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Founder with an accent? Free offer from SayAfter.me (sayafter.me)
151 points by znt 1124 days ago | hide | past | web | 101 comments | favorite

Coming this fall to the Mountain View Community Playhouse, a classic musical updated for today's Valley:

My Fair Founder

Can master symbolicist Henry Higgins (played by Paul Graham in his first musical-theater role) win a bet by coaching ambitious but crude-speaking Eliza Doolittle to be the toast of Sand Hill Road in three short months?

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll sing along to tunes such as:

The Gain in this Domain stays Mainly with the Brain


I've Grown Accustomed to Her Viral Growth Pace

My girlfriend works in Broadway. I wish she knew enough about the recent foreign accents thing to find this as funny as I do. Well done.

Thanks! To help those who know the recent kerfluffle moreso than My Fair Lady:

"Why Can't The English Learn To Speak"


LOL, he says "your language is the language of Shakespeare, Milton and the Bible"... I wonder if it was meant to be funny , out of ignorance or arrogance...

As I've posted before, there is this sort of inherent imperialist bias people have with someone who does not have a good command or English. A hundred years ago, it may have been an indication of class (and to some degree still is today). But to look down and be utterly dismissive of someone because they have an accent is just plain dumb.

In PGs defense, just because someone is dumb doesn't mean people will cease to engage in such behavior. And given that the entrepreneur is the one on the selling side, it may behoove him/her to brush up on whichever accent is appealing to those to be sold.

I personally have several accents in English and I subconsciously switch from one to another depending on whom I'm speaking with. If necessary I change languages all together. Reality is, I am better able to connect with the other person this way.

The original play was by George Bernard Shaw. Any commentary on the absurdities and arrogance of the British class system is deliberate. Though by "the Bible" he's equally referring to the King James translation, which was regarded as a major literary influence, on par with Shakespeare.

> As I've posted before, there is this sort of inherent imperialist bias people have with someone who does not have a good command or English.

I think that's true in any language. I see this in myself sometimes, and I have to consciously correct myself that one's accent or grasp of a foreign language has nothing to do with intelligence or any other quality other than time spent practicing.

> I personally have several accents in English and I subconsciously switch from one to another depending on whom I'm speaking with.

Not being a native English speaker, I do this too. My American accent is just as fake as my English one, but I think people are used to you speaking a certain accent, and switching seems fake to them. I'll have to start talking to the next Englishman I meet with an English accent, and see how they react when I switch to an American one, which is what I usually use.

I watched your intro video and have 2 points to comment on

* "Can I have a spaghetti" isn't the right way to say it. Drop the "a"

* Have a native english speaker read it out, not a computer generated voice (if that isn't already the plan)

Yeah the video does not have correct grammar in some sentences.

Actual human speech is on the roadmap but not until I fix the main issue, which is finding a repeatable marketing/sales cycle. Open to suggestions though!

Good job for the work. But seriously, I don't think you even have a MVP yet. If the purpose of this site is to correct people's accent, having a generate voice(huge electronic accent) is not acceptable at all.

You are right, robotic accents is not helpful (but hilarious though).

This app is mainly aimed at fixing the incorrect pronunciation of words, rather than the accent. If I ever get to add real human voices, then it will be even better.

You might be able to use mechanical turk to get some cheap proper readings of text ;)

Really? So why should I pay 30 bucks a month if I can go to TextEdit on my Mac, paste some text (maybe even a story) and have it read out to me for free, any text I want, forever?

TextEdit does not listen to you speak and grade your pronunciation.

I couldn't find your pricing anywhere... I'm a native English speaker, so this product isn't relevant to me, but I wouldn't want be comfortable recommending it to anyone without knowing how much it'd cost after those first 3 months. Really critical to have in an easy-to-find place on the website IMO.

You are right, you have to be logged in to see the subscription page at: http://www.sayafter.me/subscriptions/subscribe.

I will change it to be available for anonymous visitors. Thanks!

Please say it here or I, probably along with others, will classify your marketing tactics as shady.

Is withholding the price that important that you're willing to risk a reputation black mark on your product?

I am terribly sorry if it came across like this. To be honest, the only reason I did not have a public subscription page is that I was too lazy to add logic for displaying buttons with "account signup" links, instead of "payment" ones for anonymous visitors. And now it bit me back today.

I just a deployed a fix for this issue, you can now see the prices at http://www.sayafter.me/subscribe

Thanks for doing so! You might take a look at some pricing-page recommendations over at kalzumeus.com.

You may find things are more successful with something more like, for example:

    Pay Monthly   |  Pay Quarterly  |  Pay Yearly
    $30/mo         |  $75 ($25/mo)   |  $250 ($20.83/mo)

    All plans come with a free 30-day trial (or money-back guarantee); cancel or upgrade at any time.

Why not just say the price here?

consider it a "dark pattern" to trick users https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6301378


$70 for 3 months

$250 for 12 months.

You might add something on the landing page saying what exactly you do. I read through everything and it doesn't specify how it'll improve English; is it just drills? A therapist to coach people? Pronunciation checking software?

Noted, I tried to use "simple language", so it wouldn't scare off non-technical people. I think I got it way too simple. Thanks.

If you simplify an explanation, it still needs to do the explaining, even if it's in the form of a high-level overview. I don't even see mention of the dialect you're teaching. Especially since you're targeting people in the STEM industry (people who tend to value knowledge and precision), I'd recommend having a more specific description available for those who want, even if it's not the first message that greets the viewer.

Since we're on the subject of what your software does, and since as a native English speaker, I don't want to [ab]use your free trial just to study its workings, could you please provide that explanation here? :) Do you teach the basics of English phonology or do you just provide [auto-generated] text for users to mimic. Do you provide Rosetta Stone-like pronunciation feedback? If you don't provide basic instruction in English phonology, I highly recommend you consider adding it. Being well versed in articulatory phonetics, I taught myself Chinese phonology (Standard Mandarin) from Wikipedia. Despite not having very good Chinese, I've passed for a native speaker in short telephone conversations on multiple occasions. Even if it takes weeks to give the student the phonetic background that I had (I don't know if it would), you'll then be able to give them near-native pronunciation almost instantly, and then they'll only need to iron out the kinks with your mimic drills before sounding like a native. I don't know if this is the approach used by most accent coaches, but it's highly effective.

Thank you for the detailed information.

The only feedback the user gets is a score for the current phrase, and highlighting of the words that he has mispronounced.

For example: If the phrase was "Where is the closest hospital?" but you said "Where is the closest clinic?", the application would highlight correct words in green and incorrect ones (hospital in this case) in orange/red depending on the word distance of "clinic" to "hospital")

When I say "word distance" I mean Levenshtein Distance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levenshtein_distance

I never thought about giving basic information about English phonology, but you make a very valid point. I will look into this further, and please let me know about any detailed resources about this subject.

See here for a library of simple prose: http://splasho.com/upgoer5/library.php

Or there's always the simple english version of Wikipedia: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

The original "Up Goer Five": http://xkcd.com/1133/

"Repetition makes the master". I'd suggest you tweak the UX so I need to repeat each word / phrase a couple of times before passing to the next level.

Speaking of which... you could gamify this in like 200 different ways.

That is a very good idea, I will add this option to the current exercise flow. Thanks!

It would be really useful to replay what user said, or even better, replay incorrectly pronounced word and then correct pronunciation. Right now there is no good way for user to correct mistakes, even if it's clear that there is a mistake.

Thanks for the feedback.

Unfortunately currently neither webkit-speech-input nor Web Speech API supports recording of the user voice input.

I will look for alternative solutions though.

A note about prices. I'm in need for such a service and thank you to provide it.

But $30/month is more that what I would give. For that price, I would expect to have a human teacher to review my progression from time to time and provide advices.

At $20/month, I would use the service for something like three or four month, until I decide I'm ready enough.

At $10/month, I would probably consider a permanent subscription.

> But $30/month is more that what I would give. For that price, I would expect to have a human teacher to review my progression from time to time and provide advices.

That's less than half what it'd cost to hire a language tutor for a single hour.

That's why I don't speak of having time with a dedicated teacher, but simply having him/her review a few items (for example, those failed again and again) and provide a short advice.

Nope, you can hire for $20/per hour online.

This is the feedback I was looking for. I basically came up with the prices, and haven't done any pricing research.

I will very likely pull prices down with the next release.

No matter what price points you choose, someone will always want to pay less. You don't want to undercharge either; a copy of Rosetta Stone runs about $500 for discs or $39/month for their online courses.

I didn't say I want to pay less. I said I want more for this price, and provided what I expect as my consumer behavior for each price range.

