Learning a language isn’t easy. I took four years of French in high school and the only things I remember are either juvenile or related to my vested interest in avoiding the consumption of snails. (Sorry, escargots.) And that’s after being forced to sit in that classroom day after day — I can’t imagine how much I wouldn’t have learned if I were studying the language on my own time.
Voxy, a startup that teaches English by presenting dynamic content relevant to a user’s interests, is today announcing that it has raised an $8.5 million Series B funding round from Rethink Education and Pearson to try and change that. The round, which brings Voxy’s total funding to $16 million, will be used to expand the company’s direct-to-consumer sales team and improve its product.
But today’s announcement isn’t really about the funding round. The cash is secondary to a strategic partnership with Pearson meant to help Voxy expand its product to more countries and languages.
“Pearson has spent decades and decades building not only the infrastructure but also the relationships in the markets where our technology can be core to English-language learners,” says Voxy CEO Paul Gollash. The company previously tried to sell directly to universities and businesses — a difficult proposition for any ed-tech startup compounded by Voxy’s small sales team and its need to work in multiple languages and countries at once.
Gollash hopes to use Voxy’s partnership with Pearson to bring the service to high-growth markets like Poland, Turkey, and Russia. The company then hopes to expand its presence in the US, where Gollash says some 25 million people require some form of English instruction. Voxy eventually plans to target essentially any market in which there are people who want to learn English without having to resort to a textbook or rote memorization.
“The real market in the world today is having English as the universal language of communication, education, and business, if you think about it,” says Rethink Education managing partner and Voxy chairman Rick Segal. “While it’s not the largest native language, it is the language of our global communications.”
And, given the technology industry’s current efforts to attract highly-skilled workers from abroad, the ability to speak English might become increasingly important as time goes on. Getting hired by Google or Facebook could be great — being able to move to a new country without feeling lost because most everyone is speaking a language you don’t understand might be even better.
That’s also why Voxy is okay with relying on a service used primarily on mobile devices to teach English in emerging markets.
“Somebody trying to learn English is doing so for their own personal and professional needs in order to communicate across borders — they’ve already reached out beyond the limits of the village mentality,” Segal says. “They’re trying to become part of the digital community. It’s a little bit self-evident that those users will also have digital access.”
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily]