A member of the 5th cohort of the Entrepreneur First accelerator, Lingumi has not only raised its first capital, but also launched its first product this week.
Created by an Oxford University graduate Toby Mather and chief technology officer Adit Trivedi, Lingumi Play is a connected toy that works with both Android and iOS devices.
The company’s language learning software works with 6 languages including Mandarin and Spanish, but the primary focus for the company’s founders is English.
Informed by his early days traveling around the world — and especially during his years teaching English in Russia — Mather wanted to create a better way for children whose parents were not native speakers of a particular language in a particular country to learn the language.
That drive followed Mather through his linguistics studies at Oxford and on to the creation of the Lingumi Method, a curriculum for teaching children ages two-and-up to learn a foreign language.
Here’s Mather explaining exactly how Lingumi works (for kicks watch this explanation in German):
The company’s first product, Lingumi Play works on both iOS and Android. Using augmented reality technology, the Lingumi teaching method combines foam cubes with a tablet or phone app to introduce language concepts to toddlers without the need for them to interact with a screen.
“Lingumi has harnessed the physical and virtual in a very engaging way which unlocks English learning for pre-school kids around the world,” said Robin Klein of LocalGlobe.
The company began with prototypes made of simple paper and glue and launched the foam toys across Europe earlier in the year, with a particular focus on the European market (specifically Germany).
Mather has bigger plans for Lingumi than just a toy. There’s an entire curriculum he’s designed to teach not just early vocabulary and speech skills, but the whole “spectrum of English learning,” Mather said in a press release. Ultimately, the company wants to teach teachers to use its method alongside their digital resources.
“First and foremost what we’re building is a learning method,” Mather said in a statement.
That method was developed alongside academics worldwide (including William O’Grady, the author of “How Children Learn Language”), and can be used to teach French, Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin in addition to its English language bent.
Worldwide spending on english language learning tops $150 billion, according to data provided by Lingumi. And that number increases 25% annually, according to Lingumi’s data. At the same time, there’s a real shortage of native English speakers (which explains every. Other. American. Living. In. Shanghai).
Lingumi wants to get ’em while they’re young because research has indicated that humans learn languages best in a spurt from the time they’re born to around their 6th birthday. Yet, formal training in a second language (and sometimes a first) doesn’t begin until a child is 4 or 5 years-old.
“We want every child around the world to begin learning English with the Lingumi Method, whether that’s through an app, with a toy, or with a teacher,” Mather said.