Have you tried to learn something but struggled to apply it in the real world? If you’ve ever tried to learn a language through a mobile, chatbot app, this may sound familiar.
When it comes to language acquisition, the way students learn matters. To become multi-lingual, students need a mix of written, oral and auditory exercises. Apps are appealing because they’re convenient, flexible and cheap, but they typically focus on memorization. This makes it hard for users to take what they’ve learned and apply it to real-life conversations.
Enter Charles Li: A former EF Education First staff member, Charles had left to pursue his own startup. He was interviewing to rejoin EF when he pitched the idea of a free app that used conversational, chat-based learning; if people wanted to learn English for practical use, it only made sense to teach them in a similar way. Charles created his new job and EF Hello was born.
EF Hello uses a conversation-based approach to help people learn English for the real world.
EF Hello adapts EF’s rigorous English curriculum to a chatbot-based mobile app that helps users learn through written and spoken conversation. The lessons behind EF Hello have been benchmarked by researchers at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. EF Hello is also guided by an Academic Advisory Council that leverages linguistics experts to provide guidance based on the science of language learning.
EF Hello uses an intuitive chatbot to tackle grammar, expression, pronunciation, idioms and more. The system is driven by artificial intelligence that analyzes learners’ performance and makes recommendations to address problem areas. For example, the platform identifies vocabulary it thinks the user may forget and will suggest extra drills to maximize recall. Or, it may analyze a user’s spoken recordings using EF’s massive speech dataset and suggest practice to master a certain letter’s pronunciation.
“When it comes to language learning, we believe in a hierarchy of information and a structured learning pedagogy, something EF’s years of expertise have supported,” said Li, now Head of Product for EF Hello. “We think technology should act as the connective tissue between the big components of how language is learned, so we layered state-of-the-art tech on top of EF’s English learning platform. We’re using artificial intelligence not only in the user experience – that is, how you physically interact with the app – but also in determining the very content it serves you, how it judges your progress and where you could improve.”
And EF Hello users aren’t limited to the AI-based chatbot: Students can practice real conversations with other users, and premium users can even send questions to live EF teachers to get help almost immediately. EF teachers can also give personalized, data-driven recommendations to help students better identify areas for improvement, and EF Hello is one of the only free or low-cost language learning apps to provide this type of access and educational support.
The work is paying off: In the year since its launch, EF Hello has gained recognition and accolades, including Google Taiwan App of the Year, the Red Dot Design Award and the MUX Design Award for Best Breakthrough Experience. Apple thinks so highly of EF Hello, the app was not only named an Editor’s Favorite, a Best New App and a Best Education App in the App Store, but it’s been preloaded onto demo iPhones in physical Apple stores around the world.
“It’s an unusual marriage of linguistics and technology in one product, but I don’t know of anywhere else where I could learn proper content – for free, mind you – using only my phone,” said Cecilia Roos, Project Coordinator for EF Hello. “EF Hello makes a difference, whether someone is learning for recreational use or because they’ve moved to an English-speaking country and need to achieve proficiency so they can support themselves. EF Hello users have shown me just how impactful meaningful language learning can be.”