Lingua.ly, an app launched in August 2013 by co-founders Orly Fuhrman and Jan Ihmels, is set to receive a $1 million boost in funding from government and private investment. The app is a relatively new concept in language learning where users are given entire articles to read and can select which words you would like translated instead of simply learning words one-by-one out of context. The app also has a browser extension in Chrome where users can pick words in foreign articles and have them translated for you in your browser.
“The Lingua.ly algorithm is based on research concerning vocabulary acquisition from context,” says Meredith Circerchia, director of communications and e-learning for Lingua.ly. “It estimates your vocabulary in a foreign language and then finds newspaper articles that contain mostly words you know.”
This method works so well, Circerchia says, because it allows you to formulate your own ideas about what the translated words could mean based on the context they’re used in:
“…because when most of the words in a sentence are familiar to you, you can take a more informed guess at the meaning of new terms. Even if you guess incorrectly, expending extra cognitive energy thinking about a word helps dig the memory in deeper.”
It’s for this reason that founder Dr. Orly Fuhrman says it’s not intended for absolute beginners and assumes users have an already established vocabulary of 100+ words.
In terms of the languages already supported, the list includes: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Russian, Arabic, and Hebrew. Those who plan to study languages outside of these are not left in the dark, however, as they can still make use of the flashcard and dictionary features – they just won’t have access to the audio pronunciations and articles.
The app has had around 700,000 downloads so far, with most being in South America. The market for potential language-learners exists in the US as well though, with data from the U.S. Census in 2012 revealing that 38.3 million U.S. residents above the age of 5 live in a home where Spanish is spoken. Fuhrman says the majority of Lingua.ly’s users so far are those at college-level who tend to adopt technology early. She also states that their marketing approach has been different to most:
“…we don’t do traditional marketing. The way to find us is through word of mouth or on very technical blogs. There was a tech blogger in Brazil who loved us so we got a lot of users from that.”
This round of investments will bring their total funding to date at $1.8 million, and some of the private investors included in the pool are Udi Netzer, Shai Rephaeli, Yochy Investments, and Seed Fund 1776. Circerchia says that this additional funding is intended to bring Lingua.ly to new markets and platforms and that it plans to monetize its content through a variety of premium features that will be released later this year. Some of the features could include a way for users to personalize their experience more, a greater assortment of articles and a better experience for beginners who aren’t quite ready for the level that is currently required.