Thanks for the input. I am a total newbie when it comes to pricing, and open to any logical advice. Maybe I can add a message to the payment page that says something like "1 month of membership costs less than 1 hour of private 1 to 1 tutoring".

What is 'British' English?

No such thing exists really, at least not in the spoken word form.

You'll also find that regional accents are considered more favourable/likeable than 'the Queens English' so the premise of this may not be 100% correct...

(Brummie is not included in the favourable dialects because it's not considered nice by anyone in the UK except those in that area.)

Simple really:

British: http://translate.google.com/translate_tts?ie=UTF-8&q=Have%20...

American: http://translate.google.com/translate_tts?ie=UTF-8&q=Have%20...

I know they don't sound ideal, but this is the only distinction I can make via the resources I have.

I opened both links it two separate tabs (almost) at the same time and suddenly my office was flooded with a chorus of nice people hoping I'm having a good day.

You made my day, Sr.

Edit: Grammar.

I don't know anyone who sounds like the 'British' version I also doubt that that dialect would be preferred.

It would fall under the 'Queens English' or 'received pronunciation', which, in some studies, is considered less intelligent than Yorkshire dialect - http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/apr/04/6

The "Have a wonderful" part is not uncommon but the "day" with long drawling "a" sounds super-strange to me.

British English : Americans :: American English : Brits

There is only a common spelling difference in the written sense though. An American would not fully understand someone from Yorkshire speaking Yorkshire dialect, nor would they understand someone from Merseyside, Glasgow, etc. if they were speaking in their dialect.

I'm from Yorkshire originally, my dialect is totally different from those in Merseyside or the North East (for example.) How we speak and how we write is different. 'British English' only exists in the written form and I don't believe that is what this service is aiming to 'improve'.

UK regional accents/dialects are something which are favourable. The North East dialect, for example, is seen as favourable in call centres because the majority find it a 'nice' or 'friendly' dialect.

I don't understand the idea of 'if you're a start-up don't have an accent/dialect'.

I don't know. Should we table this discussion?

(Noting that some words, like "to table" have the opposite meanings in British and American English. When Americans say "table" the British say "shelve" and when the British say "table" the Americans say "put forward" or "propose.")

Oh, I'm not really disagreeing. The expression "a : b :: c : d" means a is to b what c is to d. There are just as many American accents as British accents, but Brits commonly refer to the conglomeration as American English, or to someone having "an American accent", and can have a similarly hard time differentiating between them.

So "British English" just refers to speaking English with one of many British accents, I'm guessing in this case approximately London English that is not Cockney.

I'm a native American English speaker who is also into startups (and has lived in a lot of places, communicating with non-native speakers in English, as well as my really horrible Kurdish, Pashto, Dari, French, Arabic, etc. phrases...). Observations:

1) You should fully Americanize all the spellings. It is American English people want.

2) This would be far too boring for me to stick with if it is things like "I went to the cinema yesterday". A coherent story, or even better, a domain-specific lesson, would be a much more engaging way to teach a language. I was able to learn when it was "talk to my driver about the security situation and drive plan", but never cared enough for casual conversation. I am usually happy to talk to people who speak horrible English about things I care about, which presumably for the hn audience is tech, startups, etc., but not about sports (cricket!?). If you could do a vertical-specific sayafter.me it would be awesome.

Not all people want American English thank you very much. Every time I'm forced to type 'color' a small part of me dies.

Wot wot pip pip cheerio get the torch line's engaged eat some crisps there's a good chap.

That's not a mature response. I've look at your other comments and you look like you've made some worthwhile contribution but this comment is not what I visit HN daily for.

I agree with te_chris, it is not only arrogant but incorrect to make that assumption. I don't actually mind using 'color', but you live in a small world if you think that only a certain accent is relevant.

Ah well, everybody has their off days.

Many people who don't speak English are outside the Americas, and so it doesn't make sense for them to learn the American variation of English. However, I agree that it should be an option.

Pretty much all non-native speakers who want to learn English that I've ever met do want to learn American English specifically, particularly those who want to work in America.

(I prefer South African English, personally, but I think the commercial market is strongly in favor of American English.)

I used to teach English to non-native speakers. All of them wanted to learn English with an American accent. I think they are actually doing themselves a disservice because they fail to understand the subtle differences of class status an accent signals. A more British inflected accent is an easy way to signal higher education and status to an American. They go a bit gaga for British accents. It's also easier to fake a British accent.

