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Interview with busuu Languages Education Director, Oula Akiki

I recently had an interview with a Oula Akiki, Education Director at a busuu, a company that offers an array of digital language learning curricula and applications.




Here are some questions and her answers.

How did you get started in the language learning field?

I majored in modern languages, linguistics and translation at university. I’ve always been interested in languages. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t learning a second or third language. I went to the same business school as Bernhard amp; Adrian the busuu co-founders. I met them at an event and we immediately shared a common interest in languages. They were talking about their ideas for busuu, and I was immediately interested in the product. From my interest in linguistics, I wanted to move away from the traditional way of doing things and become more involved in product innovation. I joined busuu in January 2011 after graduating from business school in Madrid. I moved with the company from Madrid to London a year ago.

How did busuu start?

Bernhard Niesner and Adrian Hilti founded busuu in Madrid, where it was an official UNESCO International Year of Languages project in 2008. The company is named after the endangered Busuu language of Cameroon. According to an ethnological study from the 1980’s, Busuu is spoken by only 8 people. We went to Cameroon to track down those 8 people and made a video about our experience here!

Language learning technology is a saturated field. What makes busuu unique? How does it compare to other offerings in the market like Rosetta Stone, Livemocha, Duolingo…?

We create a good learning experience where we are trying to offer everything you need to complete your learning. We combine the content with a cross-platform solution so you can learn on mobile or on the web – the program is flexible to your needs. We complement that with our unique community -  it’s a friendly, helpful community where you can speak to native lanugage speakers. So you can learn anywhere on any device. You can practice with the commmunity who bring the conversational element that is so important when learning language. Language is about interacting with others and learning about other cultures is a part of that.  Learning the language is one thing, putting it into practice is another. We offer one solution that is practical, adaptable and fun to use. busuu has a gamified environment that makes the learning fun and engaging. It has nothing to do with your language book or your language class. The people in the community are more relevant as they live in the country whose language your learning. It’s an opportunity to learn and engage in a way you’d never learn with a book.

What’s the busuu approach?

We teach you relevant vocabulary, that you need in every day life. We break down the course content into smaller contexts that are easier to assimilate when you’re learning language. Then, put it into sentences. You’re going to find that conversation to be useful in every day life. We take useful vocabulary and useful conversation modes that are bundled into topics based on your needs and the situations when you need to use them.

Learning a language is a rewarding yet arduous process. What is your advice for those learning a language now or considering it?

It can be challenging, like anything new that you learn, but having regular conversations with people makes it more fun and less stressful. We’ve built a useful process to learn and remember language as well as to practice it. You have the cultural exchange happening as well. Even if you are in the early stages, you can still practice by talking to native speakers. People find out that they know more than they think they do, and that then inspires their confidence to continue learning. Keep practicing your language exercises. Like any exercise, a bit of training here and a bit of training there is still very helpful.

Is there anything you can reveal to us about the future of busuu?

Stay tuned, we have some exciting things coming in early 2014.

What about language learning and acquisition in general?

People are learning on different devices, and we find language learning is suited to a multi-device lifestyle.  We base our content creation on user behaviour and what we know is more important to them. People learning want stats, dashboard. It’s more personalized and need-driven. In general, it’s more intelligent and data-driven. What we learn from learning habits and how people interact wtih content, so we can refine and make it better.

Rosetta Stone, for instance, backs the Endangered Languages project, is busuu involved in any causes our readers should know about and get involved with?

Given we are named after an endangered language, we do support this issue as a company. We run an annual program called Learn2Help, to help educate children in Cameroon with the ultimate goal of building a classroom to support a local school. In December, the 35 million strong busuu community will help others to learn through its own language learning. As busuu users achieve completed lessons, the company will contribute to the Cameroon Association for the Protection and Education of the Child (CAPEC) to buy school supplies and furniture. With enough language learning activity on the website and on busuu’s mobile apps, busuu will reach our ultimate goal  of building an entire classroom for children in Cameroon.

Cite this article:
Silva E (2013-12-13 15:51:43). Interview with busuu Languages Education Director, Oula Akiki. Enzo Silva blog. Retrieved: Apr 24, 2014, from http://enzosilva.com/blog/2013/12/13/interview-with-busuu-languages-education-director-oula-akiki/

Social Networks Around the World – Trends in Social Media

This map published on TechCrunch recently just makes me wonder if we are doing the right thing when using social networking to reach our customers, learners, partners.

It seems to me most of our “campaigns” in social media tend to focus on Twitter, Facebook and social networks that are popular here in the U.S. With an increasingly global audience, should we start to reconsider where and how we offer our content out there?

Map of Social Networks in the Worlds

Map of Social Networks in the Worlds

GlobalWebIndex.net’s Survey:

View more presentations from Tom Smith.

