Language tech: examining the billion dollar digital industry

Language technology is fast growing, discovers Sidra Ansari, with demand fuelled by the pandemic

Multiple companies are rising to the challenge of providing excellent remote learning opportunities following these trends. The pandemic has brought challenging times for all, but the glimmer of hope is the tremendous resources we can now access from the comfort of our homes.

Stay-at-home parents, carers, people with disabilities or illnesses now have a new world at their fingertips. Edtech companies worldwide are taking part in this global phenomenon, bringing about a positive change for many international students. Positive changes are also occurring as language technology that helps children learn their native language emerges.

So, what’s the latest on language tech?

Novakid is a fantastic example of one such company that has put online English learning at the forefront of teaching, offered via international online platforms. It is based on Artificial Intelligence and gamification and responds to current trends by enhancing its content and providing gamified content both in and out of classes.

Edtech has grown into a record-breaking £197 billion industry – Max Azarov, Novakid

Max Azarov, the CEO and co-founder of Novakid, informs us that they launched a free online English language camp, ‘Easy Breezy’, in more than 40 countries around the world. Over 100,000 children have participated in this camp over the summer holidays.

Gamification and online learning techniques make learning fun. Novakid has an entire team dedicated to game design and development. For example, within the classroom, a teacher might take a student on a VR-enhanced tour through famous landmarks and museums to practice vocabulary, while self-paced content looks like a multiplayer battle between two students answering questions within a specific time to get a better score.

This is why education facilitators like teachers and children are now choosing tech learning devices for the new generation. These programs can cater to shorter attention spans and instant gratification; in other words, they cater for the current trends of the market.

Gamification and online learning techniques make learning fun

Max Azarov says that, in 2021, boosted by the pandemic, edtech has grown into a record-breaking £197 billion industry and reached an unprecedented 5% of the global education market.

Experts and investors agree that this growth has a long-term character; the advantages of digital learning such as flexibility, freedom to learn at your own pace and from anywhere in the world have proven themselves undoubtful. The forecasted volume of the edtech market by 2025 is a staggering $297 billion.

The main trends of the edtech market are: the merge of learning and entertainment with the help of latest technologies (AI, AR/VR, gamification); more focus on the enhancement of student engagement and personalisation of the learning path; as well as increased remote career options for teachers and improved education opportunities, in particular, within the language learning sector.

… boosted by the pandemic, edtech has grown into a record-breaking £197 billion industry – Max Azarov

The language learning segment, in particular, accounts for 21% of the global edtech market and also has significant growth potential. In 2021, it reached £40 billion, where £7 billion belonged to online teaching English as a second language. Of these, around £2 billion is accounted for by educational services for school children of all ages.

Furthermore, online English studies are becoming more and more popular due to the globalisation processes and broad interest of the companies in hiring multilingual specialists, many of whom come from different countries or backgrounds.

Another reason for the online language platforms popularity is that with the implementation of advanced data analytics and AI technologies, the learning processes become faster and more personalised, eradicating the need for a human teacher to help.

Future demand

The phenomenal growth in programs such as these is an indicator of the demand in the future. Suppose one AI program can facilitate language learning, at any level, from any corner of the world. In that case, it is a massive indication of success on so many levels for decades to come.

One such program is Duolingo, which originated in 2009. Since then, its friendly owl mascot and logo has become a familiar symbol of the language learning world as we know it. Hitting the world by storm, its usage around the world is astounding.

Colin Watkins, the UK country manager at Duolingo, told us:

  • Duolingo has over 13 million downloads in the UK alone.
  • It offers 40 language courses, the most popular of which are Spanish, then French, then German.
  • New learners in the UK rose by an incredible 296% after lockdown 1 was announced in the first week. This figure is more significant in the UK compared to any other country in the world. It was three times the percentage usage in Italy and five times the number that users rose in the US and Germany.

 

After the first lockdown, Duolingo had 30 million new learners, over 67% year on year globally and over 132% in the UK.

