Wired In: Yinghua Yang
Each week, staff writer Paul Wood chats with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet YINGHUA YANG, co-founder of FlipWord. Her curr...
A unique way of teaching language by integrating learning into everyday activities
Over 6,000 signed-up users for beta with over 50% user retention
$5 billion online language learning industry
Technical founders with Facebook, Amazon, and New Oriental (Asia's largest language-training company) experience
Based on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, half of new memories are lost within a few days unless reviewed. Language educators and app developers have been scrambling to increase the effectiveness of their lessons. These efforts, however, have done very little to improve results, because they fail to address the core problems.
None of today’s methods have solved the root causes: lack of time, memory, and procrastination.
Language apps schedule learning and review for users, but:
People ignore scheduled notifications.
People procrastinate studying.
People stop visiting school or the app entirely.
FlipWord is a Chrome Extension (and soon mobile app) that intelligently and automatically replaces a few words with the language you want to learn on every English webpage, as you casually browse the web.
Simply hover over to access a bite-sized lesson and gamified communication practice. Your knowledge will grow exponentially, quantified through progress charts and various tiny quizzes.
No time must be set aside to learn. Instead, you constantly learn as you browse your favorite content. FlipWord makes sure this personal but effective habit will accompany you through life.
Language is a unique subject. Math and science can be contained in a classroom environment, language cannot. It is a skill used across all aspects of a day. Language must therefore be practiced consistently and in a personalized manner. FlipWord’s approach works with your current routine, naturally maintaining engagement.
Babies never fail at learning their mother tongue. Why?
For babies, “language learning occurs spontaneously while playing with toys, listening to parents’ conversation, etc.” (Kuhl, 2015). Everything they learn comes from their surroundings, gets repeated, and used during daily life. By integrating language learning into an adult’s daily routines, FlipWord enables adults to learn naturally, like a baby.
Natural learning environment is recognized as the most ideal instruction.
FlipWord creates a natural experience by augmenting the content you normally browse, providing a comfortable and personalized environment. This is practical since it is tailored to the words and content that you use most in your native language. Research shows that integration into daily life is important for learning. We’ve designed FlipWord to ensure learning a new language is effective and easy, even for the busiest of people.
FlipWord’s algorithms are based on spaced repetition, a well-tested method for maintaining knowledge over time. Rather than learning clustered content like in a classroom setting, spaced repetition revisits material before it is forgotten. FlipWord makes spaced repetition in practice very similar to the theoretical curve, placing review near the exact optimal moment required.
Current user retention rate is 50%. This is already above the current retention rate of Duolingo, a popular language learning app.
Through word-of-mouth, we’ve reached over 6,000 email sign-ups. We have several channels with early results which will help us exponentially grow this number going forward.
Currently, FlipWord supports 8 languages, with material designed by native speakers. We plan to focus on pushing the limits of efficacy with a few, before expanding to cover most of the world’s languages.
We've received very positive feedback from our early users. Basic skills (recalling, speaking a few words) are achievable within minutes.
FlipWord’s business model is structured around learning. A subscription fee is charged every month. For every day you hit your minimum goal, you are refunded – it's free.
Charging based on usage provides an additional extrinsic motivator to learn. In addition, the experience is gamified, making using the app more fun and rewarding for the user.
Based on our initial tests, this method provides a positive feedback loop. Just like grades at the end of a semester, this continuous challenge pushes students to persist in ways they wouldn’t otherwise.
The language industry includes language enthusiasts and test takers. Language enthusiast markets exist worldwide, with around 500 million active learners of all the world’s languages. Test taker markets mainly exist in non-English countries, such as China and Korea, with more than 1.5 billion people actively learning English alone.
In 2015, the most popular app among language enthusiasts, Duolingo, had an income of $3.58 million while New Oriental, China’s English test leader, reached a 2015 income of $1.25 billion. The average spent for each of Korea’s 25 million residents per year is $500 on English training, totalling $25 billion.
