Daniel Blackey, Chinese (Mandarin)

Daniel Blackey is an alumnus of the 2015 Summer Mandarin Chinese program in Shanghai, China. Currently, Daniel is a software engineer at Duolingo. He has found ways to combine his passion for foreign languages with his interests in computer science and engineering.​

Daniel delved into Mandarin after studying Spanish in school. He was curious to learn how languages differed and wanted to try a language that felt much different than Spanish. The unique tonal and writing systems of Chinese and its status as the most spoken language in the world drew him in and he began to self-study the language and applied for NSLI-Y.

He credits his NSLI-Y experience with instilling in him the confidence to use his burgeoning language ​skills in the real world, noting that NSLI-Y “truly emphasized using language in the real world and not just silently studying from a book in a classroom. We had countless activities where we were required to speak to strangers to practice what we were learning. Seeing how willing strangers were to speak with me and accommodate my level helped me build the courage to practice in the real world to this day.”​

Daniel also enjoyed opportunities to explore Shanghai after class each day. Some of his favorite memories from the program were afternoons spent with his cohort members exploring, “We used to pick a random place on the Shanghai city map and hop on the metro to get there and just walk around. It was fun to explore parts of the city you wouldn't really find in a guide. We ended almost every day by finding a spot to get 生煎 (pan-fried steamed buns) to spoil our appetites before dinner.”​

After NSLI-Y, Daniel attended the University of Pennsylvania to study Computer Science, Mandarin, and Spanish. After graduation, he began working at Duolingo. He works closely with the Duolingo course creators, and understanding other languages helps him to better communicate with them and understand their work. He notes that one of the aspects of working at Duolingo that he enjoys is, “Being a lifelong language learner is one of the common denominators for everyone working at Duolingo. It's essential for user empathy and for advocating for features that will benefit learners.“

Daniel emphasizes the importance of creative thinking both for foreign language learning and computer science, as both are all about solving puzzles, “Whether it be figuring out a grammatical system or developing an algorithm, thinking creatively is so important for both, so they really go hand and hand.” Daniel highlights the broad applicability of both foreign language and engineering skills; “No matter your profession, there will always be people in that field that come from different language backgrounds. And you can build software for quite literally anything. I've managed to find a job where the two intersect directly, but they'll both complement your career no matter what!”​