What did the German scientist say to the French engineer?…No one knew because they couldn’t understand each other.
Ivanka Trump’s visit to a fifth grade classroom in Middleburg comes on the back of a pledge by Donald Trump to invest upwards of $200 million into STEM education – mainly computer science, in American schools. This move has been supported by large enterprises through the country as coding has become one of the most sought after skills by employers. However, this shift towards STEM subjects has sparked a debate as to what subjects will be squeezed out of a classroom curriculum to make room for more technologically focused teaching.
A similar move by the British Government found that foreign language learning has become an increasingly unpopular choice for students sitting the GCSEs. The emphasis placed by the government on STEM subjects has meant that fewer Britons can now speak a second language. Graduates of these subjects may hold computer science and engineering degrees but are unable to communicate with their foreign counterparts on a range of subjects.
This led the English government to launch a campaign in 2016 entitled #learnalanguage to encourage more young people to continue with their language studies. The driving factors behind this campaign are economically charged. Highly skilled graduates are unable to work in many positions as they are unable to communicate with their European and worldwide counterparts. Job positions are not being filled as a result and consequently costing the English economy up to £48 billion every year.
Britain and America’s admiration for STEM subjects is reflective of superficial employment trends. However, many fail to realise that if a global company does not have the correct language capabilities, communication and growth is ultimately stunted. Although America may not feel these effects imminently, Britain is facing a severe crisis. As the isolating repercussions of Brexit come into effect, so too will the harsh reality that speaking one language is not enough. Poor conversational language skills are not sufficient to speak to a work colleague about machine learning algorithms or natural language processing. Without language skills, Britain’s isolation will reach far beyond leaving the EU.
France is beginning to feel the effects of their movement away from English language learning. 55% of 20-45 year olds in France felt that their lack of English skills was directly affecting their employment prospects. This is reflective of the underlying issues surrounding employment. The job postings in America calling for bilingual employees have trebled in the last 5 years. Catalysts for language learning have moved from a place of personal development to a career furthering necessity.
Governments have a duty to put directives in place that will benefit their economy. As a result, they need to understand the underlying need for bilingualism in a globalised economy. Training hundreds of thousands of children in code is an admirable feat that should be at the forefront of any governmental policy. However, an American computer science graduate is stunted if they cannot speak to their Spanish counterparts. It is vital that STEM subjects do not rail road and overtake the education of languages.
Lexi attended the Learnovate 2017 conference in the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday last. Taking on a different approach from previous years, Learnovate presented a number of speakers from a range of backgrounds followed by a series of workshops for the attendees. With the intention of broadening our knowledge around EdTech, we were interested to hear what the speakers had to say.
Jonny Parkes and Owen White spoke about the difficult transition faced by companies when moving from initial innovation to bringing a profitable product to market. It is no mean feat nowadays. This sentiment was echoed by Tendayi Viki who spoke on the importance of addressing the hidden assumptions in your business model. Great ideas do not always lead to great market products and Tendayi examined the precautions to take to bridge this gap. Similarly, Rob Fitzpatrick presented the downfall of many startups. Rather than creating a product that people like, Rob leaned towards creating something that people will buy – a handy tip when your salary depends on sales.
The prevailing theme from these speakers was one of closing the gap in startups. It seems that with more startups in Ireland than ever before, the formula of what makes a successful business has become blurred. Bad habits have crept into the startup scene in Ireland, with companies releasing products that are either not revenue generating or not what customers actually want. However, just as quickly as the startup scene has exploded in Ireland, so have the solutions to these pitfalls. Following Tendayi’s and Rob’s talks, it was clear that these obstacle generating problems were easily avoided. An example of such a business who was able to develop their innovation into a product fit for the market was Vivienne Ming’s Socos. Combining neuroscience with machine learning and marketing it towards parents who want a brighter future for their kids, Vivienne has uncovered a fascinating niche in the market.
Learnovate was a fantastic event where pure innovation met an unwavering enthusiasm for teaching technologies. Teaching practises have been stagnant for quite some time. However with technology evolving at such a rapid rate, it seems that there is finally a shift to more efficient ways of teaching children on the horizon. More funds than ever are being pushed into technology in schools and there is a growing shift in attitude by educators to embrace the change. The education landscape is in for a technological overhaul.
Thanks to TCD LaunchBox for bringing us along to the event. You can check out the programme here .
Learnovate is in phase two at the moment. You can learn more about what they have done to date and their aspirations for future development here.
In September 2016, Machaela began researching topics for her final year project for University. Upon examining the complexities of accurately translating emotions, a pattern began to emerge. It transpired that translating emotions from one language to another is no easy feat. If translating emotions was so complex, could the same be said for general translations in languages?
It turns out that yes, understanding the same word or phrase through different languages can be extremely challenging. Constantly going back and forth from your native language to the language that you are trying to learn is time consuming, clunky and frequently inaccurate. This raised another question; is there a more efficient and accurate way to acquire a new language?
And so, Lexi was born! Machaela enlisted the help of Sinéad and Catherine to make Lexi a reality. Machaela and Sinéad have worked throughout college as extremely competent computational linguists. Catherine came on board as the resident philosopher and has been helping with everything on the sales and marketing front.
Together we pitched our idea to LaunchBox back in February 2017 in front of a panel of judges. We were fortunate to be chosen as one of ten teams that are taking part in the accelerator programme for the summer months. Here we are lucky enough to receive invaluable advice, mentorship and funding as we launch Lexi.
Additionally each of our co-founders has been lucky enough to be paired with fantastic mentors as part of the Women Who Wow programme in Trinity College Dublin. They have been guiding each of us for the last four months and been offering us invaluable advice around everything from business plans to pitching and branding Lexi.
Our summer will be jam packed but our main focus right now is determining what Lexi will offer. Kicking off with some serious market research is our main goal! We want to talk to everyone from children and parents to principals and teachers. The more interaction we have with our potential customers, the better!
We want to change how children learn languages at Lexi. We would love you to get in touch if you have any ideas, tips, questions or advice for us as we begin our start-up journey. Thanks for the taking the time to check us out!