Interestingly, in 121 countries, English is the number 1 language learnt!

So many people in England opted to learn a new language in the new free time they had on their hands. It’s reassuring to know that so many people opted to invest their time this way as there are so many benefits of learning a foreign language.

The benefits of learning a language

Foreign languages are scientifically proven to enhance a person’s life; career and earnings growth will be significantly greater, according to the latest research by the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. For example, Russia and Austria increase earnings by 11% and in Spain by almost 39%. Additionally, foreign language skills contribute to lower unemployment rates.

Felix Ohswald, CEO and co-founder of GoStudent, an online 1:1 tutoring platform that books 450,000 online lessons per month, spoke to EdTech about a significant rise in language lessons since the pandemic.

Here are some global data insights:

This year, 200,503 language lessons have been taught by GoStudent to-date (1 January – 30 September 2021)

  • The most popular language to learn was English – 58.3% (116,911 lessons to date (January 1st 2021 – September 30th, 2021)
  • Then follows: French 16.6%, (33,380), Latin 10.2% (20,382), Spanish 8.2% (16,417), German 3.2% (6,391), and Italian 2.2% (4,337).
  • Additional languages learnt via GoStudent include Turkish, Greek, Dutch, Russian

 

In 2020, 70,989 language lessons were taught by GoStudent

  • The most popular language to learn was English – 57.4% (40,777 lessons taught by GoStudent from 1 January – 31 December 2020)
  • Interestingly, Latin is consistently one of the most popular languages to study, with 11,759 lessons being taught from 1 January – 31 December 2020).

 

Billion-dollar industry

Language enhancement and education is, indeed, a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, and the internet has boosted this economy by a phenomenal amount. But what else is happening in the name of language and technology in the world?

Rebecca Bright, the co-founder of Therapy Box, tells us of a project between Newcastle University, Therapy Box and the NHS. She is leading a research project using AI to help identify language difficulties for children when they retell a story.

This remarkable initiative will result in the development of brand new education technology specifically targeting these difficulties, which will be available in the new year.

When asked why this project is so important, she said, “Language difficulties for children is a longstanding issue. Approximately two children in every 30 pupils will experience language disorder severe enough to hinder academic progress (Norbury, 2017). In some areas, particularly of social disadvantage, this may reach 40-50% of children.

“If language difficulties are present at school entry, these are highly likely to persist (McKean et al., 2017), and a child could be diagnosed as having Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).  DLD, which is not treated and persists beyond age five, is associated with poor outcomes in education and employment and a higher risk of psychiatric disorder/mental health problems in older childhood and adulthood (Snowling et al., 2006).

“The funders (NIHR) were understanding of the need to invest time and money into researching ways to help understand children and the ways technology to help the clinicians working with these children.”

This kind of intuitive thinking and research is what it will take to change the learning journeys of present and future children when it comes to learning their native languages.

Immersive learning

Nothing will beat immersive opportunities. There are webinars, zoom classes, personal facetime calls, WhatsApp interaction that all play a massive part in the language learning of our times. Greater connection between grandparents and grandchildren through technology, whether overseas or locally, ensures the preservation of the mother tongue.

Start-up education tuition companies like UrduAdventures and LoveLearningOnline focus on connection and personalisation of lessons to enhance the language learning that they offer. They consider the benefits of an online community and make the most of the connections made to keep learning in general and, learning a language specifically, alive.

Whatever language you wish to learn, the resources are out there. And now there is also a lot of time and energy put into learning about how technology can help children with language learning difficulties by organisations such as Therapy Box, who have spanned centuries, if not more.

It truly is an exciting time for language learning and the tech world. No matter what language you’d like to learn or what support you or your children require to learn their native tongue, you will probably have a fantastic resource at the tip of your fingertips right now. Never in the history of the world have we been in a stronger position.


You might also like: Solving the UK’s language learning lag with edtech

Leave a Reply

INTERACTIVE ROUNDTABLE

The Role of Testing within Digital Transformations

Wednesday, January 26, 11AM (GMT)