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Lingua.ly turns every Web session into a chance to learn a language (exclusive)

Image Credit: FilipeOliviera

Every time you sign in online, Lingua.ly views it as an opportunity to help you perfect your French or hone your Hebrew.

The startup has raised $500,000 to make learning a foreign language part of your daily Internet browsing experience. This extension for Google Chrome assesses how strong your language skills are and recommends content for you to read.

“One of the main advantages of Lingua.ly is that it takes learning a language out of a confined classroom or specific lesson, and [brings it] into daily life,”CEO Jan Ihmels told VentureBeat. “Compared to learning a new language at specific times and places, Lingua.ly integrates the learning process with a user’s daily online activity — email, Facebook, favorite news, economics, sport, or any other website visited — turning it into a language lesson.”

Ihmels and cofounder Orly Fuhrman have PhDs from the Weizmann Institute of Science and Stanford, respectively. Both are Israeli and speak multiple languages. However, as anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, classroom learning and lectures only get you so far. Fluency requires immersion, regular practice, and colloquial use.

Ihmels and Fuhrman realized the Web could provide this immersion experience — it has content in every language, at any level, and about any topic. And two years ago, they hunkered down to build Lingua.ly.

The founders claim that 2 billion people want to expand their knowledge of English, Spanish, French, Arabic, or Hebrew. The ability to speak a foreign language is not only cool, like “a second soul,” “a treasure,” “a corridor for life,” and all that sappy stuff, but in some cases can also yield a higher salary or greater range of career opportunities.

Ihemls described Lingua.ly as a “personal assistant” for language learning. It uses the Web as a learning tool rather than a distribution platform for education.

Built on natural language processing technology, Lingua.ly prompts users to learn new words and saves those to a word collection to be reviewed down the road. They can practice their words with automatically generated flashcards and quizzes. Lingua.ly will interpret the language needs of the user and find relevant Web content that matches their interests, level, and vocabulary to reinforce the lessons and advance their progress.

There is no shortage of online resources for language learning. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as Udemy, have language classes, and there are marketplace options like Verbling that connect strangers online to practice speaking foreign languages. LiveMocha, Busuu, and Babbel are other online options, not to mention the stalwart Rosetta Stone.

Lingua.ly’s most direct competition is Duolingo, which presents language students with documents to translate. It even has Dothraki (from Game of Thrones) as an option.

Lingua.ly operates on a freemium business model. The basic functionality is free and premium paid features will be released soon.

Israeli angel investor Udi Netzer led this round, with participation from Israeli and European angel investors.

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