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Duable Chinese Makes the Internet your Language-Learning Textbook

krish raghav

If you’re starting to learn Chinese today, you’re probably facing one of two big hurdles - getting your head around those tones, or making the leap from words and bigrams to constructing full sentences. Part of the problem with the second issue is gaining a good sense of context, of seeing where the characters you’ve learned (via flashcards or memory games) fit. Short of expensive schools or brave forays onto the Chinese internet, good, curated reading material that matches your proficiency is hard to come by. Duable Chinese, a US/Taiwan based startup, doesn’t want to send you into the labyrinth alone. It’s a web app, a Chinese reading interface that feeds you selected reading material synced to your proficiency level. Now accepting pre-orders for monthly subscriptions, they hope to release their first prototype in April 2013. Co-founder Nikolaas Van Der Ploeg, speaking to me in Singapore, says:

We’re selecting interesting blog posts, news reports, even some playful fan-fiction, so you get both a fun and relevant reading experience.

Users take an initial test to determine their proficiency levels, and the app then sends you articles based on your subjects of interest (music, technology, fiction among others). “Our main focus right now is on users with intermediate proficiency,” Van der Ploeg says. “We’ll monitor words that people click on or phrases they’re having trouble with, and we can track progress that way.” Think of it as a cross between TheChineseReader and the Zhongwen plugin for Chrome, with analytics churning underneath and a personalized recommendation engine on top. Started in October 2012, Duable’s co-founders Van Der Ploeg, an American computer programmer based in Taiwan, and Victor Chen, an American-born Taiwanese, have been trawling for sources and churning our prototypes. They’ve just received S$ 25,000 in seed funding from Singapore’s Jungle Frog Digital Incubator, and are part of JFDI’s 2013 accelerator program. Duable’s revenue model is centered on monthly subscriptions, but Chen and Van der Ploeg are also reaching out to schools and teachers, who can then integrate their curriculum into the Duable interface. Van der Ploeg says:

We’re focused on our initial release now but in the future, we could even consider multiple languages.

They have a limited pre-release sale on till the end of February, with monthly subscriptions starting at US$14.99.
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