A visual representation of how Internet users actually use the social media can be found here.

Watch Le Web Live December 10 2009

About Le Web:

“The real time web is taking the world by storm! Twitter has grown exponentially in one year with an extremely simple service that does only one thing: keep you in touch with what your friends are doing, in real time. Facebook entirely redesigned its most important assets, its home page and opened its feed to third parties. Given the growth of the Twitter and Facebook ecosystems with thousands of applications and new uses, startups as well all major players are adapting their services to compete in this environment. There was the static web, the social web and now here comes a new web: the real-time web.”

Broadcasting Live with Ustream.TV

Social Media Revolution – Evolution

Let’s think about the impact these emerging technologies can have on Education, on learning, on other fields (not just marketing)… not sure “revolution” is the term, but definitely an “evolution” of the way people communicate. Technology is more than ever shortening distances, including the distance between learners and content, subject matter experts AND, maybe more importantly: other learners, creating best practice communities in a matter of clicks…

Learner vs Participant

The term learner bears a sense of a passive individual that is merely a receptacle for Instruction and information. In light of this assumption, one would presume that another word or another view of the “learning as a process” to take place. Most everyone has some to contribute to this process and, aside from situations in which individuals need instruction for imediate information, for more long-term knowledge retention learning needs to be views not only as a process but as a participatory process. Even if an individual will go through “instruction” alone, ideally, the learning process starts then and continues as this individual partakes in conversations, formal and informal situations in which that knowledge is applied, learners new nuances to that information from others, funds new applications for that information as s/he collaborated with other “learners” (please read all you can about Constructivist epistemology and some applied theories such as social learning).
Therfore, if learning is an ongoing participatory process, maybe those in the field of Education should see the learners as “participants” in learning constantly together. Not that this is a call for a different word, bit for the view that consructivists have had for a while and that now social media makes it easier to achieve by creating participatory environments.

Metcalf’s Law and Semantic Web?

Interesting post trying to adapt Metcalf’s Law to the Semantic Web context. They are looking for feedback.


Social Media Assessment and Learner Progress Tracking

Something that has bothered me is that, while the adoption of social media (Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, social networks and so on) depends on a paradigm shift and require a new way of thinking “learning”, how can we assess learner progress in a modality of tools in which user-generated content can be so scattered throughout different tools? I know you might be thinking as you read: “But these are new tools, they require a new way for evaluation, progress tracking and certification…” just like I said above. But the problem is that the adoption of the tools seems to happen at a faster speed than the attitude change toward learning assessment and certification!

Instructional Designers, instructors, learners are using social media more and more to enrich learning experiences and more research is needed concerning assessment and progress tracking in this context.

Open Source Social Network Engines

No-one is impressed with the words “social networking” anymore. We used to have to explain to new comers what “Myspace” or Facebook implied. Now everyone can have their own social networks online with relatively no cost using open source solutions that I think deserve some attention:

1- www.elgg.org -> free and open source initiative. Very customizable, still need som work done, doesn’t have many of the standard features you would expect from a social network. Large developer base might bring important improvements over time.

2- www.drupal.org -> not exactly built for social networking per se, but has an enormous plugin database that can bring extra functionality, including the possibility of creating Digg-like video/news/websites/etc. aggregator that requires votes by community members so content is published.

3- http://update.peopleaggregator.org -> Myspace-like social network engine. Integration with OpenID. Still pretty “rough”, but has potential. Demo: http://www.peepagg.net/

4- www.boonex.com/products/dolphin -> more focused on “dating” but allows for customization. Many plugins have to be “purchased”, though.

5- http://www.barnraiser.org -> I can’t tell you much about it (not many communities powered by “aroundme” right now). It is open source.

6- http://civicspacelabs.org -> Drupal as a social network. Has free options for non profit organizations.

7- http://appleseed.sourceforge.net -> not much information on the website and no demos available. Open source.

8- http://lovdbyless.com -> new open source social network engine that has a lot of potential. Ruby on Rails. Some nice features and integration with Youtube and Flikr out of the box.

9- isocial – http://sourceforge.net/projects/socialnetwork -> not much info.

10- clonesumating -> should be a clone of “consumating.com”, which has been down for quite a while now. Quite a few features.

11- ozcode – http://sourceforge.net/projects/ozcode -> an ozmozr.com clone. Lets you build networks around feeds and friends.

12- http://insoshi.org -> brand new, lots of work to be done. Good for simple networks.

Also, http://www.mahara.org -> not exactly “social networking”. Good ePortfolio with some social networking around it. I don’t understand why people pay for some ePortfolio providers out there (you know what I am talking about). :) Just an example of how open source and free (as in no money or credit card necessary) can offer great features that are comparable to commercial products. :)

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