Kelly Moy; June Chin
High Concept Statement:
Language learning app that teaches Mandarin through exploration and play. What if children could actually have fun learning Mandarin?
Need or Demand:
Parents all around the world, including those without any family or cultural connections to China, are enrolling their children in Mandarin classes. The number of Chinese language learners worldwide reached 100 million in 2014 and has continued to grow. Mandarin is critical to the educational and economic success of our next generation of leaders, and nations around the globe are actively moving to strengthen partnerships, trade, and investment with the Chinese government. In 2015, the U.S. and China partnered in the launch of the 1 Million Strong Campaign, an initiative to increase the number of U.S. K-12 students learning Mandarin fivefold by 2020. Expensive Mandarin programs catering to non-Chinese have popped up in wealthy neighborhoods across the country, and Mandarin has become the most popular dual-language education program in the U.S. after Spanish.
But learning Mandarin is far more challenging than a Romance language, which is what most U.S. language instruction — whether it be in schools or with companies like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone — was built for. With its non-phonetic writing and 5 tones, Chinese is a difficult language for an American. Moreover, instruction by native Mandarin speakers, who usually did not attend primary school in the U.S., is often lacking, emphasizing rote memorization instead of more interactive forms of instruction. For anyone interested in learning the language it is an uphill battle to fluency.
Product / Service / Solution:
Rather than relying on rote memorization and drilling, Little Laohu – created by i3 — will take children and their parents on an innovative, integrated and interactive journey. Little Laohu will be the first of a series of i3 products to come, which will teach families Chinese through engaging and interactive methods based on progressive pedagogical techniques. The app will take the classic game of ‘hide and seek’, and adapt it to an online/ mobile distribution channel. As the child plays the game, seeking to find out where Laohu is hiding in the house, the student will be learning sentences in Mandarin and how colors, position and direction words can be used together to give clues to where Laohu is located (“in the dining room”, “upstairs under the bed”, “behind something green”).
First Mandarin-learning app that is not only fun but also effective at teaching students more than just single word identification. Little Laohu Hide and Seek will introduce Mandarin to people with zero knowledge of the language and pave the way for more advanced versions of the app as users progress in their comprehension and conversational ability. As the app gains recognition and the i3 brand grows in popularity, the potential going forward includes a whole suite of language learning products, international markets, and the overall large-scale adoption of Mandarin as a second language. We are starting with Mandarin but we are building a curriculum of online content and applying a style of teaching that can be applied to any language. We believe that later iterations of the product may even be adopted by the emerging upper middle class in China that enjoys participating in American games and culture, and who have also begun to understand and appreciate the importance of interactive, creative learning experiences.
Current alternatives to our product include the following offline and online options.
(1) attend traditional Chinese school and endure boring, passive learning methods – students tend to hate it and therefore not stick with it; or
(2) participate in expensive enrichment programs that teach songs and music, not real conversational skills.
(1) Apps that at best, build only word identification, but not how to string words together
Unlike other products and services geared at teaching children Mandarin, our app will not force parents to choose between something that is either fun or effective for their child’s education. Children will love learning Mandarin with Little Laohu, and they will develop real conversational skills rather than just accumulating isolated vocabulary words.
Little Laohu will earn revenue via a subscription-based model, with no advertising, pop-up ads, or links to other sites. Children can learn and explore with their parents, or on their own (depending on age and ability), in a safe and secure online educational environment. Given the growing number of schools and enrichment programs that offer Mandarin classes, we believe that in addition to selling our app to parents we may also be able to market and sell the product to schools and/ or educators, teachers, and administrators within the schools.