‘Hello world, this is sylby!’ – An introduction of sylby with Vera Scholvin

Vera Scholvin

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Work on sylby is in full swing. What can you already tell us about the app?

sylby is a language learning app that allows users to improve their pronunciation in the language they are learning. We rely on state-of-the-art AI technology that is able to provide users with detailed feedback in real time on the one hand, and on the other hand offers the possibility to address the specific needs of individual learners. In doing so, the learner’s own progress, linguistic background, but also self-set goals are taken into account and self-confidence is promoted. In addition, we offer our users a logopedic approach in which we use targeted speech muscle training to build up or activate the muscles necessary for the formation of certain sounds. sylby is the all-round package, the personal, intelligent pronunciation assistant in your pocket. And sylby is fun, too!

For our launch, we are initially concentrating on German; other languages are planned once the app is available in the Appstore and development is complete. In addition, we are currently working on some features so that users will not only be offered feedback for each individual sound, but also the sentence melody and word accent will be analyzed.

Work on app development and content creation is in full swing right now. That makes me happy, of course, because the production itself is only one part of the process that began with the idea, the planning and the financing.

Speaking of the beginning. How did the idea of developing a language learning app come about?

I did my doctorate in linguistics and did a lot of work on pronunciation, including second language acquisition. In short, what exactly causes learners of a language to have difficulty when they try to articulate unfamiliar or difficult sounds, for example? I really enjoyed doing research, but felt it was now time to use the knowledge I had gained to create something practical that people outside the research community could do something with. So Paras and I got together and launched the idea of sylby.

Why exactly the focus on pronunciation?

Being an absolute language nerd myself, I have of course learned a few languages, such as Italian, French or Vietnamese. Pronunciation was always very important to me – for different reasons: First, because pronunciation is very closely related to how you are perceived. Pronunciation difficulties, for example, can mean that people take you less seriously, which can lead to both big and small problems in many situations in everyday life – be it in the supermarket or at a job interview. On the other hand, because a good pronunciation also provides the self-confidence that is sometimes helpful to then use the learned language. I also enjoy phonetic details and like to work on my pronunciation. I find the sound of speech aesthetic. That’s why I like to try to imitate beautiful sounds and speech melodies.

Especially when learning a tonal language like Vietnamese, which is really very different compared to German, working on my pronunciation was enormously important in order to be understood. It really bugged me at the time that I couldn’t pronounce the simplest words. So I sat down and practiced ambitiously. The result is my Vietnamese, which is not perfect but understandable. Of course, the knowledge I was able to acquire through my linguistics studies helped me a lot. With the help of sylby, I can now share this knowledge with anyone who is interested.

Who is sylby made for?

For anyone who is learning German – and other languages in the future – and is looking for ways to improve their pronunciation. It is not necessary to already have a very high level of proficiency. sylby can also help the interested newcomer to recognize and correct pronunciation difficulties or to get to know the different sounds that occur in the language.

The pronunciation tools of other language learning apps are often simply inadequate and usually don’t give great detailed feedback. This often frustrates learners and without motivation it is simply very hard to learn something as complex as a foreign language.

Sounding like a native speaker', why don't we promise that?

An accent is also always a characteristic that contributes enormously to the self-image of speakers. It is important to us that people do not see their accent as a flaw, but that we make it clear that an accent can also be a positively perceived part of identity.

At the same time, research shows that adults who learn a language are rarely able to acquire it completely without an accent. A goal that is set too high can then often be a hindrance when frustration sets in that this high goal is not achieved. Many lose the joy of language learning when they reach such a point. Of course, we want to prevent this.

For us, communication, the possibility to express oneself and to be understood, is in the foreground. We want to offer the possibility to improve the pronunciation step by step with scientifically based training and to make this measurable and therefore visible.

However, anyone who would like to try sounding like a native speaker can of course do so with sylby. The personal goals for the learners are customizable and are set by the users themselves.

Last but not least: Is there a launch date yet?

The development is progressing very well, so that we can launch the beta version this summer. The anticipation may well rise already!

Kristin Stöcker
Kristin Stöcker
Blogger, Linguist & Data Analyst at sylby