Back in July I reviewed iStudyEnglishOnline, a website for English learners which was created by Sançar Sahin, an English teacher based in Barcelona. I also did an interview with Sançar. At the time, I mentioned iUnderstandEnglish, the iOS app which Sançar had created with his business partner Andrew Cox, but didn't go into any detail. So, I thought it would be interesting to ask Andrew a few questions to get some insights into how the app was created and what's happened since it was launched. Here's the result.
THE ENGLISH BLOG: Can you give us a brief overview of the app?
ANDREW COX: We consider it a companion app for learning English and general English comprehension. It features 50 real-world conversations between native British English speakers and includes audio along with text transcriptions. In addition, for each conversation there are 2 levels of difficulty, making 100 conversations in total. We used a total of 12 different accents in the app, covering all of the main accents within Britain. It is not aimed at total beginners of the language, but rather students that already have a grasp of the language and want to improve their comprehension skills. We feel that by listening to these conversations, our users can be immersed in the language and culture of Britain and familiarise themselves with the nuances of accents and pronunciation of words, preparing them for interaction with native speakers in real-world situations.
THE ENGLISH BLOG: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
ANDREW COX: Sure. I was born in Oxford and have lived here for most of my life. I graduated from the University of Southampton in 2005, specialising in digital media and design. Since leaving University I spent several years working as a web and graphic designer before moving into the publishing industry. I was working in a department that produced educational reference material for children and it was there that I developed an interest in language and language technology. When I'm not working, I'm very much into all things design related, photography, music and travel.
THE ENGLISH BLOG: What gave you the idea for the app?
ANDREW COX: The idea actually came from Sançar initially. After teaching English for several years in Spain, he realised that a big thing his students were struggling with was comprehension of native accents. The voices that they had been exposed to in a lot of educational material previously were the standard "Queen's English" type of voice, which they felt didn't offer much help when interacting with real people in real-world situations - especially given the diversity of English accents and the ways in which different words are pronounced by different people. In discussing this with me, and from doing a little market research, we agreed there was a gap in the market for a product that would help students with this particular problem and we settled on a smart-phone application as the most convenient platform to realise this.
THE ENGLISH BLOG: How long did it take to develop the app?
ANDREW COX: Both Sançar and I were working full time when we began development so it's difficult to say exactly. The most time-consuming part of the process was the creation of the content for the app - i.e. the editorial process of writing the scripts, sourcing people to cover all the accents we wanted to include, and the studio time required to actually record all the audio. There were also the technical hurdles to overcome since neither of us had made an app before. All-in-all, I would say this whole process took around 6 months.
THE ENGLISH BLOG: Where did you find the native speakers?
ANDREW COX: We posted a series of online advertisements in our local cities, requesting voice samples. Thankfully we were able to cover all the accents we needed by doing this, which meant we could get everyone together in the same studio, which certainly cut down on our initial expenses.
THE ENGLISH BLOG: What sort of reaction have you had to the app?
ANDREW COX: So far, very positive. We've been particularly pleased with how far-reaching it has become; some of our top markets are China, Thailand and Mexico - though we've had sales from almost every continent. Our main feedback has been that although the app isn't a complete solution for learning English, it's certainly a useful addition to the toolbelt - which is exactly what we created it to be so that makes us happy :)
THE ENGLISH BLOG: How many apps have you sold so far?
ANDREW COX: So far we've had around 4000 downloads. However, we're working on releasing an Android version (it's currently only available on iOS), which we hope expands our reach a bit.
THE ENGLISH BLOG: Do you have any other app projects in the pipeline?
ANDREW COX: Both Sançar and I are already working on a more complete application for learning English. It will be web-based initially but we will certainly be looking at offering a companion app down-the-line. Additionally, pretty much every time we get together and start talking you'll hear "that would make an awesome app, you know". So watch this space!
THE ENGLISH BLOG: Thanks Andrew, we look forward to seeing the results.