Now in India, US-based startup ELSA uses AI and NLP to help people improve their English
English is generally acknowledged as the most accepted business language across the world. A higher proficiency can brighten prospects of career growth and lead to a better standard of living.
Tapping into the aspiration of millions of Indians, who desire to speak and pronounce English language correctly, is ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant).
This US-based technology startup, founded by Vu Van and Xavier Anguera in 2015, has also received funding from Google. The tech giant led a $7 million round; the startup's other investors are Monk’s Hill Ventures and SOSV.
ELSA believes that its app has the right framework to guide users on how to speak English correctly without external assistance.
“There is a massive difference between learning and speaking English. With most apps or even in schools, one is taught to read the language but not much emphasis is put on how to speak,” says Manit Parikh, Country Manager, India, ELSA.
ELSA was started by Founder Vu Van, a Vietnamese who secured admission to Stanford University, but was not socially accepted among Americans initially because many failed to understand what she spoke due to her accent.
“Our idea is to enable users to pronounce and speak in a clear manner so that other people understand and accept you unconditionally,” Manit says.
AI and NLP-driven ELSA
ELSA was built using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP), catering to different native languages. This app provides instant feedback once you speak and gives detailed analysis. It lists out your strong points and the areas that need to be improved.
“Once a person takes a test, ELSA automatically builds a curriculum for you to improve,” Manit says.
The app also maps specific requirements of the individual, based on their mother tongue. ELSA has its own 6,000 chapters pre-built with over 100 modules to help users improve their English-speaking skills.
It also has a dictionary to enable proper sentence construction along with picture elements for more clarity. ELSA is focused on American English as Manit believes it is the commonly-used business language across the world.
Though ELSA was officially launched in India in September this year, it has been around for some time now. In three years, the app has witnessed more than half a million downloads, without any kind of marketing efforts.
According to Manit, ELSA has been scoring high on all parameters in India – monthly or daily active users, time spent on the app, and number of assessments taken. In fact, ELSA has recorded more than 70,000 installs from across Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and the National Capital Region.
At present, the app has around 40 dialects on its platform and plans to take the number to 100 in the next one year. Given its AI and NLP background, there is immense scope for refinement as it gathers more data.
Manit says it is heartening to see the profiles of its users in India. “A majority of our users are from outside the metros and this shows the aspirational value of our platform,” he explains.
The core values ELSA is driving in India are: English can uplift somebody’s livelihood, create a level playing ground, create women empowerment, and promote rural entrepreneurship.
The US is a big draw for Indian students and close to two lakh students went to that country for academic purposes in 2018.
“We have users from across categories, be it school students, those preparing to go abroad for higher studies, and even employees from the corporate world,” Manit says. He claims that mothers, housewives, and even grandparents are a part of the user base.
At present, ELSA is available at four price points: Rs 499 per month, Rs 1,199 for three months, Rs 1,999 for six months, and Rs 3,599 for a year.
Manit says ELSA is, for now, focused on the retail consumer segment and will look at targeting enterprises too. “We will be aggressive and grow exponentially in India,” he remarks.
The country head believes that the startup does not have any direct competition, and that its service is actually complementary to what other players may provide when it comes to teaching English.
There are few startups such as English Helper, English Bolo, Multibhashi, Kings Learning, and Utter that are helping people learn the language.
But Manit believes ELSA is here for the long run. “Everybody gets bored of listening. But ELSA never gets bored,” he signs off.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)
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