Improve Learning System – Continuous upgrades over 6 months
Add more grammar-based lessons for faster speaking proficiency
Increase effectiveness to time ratio; goal to double this year
Research effects of gamification to increase motivation and retention
Create secondary experiences to augment beyond word replacement
Features for connecting learners – Continuous upgrades through 2017
Users to be challenged through friendly competition
Users to communicate directly for extra practice
Users to see and hear other’s progress for motivation
Release Mobile App – Target alpha in 3 months
Prototype Android and iOS versions
Aim to simplify learning across platforms
Adapt similar experience to mobile environment
Experiment with unique-to-mobile methods
Market Experiments – Release within 2017
Deploy gamified business model
Release pilot in Korean test taker market
FlipWord started as a way to fill the motivation gap. Thomas experienced self-studying Chinese as a Master’s student majoring in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Four years of high school Spanish had already faded. He wasn’t willing to let that happen again, but still found the language slipping away after trying all kinds of language apps. Frustrated, he created FlipWord, which was designed to help him review Chinese words without any extra effort. He soon acquired a large Chinese vocabulary using FlipWord. As soon as friends of friends started asking how to download it, he knew there was a big opportunity to solve the biggest barrier to language learning. In 2015, Thomas used FlipWord to win the Top Prize at the UIUC Cozad New Venture Competition. With a background at Facebook and Amazon, Thomas used his solid programming knowledge to make FlipWord fast, effective, and intelligent.
Yinghua joined the company as a co-founder after meeting Thomas and working on projects at Hackathons. They shared a common interest in passive language learning but for different reasons. As a language instructor and Master’s student in the Department of Linguistics at UIUC, Yinghua had experienced a common drop-off of language retention among students due to the mainstream language pedagogy flaw -- teaching inside a closed environment. She switched gears and began to design passive language learning apps. After creating multiple award-winning apps through Hackathons, Yinghua officially joined FlipWord in May 2016 and guided FlipWord to become a comprehensive app that teaches all aspects of a language. With a background at New Oriental, Yinghua also leads FlipWord to explore the lucrative market for language testing in Asia. In addition, Yinghua is responsible for all design at FlipWord due to her UI/UX design expertise.
As we’ve grown the company, we’ve added a diverse team of interns from UIUC, Stanford and around the world with strong backgrounds in software development, languages, and marketing. They work with us to build the product, enhance the language content, and engage users. We look forward to growing the team in the future, to bring on more great talent who can help create a paradigm shift from traditional lessons to methods not possible until recently.
We realize that much of the conflict, large and small, throughout the world boils down to not understanding the other side. One of the biggest barriers standing in the way is language. Only by first understanding a language can you truly see through the lens of a culture and its individuals. Our goal is to tear down that wall.
We believe our simple and effortless methods will increase mutual understanding between peoples of different communities and countries, and lead to more poly-linguals, and a more connected world.
In this spirit, we invite you to become part of our journey.
Our heartfelt gratitude, and a permanent place on our Thank You page. You'll also be the first to know about our updates.
First access to new product features, Investor badge on your FlipWord profile & leaderboards, plus a special spot on our Thank You page, and FlipWord updates.
A personal Thank You video, featuring us yelling your name from a mountain top, plus all the previous perks: first access to new product features, badge, spot on our website & updates.
Exclusive early access to FlipWord Android and iOS mobile apps, plus all the previous perks: a thank you video, first access to new product features, badge, spot on our website & updates.
Your own word! Display your name (or your brand) as the “Word Sponsor” inside FlipWord’s tooltips of any 3 words that you choose! Plus all previous perks.
Get a lifetime premium membership of FlipWord! Plus all previous perks, including "Word Sponsor", exclusive access to features and apps, thank you video, badge, and updates.
A 1-hour video call with both of the co-founders to talk about FlipWord, technology, business or anything else – in addition to lifetime membership of FlipWord, "Word Sponsor" and all previous perks.
We'd love to meet! Meet both of the co-founders in person over a nice dinner on us. You also get lifetime premium membership of FlipWord, "Word Sponsor", early access to apps and features, a special badge, Thank You video and page spot, and updates.
Seat on the FlipWord Advisory Board, plus a dinner with both of the co-founders, in addition to the lifetime premium membership of FlipWord, "Word Sponsor", early access to apps & features, a special badge, Thank You video and page spot, and updates.
