Introducing Verse

Verse is a simple application that lets you practise your speech and pronunciation.

An app for practising your speech and pronunciation

Verse is an application and concept that started from a design challenge on how to improve the language learning experience. It is now available on the Google Play store.

Verse lets you type in and practise to speak any word or phrase you want in over 20 languages.

To download the app, go to this link.

How it all started

About a year ago, I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to meet the Ambassador of Timor Leste in Singapore and have lunch with him.

We discussed the various English learning NGO initiatives in Timor Leste, the country’s state of education and their government’s plans in this area. Some NGOs had previously set up English learning schools in the country and the impact was very positive. However, there was a very small number of volunteers teaching a large number of children in one class so the children did not have sufficient practice. Financially, this model was also not sustainable.

The challenge

I am the kind of person who likes challenges and since I have spent more than 4 years designing and developing language e-learning platforms, I immediately started to think of ways to improve the situation.

The first issue to address was that there were too many students and too few volunteer teachers. So I wanted to identify the most efficient way to let the students practise what they learnt in the class without a teacher tending to each one of them individually. With smart phones and tablets becoming very affordable, they naturally become the ideal medium where language learning applications can be loaded for students to practise.

The research

There are a lot of e-learning apps out there and they all work on the same concept (including the ones that I have built in the past).

These apps usually have lessons and games that introduce the user to new vocabulary and let him/her practise them. They also teach the users specific language rules such as present and past tenses.

Most of them will be rich with pictures and sound files, and they offer a high level of interaction. Some of them may offer a way to track the progress or give incentives to keep the users motivated.

Almost all of them have the following shortcomings:

  • The user can only study the material that the platform offers
  • The user is not sufficiently prepared to face native speakers

The concept behind Verse

Verse came up as an idea to build an app that makes practising language cheaper and more flexible.

Verse uses the same speech recognition technology that services like Siri or Google Now use. In these services, users speak some command such as “Siri, order me a pizza” into the microphone which gets analysed and then executed.

In Verse, instead of using the voice recognition to execute commands, users use it to practise their pronunciation. So if the user learned some vocabulary in class such as “Can I order a pizza?”, he can type it into Verse and practise saying it until he says it correctly.

Verse also uses another technology called text to speech to enhance the learning experience. You can find text to speech in GPS applications when you hear the computerised voice saying “turn left at the next junction…”. In Verse, text to speech allows the user to hear the things that he is practising before he speaks them.

In addition, there are also some artificial intelligence algorithms that calculate how well you have pronounced the text you are practising.

The usability of Verse

Verse has been designed to be very simple to use: just launch the app and practise. It has been designed to accommodate users from different backgrounds and proficiency level. It gives affordance for different users to use it a bit differently according to their own style and preferences.

You can choose to just type in the text and practise it, or you can organise things into different lists like “lesson 1" , “lesson 2", “travel”, ”food” etc. You can always go back to what you have already practised and improve.

The whole journey of how the user finds the application and what happens when he first opens it (it says Nice to meet you! ☺) was designed to make the user happy and like the application.

The application was tested with different users to see how they use it and was iterated on their feedback for a period of time before releasing it to the app store.

Confidence building

As mentioned previously, the existing language learning apps do not prepare the language learners sufficiently to face native speakers.

If they are going to work or travel in a new country, mere vocabulary knowledge and language rules are not enough. They need to be able to speak confidently and pronounce well enough to be understood.

The more some one practises speaking in a new language, the more confidence he/she will gain. This translates to a higher chances that he/she will continue to use and speak that language after attending language classes.

I really want Verse to help people to gain confidence and go out to speak the language they are learning in real world situations. I want them to be able to order drinks, meet new friends and go to places they dream about!

The future of Verse

Verse has come a long way from being a nice idea to a side project to an actual application that anybody can download and use on the app store.

I wish that one day it will be bundled with other applications and become a cost effective solution for language learning in emerging economies.

Verse is currently available for Android only, but there is already a lot of interest for an IOS version, so stay tuned!