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MindSnacks’ new iPad games help you learn languages, pass the SAT

Resolved to pickup a new language in 2013? MindSnacks wants to help, and its popular educational games are now available on the iPad.

Today, the San Francisco-based company is also releasing six new multiplayer games as well as updates to its three classic games, and it is teaching subject-specific skills like sentence composition and word connotations.

MindSnacks is known for its highly visual games that make it fun to learn a new language or brush up on spelling and grammar. Venture capital firm Sequoia Capital poured over $6 million into the startup because it can do far more than develop addictive games. The bet seems to be paying off — since it launched in 2010, the company’s educational apps have been downloaded 5 million times.

“To outside observers, they look like typical games,” said Jesse Pickard, the company’s chief executive officer. “But we have really interesting things going on in the back end, like a learning algorithm that surfaces words and phrases that are relevant to you and [that] you need to study at that point in time.” Players are repeatedly tested to ensure they’ve retained information, and the company sends out progress reports on a weekly basis with detailed information about students’ strengths and weaknesses.

In this regard, the company competes with Cerego, a memory management tool that spun out of a privately funded think tank. Cerego specializes in helping its users retain facts, and it has already taken off in Japan as an English language learning tool for businesses.

Pickard told me he came up with the idea for the company while working as a UX designer in New York City. For this reason, the games are designed to be the perfect accompaniment to a long subway ride — as long as they’ve been predownloaded, Wi-Fi is not required. It’s ideal for people who are learning a new language — games in Spanish, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Mandarin Chinese are currently available.

The games are made for players of all ages and skill levels. Pickard hopes the games will prove useful to teachers, but he realizes that a challenge is that most students aren’t equipped with iPads and iPhones. Typically, according to Pickard, students take it in turns to play the games as an “after-school treat.”

With more U.S. schools opting to purchase iPads and other devices, MindSnacks has a massive market opportunity. When the founders piloted the games in classrooms, they discovered that students’ grades lifted by 10 percent. So MindSnacks is currently building games to help teachers with math and science instruction as well as tests like the LSAT and GRE. The number-one grossing game helps students’ study for the SAT.


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