Israeli startup targets China with learn-English software

EZSpeak allows users to speak to a computer that analyzes speech quality and creates a personal training plan

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

EZSpeak - screenshot of the software in action (Courtesy)
EZSpeak - screenshot of the software in action (Courtesy)

Israeli startup LinguisTech Solutions Ltd. has launched a software program, EZSpeak, which helps users learn to speak English quickly and pronounce it correctly.

With EZSpeak, users talk to a computer that analyzes the quality of their and creates a personalized learning program for each one. By doing so, performance is evaluated immediately and users get feedback about their results. The personalized program of exercises for teaching English speaking skills helps to improve the pronunciation of difficult sounds for the non-native speaker.

The company has invested $3 million in developing the software, which it says will be sold at a “significantly lower cost” than that of other methods currently on the market.

LinguisTech is planning to raise additional funds to support the sales and marketing of its software, and plans to target the global English-as-a-second-language market, with a focus on China. The company is in the process of looking for distributors for the Chinese market, as well as for the Spanish-speaking market in the US and Latin America.

EZSpeak has successfully undergone a pilot at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). Analysis of the results after two weeks found an 80 percent improvement in the pronunciation of the participants, LinguisTech said in a statement, contributing to increased self-confidence in speaking English.

“EZSpeak is the only available solution for teaching English as a second language that includes instruction of the phonological rules for proper pronunciation combined with actual speech training,” said Kfir Adam, the CEO of LinguisTech, who led the development of EZSpeak.

The software focuses on American English and includes video clips that explain and demonstrate how to pronounce different sounds, along with interactive dialogues in which the student carries out conversations with the software and is able to direct the conversation as desired.

The lessons are structured to ensure that each concept is properly understood by the student before moving on to the next. As a result the student is able to strengthen his or her self-confidence through a sequence of successes.

Kfir Adam - LinguisTech CEO (Courtesy)
Kfir Adam – LinguisTech CEO (Courtesy)

The software program was developed over three years and combines speech recognition technology, signal processing and specially developed algorithms with English linguistic capabilities, Adam said.

The speech recognition technology is based on the identification and assessment of the pronunciation of phonemes, the smallest sound unit of a language. The software uses an algorithm-based proprietary speech recognition engine that differentiates between various sounds and grades the speaker on each sound. Each sound pronounced by the speaker is assigned a color, with green indicating improved performance; blue unchanged and red a decline in performance. The method allows the user to focus on mastering each sound, instead of memorizing expressions and trying to imitate them.

The development team was made up of experts and scientists in speech recognition, foreign-language learning, software development and linguistics. The teams also included speakers of a large variety of languages.

The global ESL market is one of the largest and fastest growing segments in the educational field. It has been growing at an annual rate of 25 percent and is projected to exceed $193 billion in 2017, according to data provided by the company.

China, one of the main target markets for EZSpeak, is already the largest buyer of digital English teaching solutions. According to Ambient Insight, an industry analysis firm, China already accounts for more than a fifth of the global ESL market.

The company aims to target upper-middle class families in China with an annual income of up to $38,000. This segment of the population currently accounts for 14% of Chinese households, approximately 100 million individuals. Projections estimate that this segment of the population will grow to 400 million by 2022, the company said.

Adam cited studies the company conducted in the US and “found that adult employees with fluent English earn 25%-40% more than employees with limited English.” He adds that in China the wage differential is even greater, with fluent English speakers earning 2 to 3 times as much as those who are not fluent in the language.

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