[App Fridays] In 10 minutes a day, learn English on chat with Utter

English learning app Utter uses chatbots and live tutors to deliver individual and business training in easy-to-consume, conversational formats.

In a movie released long ago, superstar Amitabh Bachchan famously said: “English is a very funny language.”

The word “funny” has, over the last few decades, been replaced by “important”. For, in India, English is more than a language; it symbolises the aspirations of millions who believe mastering it could be their way to a better life.

Over the last few years, messaging has fundamentally changed the way people interact with friends, family, colleagues, and companies. According to a Business Insider Intelligence report, messaging apps have surpassed social media in global monthly active users.

Since 2018, nearly every major messaging channel, including WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Google’s RCS, and Apple’s iMessage, has extended beyond consumers to businesses. Businesses of all sizes in every industry have also embedded modern messaging experiences into their apps and websites.

The need of the hour clearly is a sound working knowledge of English. And a Pune-based startup is riding this demand with Utter, a chatbot-style mobile learning app aimed at imparting English skills to an increasing digital blue-collar workforce.

Earlier called Sling, Utter was born in March 2015. After two years of research and development, the platform - mentored by Reliance Industries-backed startup accelerator JioGenNext - was launched in the market in August 2017. The app aims to teach India’s more than 80 percent non-English speaking population English over chat, in their native language. 

The app, which caters to individual learners and businesses, uses a combination of chatbots and live tutors to offer small packets of content. For businesses, it delivers training in easy-to-consume conversational formats.

The Pune-based startup was selected to be a part of the 2019 Google Play's App Excellence Programme. The app has crossed one million downloads and has a rating of 4.2 stars out of five on Google Play Store.

We explored the app to see how effectively the app can help you learn English. Let’s get started.

You start using the app by logging in via a phone number or email ID. You can’t use or browse without creating an account. After the login, surf through till you find a course you like - Grammar, Conversation, or Business English. A course has various topics and the app opens a chatbot screen on picking one. 

The chat interface

The chat screen looks like any other chat window (with emoticons) and does not give the feel of traditional learning.

Our chat began with a “Hi! How are you?” The screen offered two automated replies - “I am good” and “I am great!” – and we hit the latter. The bot replied that the answer was in the simple present tense, and showed how you felt at the time.

The chat replies are short, quick, and very understandable. So, we hit “Understood :)” below the chat box. The chatbot continued the chat with more simple pings, informing us about “simple present” sentences. We loved the experience.

The chatbot also takes care of your processing time. After three pings, it prompted, “Could you explore more” if we wanted more options. The UI of the chatbot is super easy, clean, and smooth.

Tests are also in the chat format. The in-chat corrections keep users engaged while improving their communications skills.

The English speaking lessons include voice notes just like WhatsApp voice notes. The best part? The voice notes are in an Indian accent. The lessons are practical: what to say during a coffee meet, in office, during presentations etc. The chats also include photos, which works well. 

The Utter curriculum

The app includes various subjects, based on the need from basic to advanced, for personal and professional reasons. It aims to make you adept in reading, writing, and speaking.

The features that make learning efficient and easy include translations, meanings, speaking practice, and self-paced learning.

The Utter app lets users learn English in their native languages. Currently, you can learn English in English, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Odiya, and Assamese.

The app can also be used for translations, including foreign languages such as Chinese, Swedish, French, and others.

Utter has a freemium model, so while some lessons are free, users might want to use the paid version for premium courses. The subscription is priced at Rs 99 per month and Rs 599 for a year

The paid version also includes one-on-one training.

The verdict

We are very impressed with the app and the way it uses the new-age habit of messaging for learning with photos, voice notes, and chat-based lessons.

We recommend the app and give it five stars for its innovative user interface. The app makes it easier - and fun - to improve English speaking, reading, and writing skills. A 10-minute chat with the chatbot does not feel like studying.

Utter solves a lot of problems at once. It has exercises and curriculum, along with dictionary, scores, progress, and even English experts to solve your doubts, if needed.

This app is a must, especially if you enjoy chatting and want to learn English.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)


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