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Request for some critique on our startup
13 points by ess on Mar 24, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments
Hi all, we'd like some criticism on our startup. It's Ingolingo, and the url is http://www.ingolingo.com. Be harsh, I don't mind!

Don't require users to sign up. Let the users start the process and then decide whether or not to sign up. I don't like having to type in all that information just to try out a service.

You're right. I'll do this as soon as I figure out how to!


Furthermore, don't require an email address as part of the signup. Make it optional (see reddit).

Couldn't agree more.

Great idea, lousy execution. Besides the problems others have already mentioned, it's slooooooooowwwwwwww. Also, two very serious fundamental problems:

1. Many of your translations are wrong. I took the Spanish lesson. All of the Spanish verbs are infinitives, but the English translations are all gerunds.

2. Learning a language one word at a time doesn't really teach you the language. You need to learn more than just vocabulary, you need grammar, conjugations, declinations, etc.

But I hasten to add, the idea of a language tutor that keeps track of what you know and only drills you on the stuff you don't is a really good one and very promising if you can actually make it work. But it's not an easy problem. (For an aspiring entrepreneur this is a good thing. If it were easy someone else would have done it already.)

This is the first stress test, and looks like Django on webfaction is not holding up too well! Or maybe just my poor coding :)

I noticed that it took some time to process each answer. If I had made this, I would probably have loaded the answers and image URLs for each lesson only once, in a single JS file (preferably a static file). Then you would not have to connect to the web server for each answer.

And try to keep the user's progress in a cookie if it's possible. Make the login optional if a user wants to save their progress permanently.

Yes, I probably should preload all the answers for the questions. However, we store the mistakes the user does, so the server has to be contacted each time anyways. And sending back to the server will be useful for later when we mix in sentences and all that.

OK, ruthless criticism ahead!

It lists 6 languages, plus "other languages", but won't let me even see what the others are without registering. ("Hi, Joe's Repair Shop." "Hi, can you replace the clutch on a '96 Volvo?" "Let me get your name and number before I answer that." "...")

The flowers that overwrite the words on the top-right of the page are kind of annoying.

The "help", "about", "staff", etc., links are all 404, which doesn't exactly look promising.

It claims "3000 words in 3 months", which is over 30 words a day. This seems pretty incredible. I've studied several languages, and I don't think I've ever learned 30 new words in a day (much less consistently for months!). According to <http://www.balancedreading.com/vocabulary.html>, "The average student learns about 3,000 words per year in the early school years -- that's 8 words per day". So I'm skeptical a webpage will help me learn something 4x faster than when it was basically my full-time job.

It says "Read more in our “About the system” page", but I see no such page or link. Do I have to register for that? (What's the point, then? If I have to register anyway, I'll just try it.) Do you have any people who have learned 3000 words in 3 months with your method?

It's not clear if this is written, or verbal. Will I be hearing native speakers? Or is the goal of this simply to read a newspaper?

Thanks for the criticism. Well, just try it out. 30 words is just two lessons a day - I think people underestimate the power of repetition in learning. 30 words is easy if you do two lessons a day. Yes, the text stuff is not completely done yet, it still references parts that are not online yet. That's why we have the 404s still.

No problem. I did later try it out, and it looks like those 6 languages are all that's offered; unfortunately, the language I'm learning right now (and the previous one) are not among them. Maybe I'll try back later.

Right now I've got a stack of flash cards I carry with me everywhere. Whenever I'm not being productive at work, I pull them out and flip through them for a few minutes, sometimes many times a day. If I can learn (and remember) 5 new words, it's a good day. So I'm still skeptical if the trick is simply "repetition".

Well, try this. Click on the chinese course and spend 1 hour on it. You should be able to do 2 lessons in that time. Write down all 30 words you learnt on a piece of paper. Sleep on it, wake up the next morning and read the paper and see how many you still remember. It won't be 30, but I think it will be more than 5. Don't forget to click the button to view the pictures for the words.

The site looks very wordy. Even if you're in the business of teaching language, you're users still don't want to see that many words on one page. Try breaking up all your benefits into separate pages like a tour.

I really like the idea and the interface once you get logged in, although I don't really like the background color, except for the purple on the bottom of the front page

Well, the idea now is just to describe it. Later we'll make it more imagey, with a video tour and all that on the front page

Front page is too busy. While base color scheme is nice and consistent, whoever decided on help/blog/login colors must be shot. Do the same to whoever spelled "this is the fastest .." all in lower case and highlighted with lime background.