The weird thing in the Middle East is (outside of Saudi) most of the formal instruction was in British English, but everyone watched US tv, and the demand was generally for a American English (even after 9/11 and the unwelcoming US immigration policy).

Same thing in China and Thailand; I don't know about other countries.

European with a British accent representing.

More anecdata for you.

"Your anecdotal evidence is wrong - I want the opposite"

"No, your anecdotal evidence is wrong."

"My anecdotal evidence is right."

The context here was "people who are having a hard time working in the US tech industry/being funded by US VCs due to accents". Obviously if you intend to work in the UK or another country which uses a different accent, it makes sense to learn in that accent. IIRC the phone bank people in Asia actually train people in specific accents based on the client for this very reason.

(A totally fluent UK/IE/etc English speaker probably is fine in any context, but I don't think someone learning from a webapp is starting from that point. If you are going to be a moderate speaker, it is better to be moderate in the target accent.)

Carnegie Speech is another good product in this area, that as the name suggests came out of Carnegie Mellon a number of years ago (I have no affiliation with the company).

Wow I didn't know about this product. It looks really advanced, would be good opportunity to see the other players in the market.

I think one advantage I have over this product is, SayAfter.me stores ever growing stats of word/phrase pronunciation attempts from all users.

Later on it can build custom exercises depending on the background of a particular user.

I will be able to say "You are Spanish, other Spanish users had the most trouble with these words. So here is an exercise that contains problematic English words for native Spanish speakers".

Are you using google speech api? Site looks great!

Yup, voice records are generated via Google speech API. Voice recognition is webkit speech input, only supported in Google Chrome. The application itself uses AngularJS.

This thing wouldn't have been possible without Google really.

Is there any evidence this actually works? You're motivating your product by saying it helps you keep your job if you have a thick accent. Does your product work? How does it compare to competitors? Adding this information would improve credibility.

Well the only evidence I have personally seen is the improvement of my wife's pronunciation.

She doesn't mispronounce the words she practised anymore.

Also I got positive feedback from the early beta users (other students & English learners) so I assumed it was useful in its initial state.

But yes, I will add additional information with benefits and comparison with other products.


I couldn't sign up because the email field is limited to 30 characters. Emails can be up to 256 characters long, sometimes longer.

Thanks for the report, will fix it ASAP. Apparently this issue is affecting other Django users as well:


Looks interesting. Just a heads up that the video on the home page doesn't want to load for me. I'm getting a javascript error about the youtube frame trying to access the sayafter.me frame.

Thanks for the report, I will look into it.

Great timing. Haven't tried out the product but on top of this a faster way to improve could be to just engage in conversations daily with a lot of native english speakers.

Good idea, unfortunately not everyone has access to native speakers in their social circles.

Another nice hack for practising speech is calling free phone support of various companies/products and tell them about your problem with their product/service. I learnt this from an Italian guy.

Nice theory, but even non-native people that have been living in their new country will retain their accent for a long time. Unless they make a conscious effort to get rid of it, that is; most people don't, though.

I would love something like this that can help me learn other accents of my own language (English), or other languages (French, perhaps), and evaluate my performance.

Adding other languages and American English is on the roadmap, never thought about other accents of English though.

You can add youtube videos or some short clips from movies and ask your user repeat after protagonist. Everyone likes to repeat catchy phrases from movies)))

Good idea! I was also thinking of adding song lyrics, starting with Queen maybe.

Cool idea! Down the line, it might be in everyone's best interest to have an American English option as well.

Thanks! We live in London, so British English was the way to go. If I ever get to work on this full time, not only I will add American English, but also Spanish, German, French ASAP.


> I've always been uncomfortable with my pronunciations.

You mean "my pronunciation." English is pretty weird about when we do and do not use the plural form and this trips up a lot of people :) I wouldn't mention it, but given that you're here for the specific purpose of improving your English, I thought you'd want to know.

Speaking of which, mass nouns always trip non-native speakers up, especially in IT. Do NOT use the following words: datas, informations, softwares. Data is already the plural of the Latin word datum and none of those words are used by native speakers.

I would add 'codes' to that use as it is often misused, but there are a lot of times when using it is correct, so you'll just have to study up on the rules for mass nouns sometime.

You mean "my pronunciation."

It's not the most natural thing to say but it can still fly:

"Merriam-Webster provides a free online dictionary, thesaurus, audio pronunciations, [...]"

in a way that 'softwares' and 'advices' would not.