Google Translate won’t teach you to speak. FlipWord is neither a translator, dictionary, nor phrasebook. It is more like a personal language tutor. FlipWord turns any website into a learning experience. It chooses important words and displays them before you notice. This goes beyond a definition, helping you practice typing, speaking, and grammar. FlipWord occasionally presents well-timed reviews and quizzes to optimize your time.
These apps take a traditional classroom and put them in a computer. With them, you learn uncommon phrases, dedicate lots of time, and achieve little results. Few people make it past the first two weeks, and blame themselves for failing; however, it isn’t your fault.
Meaning is generally maintained for most words across languages. We have built FlipWord in a way that context errors are minimized. Replacements are made based on their relationship between languages, not just their translation.
We have native bilingual speakers helping manually craft our material to make sure you are learning the correct meaning. If the context is wrong for some reason, you’ll still learn the correct word through definitions and additional clues.
Not really. Difficulty does automatically increase as you progress, but quantity does not. FlipWord optimizes the words shown so that you only see words as needed. You can, however, customize the amount shown to your liking at any time.
No. FlipWord runs instantaneously once a page loads. Only a few words per page will change to a foreign language.
All languages have a romanized version so you’ll only need A to Z initially. Words are also spoken, so you can understand them. Over time you’ll learn to recognize and read the characters, the same way you learned the alphabet.
You say using a language. You are fine, it’s all the methods that have failed you. We believe very strongly based on experience that anyone can learn using the right tools.
It is not hard, just different. Babies and adults all around the world seem to figure it out. Just like algebra, you need the right material, guidance, and time. FlipWord provides what you need.
We highly value your privacy and have designed our product using secure standards. FlipWord flips words locally on your computer. It does not track what websites you visit, the content of websites, or anything you do on them. We actively avoid running on all major bank websites, because we don't want even a chance of losing your trust. Any data we collect relates to the specific interactions you have with FlipWord, including but not limited to: hovering over a FlipWord flipped word, completing a quiz, or changing a setting.
You can easily prevent words from flipping on any site of your choosing. That way, example.com will always be in English.
We also provide an option to pause for a while. If you are focusing and don’t want to be bothered, FlipWord will remain off during your session.
FlipWord successfully raised $81,883 from 193 investors on May 1, 2017
Congrats on your fundraising Thomas!Andrew PutchInvested 12 months ago
I believe in the cause!Brandon BurtonInvested 12 months ago
It's a great concept. Fun to use. Looking forward to using it regularly.Tobias PolychronisInvested 12 months ago
I want to help start upsMark TemperleyInvested 12 months ago
I want to use FlipWord, it sounds awesome!Leah DeasyInvested 12 months ago
I believe in this product.Tzvi Daniel KopolovichInvested 12 months ago
Women owned, seems like an unmet need, good market research, innovative solution (embedding language learning into web browsing)Anne Marie ToccketInvested 12 months ago
I believe in the product.Cindy ChuInvested 12 months ago
I have always wanted a better way to learn a new language.Chris KibbeInvested 12 months ago
I invested in this because I really like the concept. Instead of making time to learn a language I am doing it at work and at home. The inclusion aspect of this is great.trista warrickInvested 12 months ago
I invested because I have struggled learning foreign languages and view this application as a useful asset.Jack McConnellInvested 12 months ago
The technology and approach to the acquisition of language skills is likely to resonate well with the target consumer.James RuttleyInvested about 1 year ago
Learning needs to be seamless and integrated into daily habits. This makes it easy to do just that. Good luck.Todd MacaulayInvested about 1 year ago
Great idea, and I totally want to participate and promoteAllison MartinezInvested about 1 year ago
I love the incentive to learn more languagesWyatt SchugInvested about 1 year ago
I think this is a great opportunity for Thomas and his coworkersTina ReeseInvested about 1 year ago
Flipword helped me get through my college level German course.Jess WydrinskiInvested about 1 year ago
I personally struggle with this very concept. This is something I will use, over and over again to obtain use in a new language.Cynthia OdomInvested about 1 year ago
Makes learning much easier, great!Lawrence MasottiInvested about 1 year ago
In a world that continues to grow more and more connected by the day, it has never been this important to ensure we are able to communicate with one another. FlipWord can help everyone learn the skills they need to become citizens of the globe.Zachary SnaderInvested about 1 year ago
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