and rate up to three other translations of that document for further skill points, thus giving users the ability to practice reading, writing and thinking in another language while being able to see how other users did the same. You may even follow Facebook friends or other user’s progress.

At the moment, Duolingo only offers language programs and translations for those seeking to learn Spanish, French, or German, but plans for additional languages are on the way. Still, from what I’ve seen of the site, Duolingo seems to be an excellent way to learn a language, and the lessons have been a great way of practicing my Spanish. And with such a novel and commendable business model, its well-worth a try.