Computers, Languages, Technology

Language learning pricing and making it pay for itself

If I’m considering paying for voice talent for the language app (which let’s face it, I’m going to have to do) I have to be thinking about getting the money back somehow and I have an interesting idea that essentially equates to everyone helping each other learn languages.

Basically when learning, you pay per phrase (phrase in this context means any named element. Usually a phrase but could also be a specific term). The cost would be something really low (say for example $0.01 each). You only pay for a phrase once regardless of how many times it gets repeated or how many conversations it appears in. Just to provide some sort of concrete example, the material I’m testing with (which covers the first two Pimsleur lessons) has 82* different phrases/terms. Quite a few simple conversations can be put together with that material. As the number of phrases increases, the number of conversations increases exponentially (the mathematician within me has to point out that strictly speaking it’s probably not exponential).

The clever part would be to allow people to upload their own audio. Although this has a few issues with regards to quality it might work. If you upload audio, you get a percentage of the money spent on listening to your audio. What the exact percentage should be is complicated though. As well as audio, the other big part of the system is the scripts. The traditional part of me feels that the scripts should have some sort of professional input from someone with experience teaching the language. Another part of me realises that hundreds of books exist for teaching languages that are written by professionals that are totally useless (and therefore professional input may not be all its cracked up to be). With that in mind, someone fluent in the language may be all that is required. Either way, the script writers need money too and should probably get a percentage as well. That $0.01 is being spread quite thin…

The system obviously needs an infrastructure in place to sort this. At a basic level it should list phrases that are needed in scripts but are missing. Another part would be to highlight underutilised phrases that need more conversations writing for them.

As a final note I’d like to explain another bit of cleverness in the system (and an associated problem, perhaps). Before a conversation is played it is checked for completeness – i.e. do sound files exist for all the required audio. Shortly I’ll be adding another layer to this – checking for sound files by the right people. Phrases in a script are marked by “person”. Simply a way of identifying who is doing the talking when a script involves more than one person (which most of them will do). It’s important that all elements in a script marked “Person1” are by the same person and all the parts by “Person2” are by the same person (and that “Person1” and “Person2” are different from each other). This means that there will be some duplication of audio going on. If someone records all the initial audio, but then never records any more, someone else will have to re-record most of it since it will be used in later scripts. Which also implies there’s nothing to stop people re-recording the initial material in an effort to get a percentage of the money (assuming enough is offered to make it worthwhile). I’m not sure if that really is so bad though – it offers more variety for listeners…

* Or perhaps 164. Whether you should pay for the native and foreign versions is a tough subject. I’d like the application to be independent of a specific language so my preference would be “yes”. They take just as much effort to record after all…

Pimsleur, language learning, voice talent, foreign language

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6 thoughts on “Language learning pricing and making it pay for itself

  1. Of course none of this excludes the posibility of distributing by CD for those who don’t want to be tied to the internet. Although some benefits will be lost…

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  2. It all sounds very complicated – if I want to learn a language I don’t particularly want to have to wait for people to record sounds, or record them myself, and if they kept being re-recorded it might put people off if the things they were trying to learn were changing every now and then.

    Couldn’t you just get some voice synthesized voices done temporarily just for a ‘proof of concept’ and once the engine is in place, get some proper sounds done?

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  3. Couldn’t you just pay for the voices and then charge a subscription to use it? The subscription could be really cheap or you could offer a copy on CD which would be more expensive obviously.

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  4. Re-recording of samples would only apply to conversations new to the listener so things wouldn’t be changing as such. And, after a while listening to different accents is important anyway.
    You don’t have to record or submit anything and I only intend people to record stuff in their native language (definitely not a language they are learning).
    There is limited language support for voice synthesisers and the aulity tends to be lower for anything but English.
    Paying up front for the recording is too expensive – one of the reasons Pimsleur is so expensive.

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  5. Hmmm, well its just that it sounds a bit complicated and that may put people off. Some people may just prefer to pay more for something they know is good and will save them having to look for other things.

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