ELSA, an app whose identify stands for “English Language Speech Assistant” (and never the favored Disney character!), has raised $three.2 million for its A.I.-assisted language studying platform that teaches individuals how one can converse English. In contrast to different programs that focus primarily on educating grammar and vocabulary, ELSA makes use of synthetic intelligence and speech recognition know-how to assist language learners with their pronunciation.
The $three.2 million pre-A spherical of funding was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, a agency that invests in post-seed stage startups in Southeast Asia. Monk’s Hill founder and companion, Peng T. Ong, is becoming a member of ELSA’s board.
The San Francisco-based startup was initially based in 2015 by Stanford grad Vu Van, ELSA CEO, and Dr. Xavier Anguera, whose background is in speech recognition and A.I. applied sciences. It debuted at SXSW in March 2016, the place it later gained the SXSWedu launch competitors.
Based on Van, who was born and raised in Vietnam, the concept for ELSA was prompted by her private expertise in attempting to be taught English.
“I moved to the States for my MBA and Grasp’s in Training at Stanford,” she says. “My first 12 months at Stanford was very difficult due to my capacity to talk English. A number of the time, individuals misunderstood me,” Van continues.
Though ELSA’s founder was capable of write and skim English pretty effectively, she needed to discover a good answer for bettering her accent – and she or he got here up quick.
“I spotted that folks didn’t actually have lots of options…in relation to talking, they may both go to a speech therapist that prices them $150 an hour, who may hearken to them and repair their pronunciation, or they may go to YouTube or watch Netflix, which is a one-way studying answer,” Van says.
She determined to develop ELSA on account of her personal struggles, bringing in co-founder Dr. Anguera to assist create ELSA’s proprietary speech recognition know-how.
To make use of ELSA, language learners obtain the app for iOS or Android, then take ELSA’s five-minute evaluation check which identifies the person’s pronunciation proficiency and identifies the place they nonetheless have challenges. This info is then used to construct out a customized curriculum, tailor-made to the person’s present skills.
In ELSA, there are round 600 classes and three,000+ phrases throughout quite a lot of matters, like introductions, speaking about household or relationships, jobs and hiring, touring, and extra. The app can be up to date commonly with seasonal and well timed matters, like classes that includes the vacations, and even the brand new “Star Wars” film, so learners can higher take part in on a regular basis communication.
The teachings themselves are bite-sized, at 2 minutes lengthy. They’ve 5 workout routines that get progressively more durable, together with pronunciations of phrases, phrases and sentences.
ELSA works by listening to learners’ voices, then matching up what they mentioned with the right American English pronunciation. The phrases on the display are highlighted in pink, yellow and inexperienced to point out how effectively every the coed did. The app can even assist by making strategies as to how the speaker can enhance on a given sound – for instance, by telling them how one can form their mouth or transfer their tongue.
Behind the scenes, ELSA is powered by A.I. know-how, that listens to customers’ speech – one thing the group constructed from scratch.
“The speech recognition know-how out there may be barely totally different [from ELSA]. They attempt to guess what you’re saying, whether or not you’re saying it proper or mistaken. It’s clearly very forgiving to errors. What we wish to do is the precise reverse,” says Van.
Since its launch two years in the past, ELSA has been adopted by just a few million customers in over 100 international locations, with round half its person base in Southeast Asia, and the remainder unfold out elsewhere on the planet, together with in Latin America and Jap Europe. Customers are at the moment training just a few million workout routines per week.
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With the extra funding, ELSA is planning to handle the requests from lecturers who wish to use the service of their school rooms by creating a device that can allow them to enter phrases and phrases from personal curriculum. It’s additionally going to start the work so as to add new languages to the platform, and construct out its voice recognition API.
ELSA at the moment generates income by means of subscriptions, priced at $three.99/month or $29.99/12 months. A quarterly possibility is obtainable as effectively, although costs could range by area. Whereas the product for lecturers will likely be inexpensive, it gained’t be free – probably providing one other income stream.
The corporate can even use the funds to rent extra A.I. expertise, says Vu.
ELSA’s app is a free obtain on iOS and Android.