The Duolingo homepage shows six flags on its homepage to demonstrate what language services it offers. While the United States flag is used for English, perhaps more unusual is the Brazilian flag being used for Portuguese. Yes, there are more Portuguese speakers in Brazil than Portugal, but for anyone with a knowledge of flags this would appear quite strange.
However, considering Duolingo teaches US English and Brazilian Portuguese, this perhaps isn’t so strange. But yet again we hit a problem when looking at Spanish: Duolingo teaches Latin American Spanish, not traditional (Castilian) Spanish as spoken in Spain. The flag metaphor definitely breaks here.
Going back to the juxtaposition of flags and languages on the homepage: does this actually detract from Duolingo’s main message? The language names are in light grey text which is not overly visible in the first place. Look at the page again with the language names removed:
The message now suggests quite strongly that Duolingo is only available in Spain, USA, France, Germany, Brazil and Italy.
If the flags were removed, could Duolingo’s services actually be clearer and better sold to a user?
Learning is an active and verbal exercise: the text and labelling here should reflect that. And that’s another area flags fail in: they don’t reflect that active or verbal element.
This might not be as colourful without the flags, but considering Duolingo’s lovely artwork and owl character, I’m sure both could be reconciled to create a far stronger and clearer homepage without flags representing languages.