I would add 'codes' to that use as it is often misused

To make this even more confusing, in some contexts, 'codes' is used as a plural in ways you never would for general purpose programming, even though it refers to the same thing. Physics (nuclear, in particular) simulations are a case in point:


I would accept that usage, but not "my pronunciations." The hard part for foreign speakers is that this usage is perfectly comprehensible, so it would rarely get corrected, while sounding bad to native speakers.

Which is, of course, quite harmful to someone who wants to improve. And yes, I know of no simple answer as to when to use 'code' vs. 'codes', but I will say that I think that 'source codes' is probably always wrong. At least, I am unable to find a sentence using that which sounds right, though it might be possible for it to be correct if you were talking about something other than the source code of a computer program.

I would accept that usage, but not "my pronunciations."

My filter might be a bit more lenient because I imagine an implied 'my pronunciations of some particular words" after it. I still wouldn't say it or write it but it doesn't poke me in the eye as much, especially in the middle of otherwise idiomatic-sounding casual English. So context counts as well - as do the tastes of the person reading your stuff. Someone might think you an illiterate clod for a misused "it's" or "your" or "whomever".

Anyway, I think we're actually in violent agreement, my only point is the nuances are tough and not subject to easy rules.

Oh, and you were saying

At least, I am unable to find a sentence using that which sounds right, though it might be possible for it to be correct if you were talking about something other than the source code of a computer program.


That just makes the NY Times sound clueless. Perhaps it shouldn't, but it does.

Then again, I seem to recall some observation about the evolution of language where the less-used irregular words change more frequently, and 'source code' is not something people outside of technology discuss. But that's probably why the usage, which makes them seem like outsiders, sounds bad to me.

I actually talked to some Firefox Devs at the State of the Browser conference. Unfortunately they said that speech input for Firefox will not be available unless Google decides to open source their speech recognition technology or give away licenses to their software.

Nice timing :)

Will definitely check this one out.

Good marketing, perfect timing!

I'll give it a try to remove/lessen my German accent.. :-)

Btw: Yes, my email address ends in .de - your registration form seems to think I mistyped and suggests that I change that to .net. Intentional, even for valid TLDs?

I just use the mailcheck plugin with default settings (https://github.com/Kicksend/mailcheck)

If this keeps happening often maybe I should use my own domain list.

Thanks for the feedback.

> if this keeps happening often maybe I should use my own domain list.

You probably should do it as soon as possible :

> The included default top level domains are com, net, org, info, edu, gov, co.uk, and mil.

Which means ... it excludes all regional non english TLDs. Pretty much a problem for a service that targets non english native speakers. :)

By the way, I am an english non native speaker that writes a lot of english through the internet but never ever speak english. This service is just perfect for me, thank you.

Alright I just deployed a hotfix that includes TLDs for: com, net, org, de, fr, in, ru, it, tr.

I will also be adding lots of new content soon, so if you are interested in a particular theme for words/phrases ("flowers", "dog breeds", "Flirting 101" etc) just let me know. I will give them higher priority.

Thanks for that.

I have no special theme right in mind, I usually speak english only when I travel, so it's mainly general purpose language. This could be as well asking for menu in restaurant, discussing tech with other developers or debating politics with foreign friends.

On the other hand, the idea of isolating words that are especially often wrongly pronounced for a given native language you mentioned in an other comment sounds really awesome : I'm less interested in getting a specific word right than getting right specific sounds used in a lot of words (but I guess this does not help you to select your first words, sorry about that).

> I'm less interested in getting a specific word right than getting right specific sounds used in a lot of words

Actually this is the long term goal. If I ever have the chance to work on SayAfter.me full time, I will map phonetic sounds to words, and find out which nationalities have trouble with which sounds.

More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPA_number#Letters

It sounds just like some google-translate generated speech. Do you REALLY think somebody will pay for this service? It's ridiculous.

@znt, just have to say this is a brilliant idea!

On the nain page of speakafter.me: is 'practise' the right spelling ? ("Not only will you practise").

Great, my accent is already turning british!

Please: do this for Spanish! I live in Spain, and have a helluva time being understood when I speak Spanish.

That's definitely on the roadmap. If you pass me your email, I can notify you when Spanish version goes live.

Is the website broken? When I click on See Video, nothing happens.

nice relevant post. congrats

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