Talk Land Investment from OpenAI to Expand Language Learning Platform • TechCrunch

AI-powered English language learning platform Speak today announced that it has raised $27 million in Series B funding led by OpenAI Startup Fund, along with Lachie Groom, Josh Buckley, Justin Mateen, Gokul Rajaram and Founders Fund. . Notably, Speak is the third startup in which an AI lab closely tied to Microsoft has publicly invested through the fund, Speak – the others being Expression and Meme.

In addition to capital, OpenAI Startup Fund participants also get early access to new OpenAI systems and Azure resources from Microsoft.

“We’re excited to partner with the outstanding team at Speak, who are well-positioned to deliver this powerful application of generative AI — making language learning effective and accessible,” said Brad Lightcap, OpenAI’s COO and manager of the OpenAI Startup Fund, in a statement. “Speak has the potential to transform not only language learning, but education at large, and this aligns with the OpenAI Startup Fund’s goal of accelerating the impact of powerful AI to improve people’s lives.”

Speak was founded in 2016 by Connor Zwick and Andrew Hsu, both of whom have had a keen interest in AI since childhood. Hsu has a background in health, having completed a PhD in neuroscience at Stanford before joining Zwick to launch Spak. Zwick comes from the edtech industry – he sold his first flashcard app startup, FlashCards+, to Chegg in 2013 after dropping out of Harvard.

Zwick and Hsu first met through the TL Fellowship, where Hsu was in the first group and Zwick in the second. (Note that TL co-founded Founders Fund pledged money to Speak’s Series B.) Before launching Speak, the two spent a year studying machine learning and developing speech recognition algorithms using YouTube videos as training data.

“Most language learning software can help with the first part of learning basic vocabulary and grammar, but gaining language fluency requires speaking out loud in an interactive environment,” Zwick told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Until now, the only way people have access to this kind of procedure is through human tutors, which can be expensive, difficult and scary.”

Image Credits: Speak up

Speaking Solutions is a collection of interactive speaking exercises that allow students to practice speaking in English. Through the platform, users can have open-ended conversations on a variety of topics with an AI tutor while receiving feedback on their pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

Its origin may look like Duolingo and other AI-powered language learning apps like Yanadoo, ELSA and Loora. But Zwick insists that Speak’s AI tech is superior to most.

“Under the hood, we integrate the latest internal models from OpenAI to deliver the best performance in speech recognition, speech generation and conversation generation,” he said. “We were able to give feedback on things like pronunciation and more natural phrasing and syntax. [our] Models … We are amassing a large dataset of second language marked speech examples, allowing us to provide modern speech models uniquely suited to foreign language speakers.

Whether it is true or not is up for debate. Speak has not provided any concrete evidence that its platform is superior to competitors. But what do you say? will do To have is early energy. With more than 15 million lessons launched every year, 100,000 active subscribers, and “double-digit million” annual recurring revenue, it is one of the top education apps in Korea on the iOS app store.

Speak offers auto-renewable monthly and annual subscriptions, both offering courses, electives and review content in addition to AI-guided practice sessions.

For Speak’s next move, the company plans to expand into new languages ​​and markets, including Japan, and invest in features that use text generation models like OpenAI’s GPT-3.

“The pandemic has accelerated remote work and the spread of global distributed teams, which means there is a greater need for people around the world to speak the same language. There is also a desire to find new solutions that focus on remote or programmatic experiences as opposed to in-person instruction. Added Zwick. “Spike has been a multi-year runway that allows it to take control of its own destiny over the next few years regardless of the fundraising environment.”

Speak currently has 40 employees in offices in San Francisco (headquarters), Seoul and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Zwick said the new funding, which will bring Spec’s total revenue to “more than $47 million,” will be used to expand the company’s engineering, machine learning, product, marketing, content and operations divisions.

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