The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.
Quick Pitch: Voxy uses location and current events to teach language.
Genius Idea: Adding context to new words and phrases.
Living in Spanish-speaking countries for a decade gave Voxy CEO Paul Gollash strong opinions about how people learn languages best. Interviewing top linguists gave him more.
He rolled what he learned from the two experiences into an innovative learning app for the iPhone. Voxy, says Gollash, turns on “learning in the flow of your life.”
Voxy has two main components. The first is a news feed that pulls in current articles from the Associated Press. It distills each article to passages of about 100 words that are appropriate for the user’s language level. Then it adds links that, when clicked, translate phrases and offer the option to add them to a personal vocabulary list. As the user catches up on news that she is interested in, the articles and vocab phrases that she reads are saved in a separate section for review later.
The second main component changes depending on where the user is. Visiting the grocery store, for instance, pulls up a list of “vocabulary,” “things you hear” and “things you say” appropriate for food shopping.
Essentially, the app adds context to what otherwise would be a stack of flashcards.
“When you go back to study you are studying basically scenes from your life,” Gollash says.
In a pilot program Voxy ran at Miami Dade College in Florida, a group of ESL students who tried this personalized approach reported that they studied language twice as much as a control group in the same class. Voxy didn’t take any assessments, but “time on task” is a widely agreed upon factor in successful language acquisition.
If you haven’t heard of Voxy, it’s probably because its first and only app is intended for Spanish-speaking users who are learning English. Gollash says he chose this category because, at least in the United States, learning English is often connected to financial and emotional well-being. Also, Spanish-speaking English learners in the United States are geographically concentrated in five states, which makes them easy to target.
In eight countries outside the United States, Voxy is the top education application in the App Store. At the end of March, Voxy had 77,000 registered users, and the startup is on track to end this month with 160,000 registered users. The app even beat out Angry Birds on the general list of top apps in Spain — at least for a couple hours.
Gollash says he hopes the upcoming release of a Voxy Android app, which can run on a wider variety of devices, many of which are more affordable than the iPhone, will help expand the English-learner userbase in the US.
Meanwhile, the startup, which has raised a total of $1.2 million in funding to date, will also expand its offerings to learners of other languages. In about two weeks, it expects to release a version of Voxy designed to teach English speakers how to speak Spanish.
Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark
The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.
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