Cannes Lions

Museum of Wonky English


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In Japan, the concept of “face” is culturally relevant: you either save or lose face, depending on the propriety of your behavior. Traditionally, making mistakes in public makes you lose face and is avoided. But as Duolingo, the world’s #1 language-learning app, can attest, mistakes are essential for acquiring knowledge. The app’s fun, gamified format makes blunders feel less like a failure and more like an integral part of the process.

Not as well-known in Japan as in other countries, Duolingo challenged us to create a cut-through activation with big PR potential that could generate awareness for the brand, inviting potential learners to embrace their blunders while using the app and eventually changing the perception of mistake-making in Japan.


Duolingo's Museum of Wonky English (MOWE) is the first exhibition in Japan to shed light on the art of mistranslation. Gathered from all over Japan and carefully selected, every piece in the museum (t-shirts, menus, PSA, and more) demonstrates how sometimes mistakes give exquisite new meanings to otherwise mundane phrases, encouraging visitors to embrace their foreign-lamguage blunders rather than feel embarrassed. The museum opened in Harajuku, Tokyo, and was free of charge for anyone wanting to be blown away by 23 wonky English masterpieces; some of them profound, others poetic, all hilarious.


Botched English on signs, items of clothing and menus is a common sight in Japan. While many of these mistranslations are laugh-out-loud funny, some precious few have given the original phrase a new, intriguing meaning.

In tune with Duolingo's fun, gamified model, and its culture-influencing, earned-media first approach, we decided on an activation aimed at generating loads of PR traction. Instead of being didactic and pointing out what is right and wrong like a cranky language professor, we decided that the best approach was letting potential users (worldly, curious millennials and GenZ) experience for themselves the unsuspected depth and beauty that lies under certain mistakes, encouraging them to embrace and enjoy their blunders instead of feeling embarrassed.


The campaign launched with a social hero film, teasing the museum's contents with a guided visit. It also invited Twitter users to share with @Duolingo_Japan any interesting mistranslations they came across. From all the submissions, only eight were selected to join the rest of the artworks, and those who sent them were rewarded with a free month of Super Duolingo.

The Museum of Wonky English opened in Harajuku, Tokyo, for ten days and was free of charge for anyone wanting to be blown away by the beauty of wonky English. Each sign, menu, item of clothing, or PSA in the collection was a replica of a real-life object and rendered in great detail, just like in a conceptual art show, to heighten the impact of its meaning. Every piece was exhibited with a Japanese back translation and the "correct" English phrase, transforming each visit into a language lesson.


What started as a local brand activation was picked up by 80+ media outlets worldwide, racking up 4 million views and an Earned Media Value of $88M for a media spend of $0, becoming Duolingo's most PR'd activation in Asia to date. More importantly, we started a conversation about the inevitability and importance of mistakes for learning, a first step towards normalizing them.

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