Selecting German and clicking on Start brings me to the page featuring a photo of dude wearing what looks like an Afghani hat. Also bunch of text is in bold - this is really annoying, you should really ease off on neurolinguistics :)

The overall impression of first two pages is "amateurish", which means that I am leaving even before I had a chance to learn what the site is about. Work on your design, make sure it's as visually polished as it gets. Then poll people again, this time - regarding the functionality of the service.

You're right, I do need to do design work. But it's tough to be good at programming and at design too!

I was in the same boat and hired somebody. It wasn't cheap for me, but now that the dollar has fallen it might be cheap for you to hire someone in the U.S.


I remember your site. It looked very plain, now it looks pretty good! Nice choices there!

I personally think it's the wrong approach to learning a language. Plain memorization is not how languages are learned. There is a lot of context and structure that must be learned that isn't apparent in the lessons (just listen to someone with a foreign native language speak English. They will construct sentences with English words but will do so incorrectly. They are putting them together how they would if they were using their own language's words).

I certainly think this is a problem ripe for hacking, but I think the application won't stick. What I've seen so far is a decent supplement to a traditional course for those who want to broaden their vocabulary repository, but not (IMO) a complete way to learn a language.

Another note: What about for people who already know a portion of a certain language? Maybe you could implement a test that checks where they are and provides lessons accordingly.

A few minor things:

- after I signed up, it asked me to login. There's no need for this.

- I went through German lesson 1, but at the bottom it says "You are doing Lesson 0".

- progress went over 100% towards the end - a bit surprising - restarting a lesson probably shouldn't reset the fact that it was completed

- I would like to see a list of the lessons I completed, maybe some stats to see how I did (maybe there is one and I missed it?) to track how I'm doing over time

- the links at the bottom of your homepage are broken

- being asked to pay for more than 3 lessons felt a bit like bait-and-switch, since the homepage promises 3000 words in big letters, but has no mention of cost (true, if it had, I might not have registered in the first place)

Al in all, a good idea, and good implementation. Clean, clear, and simple to use. I'm actually considering signing up.

Are the images coming from flickr? Because I am getting pictures of a baseball and the word is "playing". Since the images are crowdsourced then maybe there should be an array of them to convey the idea.

In my opinion there are too many words off the bat to remember if you are new to the language. How about doing a delay of one where you define a Spanish word and its image(s) and then the question after next is the image to assign the Spanish or English word to it, then a few questions later its the Spanish word to assign the English word to it? That way you get a 1-2 punch to help memorize it.

Hit the same button again to get more pictures.

In terms of graphic design, you want to limit the number of fonts and font sizes in any given composition. You have a lot of different sizes and some odd bolding. "The average newspaper..." doesn't need to be bold. In fact, it hurts the readability.

Your design is good, I like the colors and buttons.

The second page is a nightmare, too much content not enough call out/ organization, just calls to action.

Registration is painless, contrary to the feedback here.

The app is easy to use, but it's missing something. What I'm not sure...?

Be more front and center with what it is you're doing. (Which isn't about "improving your vocabulary") It's about learning another language!

Once I farted around a bit, I liked your site. I should get that interest within 1-2 seconds though.

I agree, I thought it was more for vocabulary building and it took me a couple of moments to realize it was about foreign language.

To be fair, my eyes were first drawn to the "I want to learn *" dropdown, so the rest made sense in that context.

Why do I need to sign up to use it? What reason is there that I need to create an account, give email address, choose a password?

Either allow everyone to just use it, or at least show them a demo, or let them play with something.

On the Chinese section (using IE), the pictures won't display. Also, the characters don't display. Being able to read pin-yin is useless in a Chinese speaking country. Maybe pin-yin and characters should show.

The characters only display if you have eastern languages enabled on your PC. This is microsofts fault, not mine!

If I want to learn english, a page full of it with big fancy words is not going to help. Need to simplify the verbage throughout the site.

Did you get the post-prediction idea from a scientific journal article, and if so could you provide a link?

with a great program like Rosetta Stone, why would someone use ingolingo?

Because it's free sure -- but many people have tried and failed many language learning systems, so what value does ingolingo provide that an established player like Rosetta Stone doesn't?

It's different. Ingolingo concentrates on words, Rosetta teaches you how to use sentences in situations. They complement each other.

OK -- as a wanna-be linguist this is definitely a valuable tool.

What library of languages did you use to create your definitions?

The definitions are human translated for now. We're still working on improving the translations to match the words - as in running = run and so on.

I wanted to try Italian, because I speak it fluently, but it's not on the list.

Well, we don't have any italian guy to help us!

the entire "Learn together with other people" section reads very cheesy, imho. i don't think you should focus on whether or not this service gives people any kind of bragging rights.

the service itself seems valuable, though.

be better than mangolanguages.com

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