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Language Your Way

Melbourne startup Language Your Way has developed a learning platform for English training schools in China

It’s probably fair to say that most of us often felt nervous and under-prepared for exams back in our school days, especially in that moment when a classmate would inevitably ask, ‘did you study this?’ about a topic you had never heard of before.

Teaching in Australia is mainly based on rote learning or repetitive learning, teaching students to memorise in the hopes they understand and ultimately retain information. Subjects like science and history come with 500 page textbooks and when it comes to exam time teachers expect students to know it all and for them to understand what’s important and what’s not.

This style of teaching, while repeated in other schools around the world, may not be the best way to learn. Indian-born entrepreneur Pawan Lalwani believes learning is at it’s best when students are incentivised either through rewards or games.

Lalwani went through the education systems in India and Nigeria and saw that their learning styles were very different to that of Australia: students were taught through immersive learning strategies with hands on learning and teachers giving students insights into what’s expected of them in their exam, right down to the keywords.

“When you study in Australia, teachers don’t spoon feed you, whereas I felt in other education systems you were spoon fed. Teachers would give you an indicator of what are the important aspects to study in a particular topic,” explained Lalwani.

From these experiences, Lalwani decided to focus his attention on creating a new online platform around immersive and gamified learning. Last year he created a new edutech platform called Language Your Way to teach Chinese students in China English language skills.

Language Your Way provides existing English training schools with an online platform that encourages game-based learning. This learning style is supplemented with online tutoring to offer students a more fun and immersive way of learning.

The edutech startup uses flashcards and games like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, giving students virtual points as rewards for every correct answer. These points can be converted into additional game play time on the platform. Language Your Way integrates learning with online games like basketball or football, which are unlocked through obtaining points.

“For example, if you have five questions and each of those questions are valued at 10 points and you get all five correct, you get 50 seconds of game time,” Lalwani explained. “It’s micro-games at this point and from the next stage we will create a seamless level of integration.”

The platform is currently integrated in multiple training schools in Sichuan, China and has recently generated interest from some key players in both local and international markets. Today the startup has announced a raise of close to $100,000 in pre-seed funding from local Melbourne angel investors.

The funds will be used to sign more schools in the Chinese market and commence work on version 2 of the platform, which will feature enhanced gamification and adaptive learning capabilities.

For the next 12 months Language Your Way will also continue looking for opportunities in the Chinese ESL market.

“Our regular visits to meet local Chinese partners over the last couple of years have generated some high level contacts and strong relationships on the ground which is vital when building a business in China,” said Lalwani.

Language Your Way was also recently a finalist at Chengdu Innovate, and a recipient of an Australia-China Council grant. The startup has also accompanied the delegation that visited Chengdu to build bilateral trade and innovation exchange between Australia and China.

First introduced in Panzhihua, Sichuan for trials, Language Your Way has secured interest with English training schools in Chengdu, Xichang, Mainyang, and other Sichuan cities. With Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews recently announcing that Victoria and Sichuan will soon be sister states, a new world of opportunity will open up for startups like Language Your Way.

According to Lalwani, “The sister states announcement is really exciting for Language Your Way especially as Sichuan is our target province. This move will allow us to strengthen the relationship with our customers and further build bilateral trade and innovation in Sichuan.”

However it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Lalwani: he left his job in finance to create a edutech platform to teach students a language he had no knowledge of. Two years ago he joined the Founders Institute in Melbourne to tweak his idea and build an MVP. Unfortunately the team didn’t make it to the end, but Lalwani said he learned some very valuable lessons.

“We reached one point in the program where we pitched and we were asked from a validation standpoint three major questions. One: are you Chinese? The answer is no. Second: do you speak Mandarin? The answer is no. Third: have you been to China? The answer was no. So politely, they asked me to get out.”

Despite this experience, Lalwani was determined to build his startup idea into a viable product.

Having raised its pre-seed round and validating the product through numerous trips to China, Language Your Way is now in the process of seeking further investment. Lalwani is looking for an additional $400,000 in funding and is speaking with one of the top e-learning distributor platforms in China, with over 2.4 million paid customers.

Image: Pawan Lalwani. Source: Supplied.