Behind every amazing new product, there is an amazing founding team. Such products needs teams that work passionately and tirelessly to create a solution to a problem, teams that not only have the heart but also the brains to turn an incredible idea into fascinating new technology.
Chatterize’s founding team has the heart, brains, experience, and synergy to solve the a specific problem – how to help children speak English with confidence. Lane, Bel, Miles, Jessica, Ada, Kane, Soda, and Lily are not newcomers to the English education market. Together, this small founding team has a combined 50 years of experience in education, with almost half in teaching and half in curriculum design. In addition, this team has over 20 years of experience building technology, including five years of experience in machine learning. Also, the Chatterize team has worked with over 100,000 English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, and has created products that have already served over 1 million English learners of all ages in China, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and the US.
In this piece, we will highlight what pushed the founding team to embark on this journey to build Chatterize!
1. To build something new in education
“Existing solutions cannot meet all market needs, so we need continuous innovation to provide better methods for children. In the field of spoken English learning, China has the world’s largest market. VIPKID, 51Talk, and other online one-on-one foreign teacher courses provide a solution, but one that is not suitable for everyone. For most Chinese families, they are still too expensive as a tool for practicing high-frequency spoken English. I believe other interesting and practical products should exist to meet the needs of Chinese children’s daily speaking practice. And they should be at a price that is more acceptable to the public. This is why I have confidence in our products.” says Lane, CEO and co-founder of Chatterize.
“The product we are building is the first of its kind in the field of English language teaching and learning. It’s incredibly exciting to help bring something brand new to life, especially something for kids!” says Jessica, with almost two decades in the industry.
Technology-wise, we are applying new technology in innovative ways. “Natural language processing and machine learning will be key to creating a language learning solution tailored to users of different ages and levels,” says Kane. Using existing voice technology, at Chatterize, we want to apply this powerful technology to spoken English learning.
“As a technologist, I’m also very excited to have a job where we get to push the limits of what AI can do – to help kids. I can imagine a future in which the best AI teacher will be able to know you as a student. It will gently guide your attention to exactly those areas of pronunciation, fluency, and vocabulary practice where you have the most to learn,” says Miles. At Chatterize, we believe that every student is unique, and so should the technology be that they use.
“We are motivated to build something that meets the needs that current innovative solutions are not. With the exponential development of technology, there will be more and more ways to learn English, while decreasing the cost of language learning,” says Ada. She worked for two of the largest online education providers in China.
2. To create something fun and educational
When kids learn pressure-free, they become more confident, and that’s what we hope our technology can do. Jessica explains that “by keeping learning pressure-free, we reduce some of the personal barriers that slow down progress. Ultimately, this leads to stronger oral proficiency and increased confidence. There is such a link between language and identity. For young learners, reducing a bit of the pressure that can exist around learning English can go a long way. It sets the foundation for a positive self-concept as a speaker of English.”
“One of the things that is particularly exciting to me is the way in which we are balancing rigor with engagement. We’ve intentionally built our product so that it doesn’t feel like a formal, high-stakes English language learning experience. But the learning system still helps kids meet meaningful language learning objectives that align with global language standards.”
“As a kid, I found that I could learn very fast if I was interested in the subject,” Kane says. “For example, I was very excited to figure out the meaning of words when I played English games. So if I can help build an application that’s both interesting as a game, and rich in academic content, I believe it could greatly help kids who are learning a new language. I am super excited to have the chance to build out something just like that.”
Being a Kiwi company, play in education comes naturally. “New Zealand is known for an education system with a focus on play. In some contexts, it has been found that playful interaction can be by far the best way to learn and remember language lessons,” adds Miles. He is not only a Kiwi, but also a dad of four in the New Zealand education system.
3. To use our professional skills for the good of English learning
Every person in the Chatterize founding team brings a unique skillset and talent. Together, we come together to build the best education product for children to learn spoken English.
When it comes to a team that is creating a product for spoken English, Chatterize has an unparalleled edge in linguists and curriculum design in China and abroad.
Lane Litz has over 10 years of China English as a Second Language (ESL) product development in for-profit online and offline contexts for young learners ages 3-8. At VIPKid, one of the edtech unicorns in the world, her curriculum served over 600,000 students.
To complement Lane, Jessica Madsen’s academic background is in linguistics, second language acquisition, and TESOL. “I spent 10 years teaching in academic intensive English programs at universities in the United States. During this time, I taught many undergraduate and graduate students from China. This experience helped me thoughtfully design and develop ways in which we can support English development in Chinese learners very early on, with an eye toward impacting long-term success. Over the past seven years, I’ve written curriculum and built programming for PK-12 English language learners for ministries of education and for national Common Core State Standards curriculum-providers in the United States. I’m able to apply my experience in developing academic, standards-based curricula to designing the learning that happens in the Chatterize products,” adds Jessica.
In terms of technology for speaking, Miles brings experience developing an end-to-end automated speech recognition system after he “helped build a customized speech recognition and language understanding framework for the language of the indigenous population in New Zealand – Te Reo Māori.” At Chatterize, this skillset enables us to build things faster.
It is also not our first time growing an English learning community from zero. Bel led the growth of one of the largest communities of online English teachers in the world while at VIPKid. And Ada, who loves a new professional challenge, has managed to operate this community. “I am a person who loves to challenge myself with new things, and I regard Chatterize as a very good opportunity for me to develop a completely new area in the online education industry,” says Ada. She has managed over 100,000 users in two of the largest online English learning platforms in China.
With a background in English translation, both Lily and Kane have achieved a high level of English proficiency. They worked hard to learn English and now want to give back. “I know the pain points that Chinese English learners go through, and how both languages are so different. I want to share my insights with those who are still afraid of learning English,” says Lily.
Chatterize is the professional challenge that the founding team has been preparing for.
4. To empower a new generation
People who want to work at a startup want to make an impact. Working in early education, the impact is to improve the lives of future generations. It is no different at Chatterize.
“I have met many bright Chinese professionals over my years in China, but most did not speak English. The language barrier made it very hard for them to communicate their genius idea with global teams. It remains such a pity that these bright talents do not have access to global opportunities. I hope that the world doesn’t miss out on some Chinese talent in the future just because they don’t speak English,” adds Bel.
It is important that more people have access to a good education. “I’m hopeful that by harnessing the power of technology to support English language development, we can reach a broader range of students throughout China, including those outside of Tier 1 cities who might not have as many options for building conversational fluency in English. I’m interested in helping as many people as possible by increasing access to the opportunities that English can provide in our increasingly globalized world,” Jessica says.
“An immersive environment is really important. I do not want any kids to waste their precious time like I did when learning English,” mentions Lily. “I really want to see all Chinese kids speak fluent English”
Our founding team’s skills and passion serve to fuel each other. The team has the insight to meet a transforming English education industry head-on. They also have the guts to take the risk to be part of that transformation. Together, we are building something that will change the way spoken English is taught, giving children the confidence to speak up and often!
To learn more about us, visit us here.