It’s a well known fact that people improve foreign language skills when interacting and communicating with other people who speak the same foreign language. Y Combinator-backed Verbling is launching today as a easy to use online conversation exchange for language learners, leveraging in-browser video chat.
The site allows you to sign up and choose the language you want to learn. Since the site doesn’t have a massive userbase just yet, Verbling hosts sessions as specific times daily (12 pm PT and 7 pm PT) where people can show up and chat with each other. Once you join the site during a session time, you are automatically paired with a language speaker who is fluent in the language you wish to learn. The site encourages users to talk to a number of different speakers within each session.
So if you speak French and want to learn English, you’ll be paired up with a native English speaker who wants to learn French. You start in one language and halfway through the video session, a timer tells you when to switch to the other. Speakers are also matched by their language levels, and to aid in the conversation, Verbling will suggest topics according to the ability of the participants, such as “What chores are you responsible for in your home” or “what kind of music do you listen to?”
The chats are conducted via video chat, but the startup doesn’t seem to be too worried about any Chatroulette-like issues because everyone has to register with their name and other personal info to use the service. Currently, Verbling is using Flash for the video streaming itself, but the startup has built significant infrastructure around the player to ensure that the audio video quality is as good as possible, even when faced with varying internet connection quality.
The site soft launched this past week and already has 1,500 signups. So far, native Spanish speakers who are looking to learn English have dominated the sign-ups.
There are a number of startups competing in the online language learning space including Live Mocha, Busuu, and Voxy. But crowdsourcing and matching people up based on their skill level and interest makes sense in terms of adding another layer to language education.