Business

Verbling brings immersive language learning into your living room (exclusive)

When trying to master a new language, practice speaking and listening to it is essential. You don’t become fluent by conjugating verbs in a workbook or listening to recordings, but many of us don’t have the capability to spend months abroad honing conversation skills.

Y Combinator-backed Verbling is a platform that connects people online to practice speaking foreign languages together. Today, the startup introduced Verbling Courses, a new product that seeks to make students proficient as quickly as possible.

“Outside of the U.S., having a proficient level of business English is key to having success in the workplace,” said founder Jake Jolis in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat. “For many of our students, learning a second language is something they have to do — not something they are doing for fun, but something vital for long-term success. Our approach is to take them all the way there.”

Verbling CoursesJolis founded Verbling in 2011 with two fellow classmates from Stanford. His cofounder, Mikael Bernstein, was studying abroad in Moscow and realized how much faster his Russian improved when he spoke it every day. When he returned to Stanford, Bernstein struggled to find local people to practice his Russian with. He and Jolis came up with the idea to use the Internet to fix this problem, and the two dropped out of Stanford to build Verbling.

They went through Y Combinator in summer 2011 with the first product, Verbling Friends. Verbling Friends is an online community where people can go anytime to find others to practice languages with via live video. Anyone in the world can log in, select the language they would like to practice, and instantly be connected to others with the same wish. It’s like a virtual meet up, but it’s centered around developing language abilities.

In December, the startup rolled out Verbling Classes, which is a platform for teachers to connect with students in virtual classrooms. Students book and teachers schedule sessions through a reservation system. It indexes each class by language and skill level, and nine students can participate in the video chat with the teacher. These chats are also live streamed to anyone else who would like to follow on their own, without interacting directly with fellow students and teachers. Jolis said people have taken 1.5 million classes on Verbling Classes, and it has paying users in 40 countries. Registered users take an average of 16 classes per week, paying for access on a monthly subscription basis.

“We started out with a student-to-student model and then added in teacher-to-student,”Jolis said. “We didn’t realize how fast Verbling Classes would take off, but we found that people really want to have on-demand, 24/7 access to language learning. Verbling Courses will add to that by further connecting teachers to the community, and giving students a structured curriculum to track their progress.”

Students start out on Verbling Courses by taking an initial language assessment. They then follow a curriculum that consists of topical lessons, videos, readings, exercises, and access to live office hour tutoring sessions with teachers. It also has quizzes and a final exam to collect data points showing success along the way. At first, Verbling is only offering English courses because Jolis said this is the biggest market with the highest demand, but more languages are soon to come.

Verbling is backed by $1 million from Y Combinator, Draper Fisher Jurveston, Start Fund, SV Angel, Learn Capital, Meck, Inspovtion, and ACE & Company. The team of eight is based in San Francisco.


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