Russian startup delivers vocab-booster on Apple Watch
By Keith Liu June 26, 2015
- Surgeon-turned-entrepreneur left lucrative field to pursue language app dreams
- App helps users learn 10 new words a day, with subscription service in tow
STUDYING a new language can be a time-consuming affair, but these days, you can use the downtime available to you to pick up a few new words here and there – especially when they’re just ‘on your wrist.’
At least, that’s the idea behind Easy Ten, a subscription-based app that provides you with 10 words a day, in a language of your choice.
The languages are limited to French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Italian and German – useful for that pan-European tour that you’ve been planning for your whole life.
And while the Apple and Google app stores are chock-full of language learning apps for smartphones and tablets, there aren’t that many that have made the jump to smartwatches.
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Easy Ten is one of them, having recently been made available for the Apple Watch (pic below). It joins the highly-rated Duolingo language app, which also supports smartwatches running on the Android Wear platform.
The idea behind Easy Ten seems simple enough. According to the blurb on the app store, when you learn 10 words a day, in a month you would have learnt 300 new words.
Within a year, that’s 3,650 words – more than the 3,000 words that native speakers would typically use throughout their lives (journalists excluded, of course). And all it takes is 20 minutes a day, it adds.
The free app allows you to choose one free language and your own choice of 10 words every day to learn and memorise, but if you opt for a paid subscription, the app will pre-select 10 words for you on a daily basis, based on your interests and your word history.
The subscription starts at S$6/ RM15 for a month to S$38/ RM98 for an unlimited time. Additional languages cost slightly above S$19/ RM50.
Language experts may disagree with this approach, as learning a new language also includes grammar and sentence construction, rather than just expanding one’s vocabulary through rote memorisation.
Those 20 minutes required to learn new words also doesn’t take into account the additional time needed to practise the previous words that one has learnt, since we easily forget them if the words are not regularly used.
Moscow-based startup Vlastor agreed there’s more to it than just learning words, but the company’s founder Dmitry Zaryuta believes it’s a good start for self-learners.
A plastic surgeon by profession, Zaryuta chanced upon this idea when he was trying to learn to speak Czech, but wasn’t seeing any meaningful results. His wife then suggested to him that he learn at least 10 new words per day in order to see some progress.
He tried many different apps but couldn’t find one that suited him, so he decided to design his own. He recruited some programmers and founded the company with some neuroscientists who shared his passion for technology and e-learning.
The initial app to learn the Russian language was launched as a beta in China in 2012, and the positive take-up among Chinese users wanting to learn that language surprised the team and gave them the impetus to move forward.
A year later, Zaryuta launched Easy Ten in Russia, and it quickly became a top 10 entry in the Russian app store, with 300,000 users in two months.
That’s when the surgeon decided to quit his medical career and work on the app full-time.
A new career
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in a telephone interview, Zaryuta (pic above) said, “For eight years of my life I had been trying to convince myself that I love surgery. I graduated from a top Russian medical university and studied plastic surgery in Milan, but still, I didn’t love it as much as I love my current work.”
That work involves being not just the company chief but product manager and designer of the app, along with the subscription service behind it.
There are currently 11 other people in the Easy Ten team, half of them in app development.
Last year, the company Vlastor received close to US$450,000 in seed funding from Russia’s Internet Initiatives Development Fund (IIDF), which hosted the project during a three-month acceleration programme.
The funding was primarily used to enhance the semantic analysis and artificial intelligence technology.
In early 2015, the app reached its first one millionth download and has since achieved 100,000 downloads for the Apple Watch version. Most of these downloads were from the US and European app stores, with a smaller number of users from Asia.
Zaryuta said the download rate is growing at about 20% on a monthly basis, while third-party app ranking site Search Man showed there was a big bump in its ranking from February this year, reaching the Top 30 list in the Education category in May (chart below).
Out of the total number of downloads, Easy Ten is seeing roughly a 5% conversion to subscriptions according to Zaryuta, which is meeting his expectations.
But aside from subscriptions, referrals also contribute to the bottom line. In Russia for example, Easy Ten connects users with real language tutors, should users wish to take their language learning further.
This programme is currently in planning stages for countries outside of Russia, and Vlastor is already in talks with a number of language schools.
As for the app itself, Zaryuta said half the company’s time and resources now is to continue developing Easy Ten while the other half goes towards marketing it.
One area of development is in the selection of popular Asian languages. Currently, you can’t learn any Asian languages through Easy Ten, even though the app is available with a Chinese language interface.
Zaryuta noted that trying to memorise hieroglyph-based words like Mandarin Chinese and Korean is slightly different from Romanised words, but Vlastor has already began working on a solution and will likely offer a selection of popular Asian languages next year.
And what about the Czech language, which got him started in the first place? Unfortunately, the surgeon-turned-entrepreneur never got to improve his Czech, but he certainly believes he’s found his passion in life.
“Every time I now meet my father, he jokes [and asks] ‘So, any thoughts on going back to surgery?’ My parents became entrepreneurs right after the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) collapsed, so I don’t remember a time when they were working for someone else.
“Perhaps that was a reason why deciding to quit a prestigious job wasn’t a tough decision for me … I have always been passionate about computer technology and IT, so when I got a chance to turn my hobby into successful business, I didn’t hesitate,” he said.
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