Kickstarter is rocking one interesting language learning project at the moment: Speasi. Speasi is a conversation exam learning app that appears to be targeted mainly at GCSE students.
Speasi makes a bold claim in the blurb:
By combining the latest web, app and AI technology with teaching expertise, SPEASI will help students of languages shine in their speaking exams, and inspire an enduring love of language learning that will enrich their lives well beyond the classroom.
Nothing else in the description implies actual use of AI, so it’s difficult to tell if this claim is true. But I suspect it’s just there for effect – everybody like AI right?
Does the market need such an product?
A good UK GCSE result approximates an A2 level CEFR level. So we’re talking a relatively basic level of speaking from a limited set of phrases. Correct pronunciation is nice, but understandability is the only thing that’s important. At this level the range of questions you could be asked or ask is limited and predicatable and the range of reponses likewise. It’s therefore certainly an area where such a product could work and it’s arguable it does with the likes of busuu or with the computerised listening systems of several software packages and apps.
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But this is the school market
This product is marketed very specifically. It is an educational product for improving exam confidence and results. The school market is a very specific one that’s populated by lots of not terribly good and expensive products. In recent years the use of mobile technologies has taken off in schools, so there could well be a gap for a new product.
But does this app tick the right boxes for the market
Why as a school or a parent might I buy this app for a child? Going purely off the description there isn’t much that differentiates it from other language learning apps at the same level. There’s the potential that it’s better match to the questions that are likely to come up in an exam, but given the level this seems unlikely and, besides, this sort of rote learning is just as simple without an app. Unless the app has an engaging, fun, element then it’s difficult to see that this is any more likely to make a student succeed then basic repetition and revision.
Further, the app’s price points aren’t competitive when compared to, say, the likes of Busuu – where you get more for your money.
But there is one advantage school apps can have
Like many language apps, the kickstarter description reads as if it is trying to automate the process of learning a language. That is to say, remove the direct personal element. This, in theory, allows you to learn more on your own terms. However, it’s not as effective. The main advantage a school has over all apps like this is they have teachers. They have someone that can listen. That can correct you. A real human, that’s not as fallible as a computer at these things. From the student’s perspective, that human is free. Either the app doesn’t integrate the teacher into the feedback process, or its omission is notable from the description.
So will I back it?
Alas, no. The app has been struggling to get backers and the combination of the bad price point, better options, and the failure to take account of the unique market factors mean this isn’t something for me.
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