[App Fridays] Want to master English? VoLT, developed by brother duo, will get you thereHarshith Mallya
Having good command over any language is needed for people to express themselves correctly and for effective communications. Hindi and English are the two most popular languages in India. But English is currently the preferred language for official communications and also plays an important role in various competitive exams conducted in India.
Being a non-native language, many Indian students face difficulties in understanding the finer points of English grammar and vocabulary. VoLT short for ‘Vocabulary Learning Techniques’ is a mobile app developed by a brother duo, who faced and overcame the problems of learning a non-native language first hand.
What is it?
VoLT provides users with various techniques to better understand, remember, and recall difficult English words. The app does this through visual aids in the form of pictures, memory keys, sentence usage, antonyms, and synonyms.
The goal of the app is to make learning fun and easy and is targeted at students preparing for the various competitive exams, who find it difficult to understand English and end up cramming a large volume of words.
Story so far
VoLT was founded by brother duo Abhishek(29) and Nishek Jain(26) who hail from Sunam, a small town in district Sangrur, Punjab. After completing their schooling in their hometown, Abhishek cleared IIT-JEE in 2005 and joined IIT-BHU. He then went on to work at various institutions like Resonance, Aakash, Pace. He currently coaching IIT aspirants at Sinhal classes in Mumbai.
His younger brother Nishek decided to join BITS Pilani in 2007 and worked at a power sector firm in India and Saudi Arabia for three years. He recently cleared the Indian Engineering Services (IES) with an All India rank of 18.
During his college days, Abhishek found that though he was at par with his peers when it came to core engineering subjects, he was at the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to English speaking and vocabulary. He knew that a good command over vocabulary and speaking skills in English were needed to succeed in corporate life.
He tried various methods such as reading newspapers, watching documentaries, and constantly referring to dictionaries to improve his understanding of English. He sometimes found it quite frustrating. He said, “While reading a sentence in the editorial section of the newspaper, I would sometimes come across four to five words in the same sentence that I didn't understand. Constantly referring to the dictionary didn't help. In fact, it was demotivating.”
At the same time, Abhishek studied psychology and learnt about the concept of associations. He tried it out and found that by linking old or already existing information to what one was trying to learn, helped improve retention and recall. So he started making notes in a journal for his own use and was able to improve his English language and vocabulary skills. Later on, while he was working, Abhishek interacted with a leading Indian publishing head and shared his journal with him. The publisher was impressed and expressed interest in publishing his book for public consumption. Unfortunately they couldn’t reach a final agreement. Therefore, Abhishek and Nishek decided to set up their own publishing house – RR Publications – to publish and distribute the book themselves.
As first-time publishers they faced multiple challenges, but launched the book – "VoLT - Vocabulary Learning Techniques" – in January 2013 and it sold over 10,000 copies. It was among the top 10 vocabulary books on Flipkart and Amazon.
Encouraged by the success of the book and the popularity of smartphones, they realised that a mobile app would be the next step to take their work to a larger population. Smita Mishra Jain functions as their CFO, while Mahesh Haldar is their lead developer. A mobile app also allowed them to constantly add updates – add more words, update more relevant images, and make other changes, which were not possible through a book. Nishek added,
With the VoLT app, we have tried to associate difficult but important English words with normal life events, funny stories, pictures and other self-tested effective techniques which will help the reader learn and retain while enjoying the whole process. Various usages, synonyms, and antonyms have also been provided along with each word.
How it works and future plans
Currently run by the founders, with the help of friends from their respective alma maters, VoLT develops all their content in-house and relies on Shutterstock for relevant images. The app is currently free to download and use for the end consumer.
Abhishek aims to seed their product and focus on the product till they hit 10,000 users. Post that, he aims to focus on monetisation strategies through multiple B2B channels. The startup is currently bootstrapped and in talks with investors. They aim to build a larger team and add more features such as short video lessons and other learning aids.
Effective communication skills are needed in almost every job role for smooth flow of information. Many corporates train their employees in soft skills as a part of their onboarding and training process. There is still a huge and untapped market to go after. Duolingo, the popular language learning platform, is among the most mature players in this space. It currently offers over 16 languages for users to learn from and the company had raised a $45 million Series D round led by Google Capital in June 2015.
Closer home in India, we have Culture Alley which has an English learning app named – Hello English. Then there are Bengaluru-based King’s Learning, LingosMio founded by ex-investment bankers, and English Dost that focuses on vocational training.
So there is enough market validation for VoLT and there is huge untapped market of Indian users who are just getting access to smartphones.
What we liked
VoLT is a well-designed and easy to use mobile app. Users can either learn new words through the memory key or revise words they have already learnt. All the different features in the app add value and make the process of learning easier. The ‘memory key’ includes some interesting tips and tricks that simplifies difficult words and makes it easier to understand and recall them.
The images used in the app are relevant and quirky and add value to the existing content. The grid mode, which gives users an overview of all the existing words, is another interesting feature.
What could be improved
While VoLT lives up to its promise and intended purpose, adding more social features could enhance its usability and usefulness. Abhishek and Nishek added that they are working on adding tests, social quizzes and also a search feature to make the app more multi-functional.
Having a good command over vocabulary is helpful in both corporate and private life. It makes it easier for people to put forth their views and opinions and communicate more easily with their peers, bosses, and friends. Run by a small bootstrapped team, VoLT’s USP is the human touch, attention to detail that they have brought with their app. It will be interesting to see how they scale operations, reach out to more users, and crack their business model.
Download the app here
What do you think about this app, do let us know in the comments below. Also do check out other apps under our App Fridays series.