Marq: Language learning in digital conversations
Meet Elena and Anya: Together with their co-founders Pavel and Oleg they developed an app that teaches foreign languages by chatting with a robot from the future.
“There are many language learning apps, but they all have one weakness,” says Elena Engel. “They offer little context for the words you learn.” In other words, familiar apps often teach language enthusiasts single words or even groups of words. What they all lack is the practical application of these words and phrases.
Elena Engel and her co-founders Anna Nazarova, Oleg Pirogov, and Pavel Sokolov designed their language learning app “Marq” differently. Not only is Marq the name of the app, but it is also the name of a little robot from the future. He teaches users vocabulary and grammar and engages in conversation with them — via chat. “In the process, he’s always sharing snippets of his life, too. For example, he’s going on a date and has to say goodbye,” says Elena. The next day, when the user launches the app, Marq picks up the story from where he left off and tells the user about his date, continuing the conversation. No session lasts longer than ten minutes, so users can find time to engage with Marq anytime, anywhere.
The idea came to founder Oleg when he wanted to improve his English at the beginning of the pandemic. That’s why he first turned to his friend Elena. “I had studied languages and was working as an English tutor at the time. The idea of creating a tool that would make it even easier for people to learn a foreign language excited me,” Elena says. Together, Oleg and Elena approached Anya to help launch Marq as a product manager. Now, all that was missing was someone who could program the app, so Oleg asked his old acquaintance Pavel for help. Each of the four founders, who all knew one another from other projects, contributed to the creation of Marq.
“We all started tinkering with Marq part-time, alongside our regular jobs. Mainly in the evenings and on weekends,” says Anya. “We were so convinced that we put our own money into developing the app.” Eight people now work for the company 100 percent remotely.
In the beginning, the founders focused on a Russian-speaking target group. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when digital communication was on the rise, and people around the globe were even more connected, the founders wanted to create a simple, fun, and affordable way for the Russian-speaking audience to learn new languages. To date, there are opportunities for Russian speakers to learn Spanish, German, and Polish.
“However, after some time, there were two major hiccups,” Elena tells us. “After Russian speakers, we wanted to approach English speakers. But the market for apps that offer this is already pretty crowded. So, it didn’t make sense for us to tap into that market next.” Since bigger players don’t have the resources to focus on several niche markets, the founders of Marq decided to take on a different route and started targeting refugees.
Initially, on Marq, they offered Turkish and German to Arabic speakers and German to Turkish speakers. In the meantime, Ukrainian speakers can now learn Polish. Refugees should find it easier to pass through or start out in a new country. “Because you won’t feel at home until you can say at least a few phrases in the local language — for example, asking where the post office is,” Elena explains.
Meanwhile, more than 25,000 people have already downloaded the app, and the feedback is positive. “Users like the chat approach of our app; they say it encourages them to stay active even more,” says Elena. In 2023, Marq aims to offer more languages with the help of a new investor. For example, learning English for Portuguese speakers. “But our big vision is to branch outside of language learning and be able to offer all kinds of lessons,” says Anya. “Our back-end is exceptionally user-friendly, and we envision that teachers across all kinds of disciplines will give their lessons on Marq.”
Follow Marq’s journey on LinkedIn.