Toucan has developed a Chrome browser extension designed for people who want to learn a new language but haven’t found the motivation or the time.
Once installed, the extension will scan the text of any (English language) website you visit and automatically translate some of the words into the language you want to learn. If you move the mouse over the word, the original English word is displayed.
The startup was founded by CEO Taylor Nieman, CTO Shaun Merritt and CPO Brandon Dietz. Today it is announced that $ 3 million in seed capital has been raised under the leadership of GSV Ventures. with the participation of Amplifyher Ventures, Wonder Ventures, Golden Ventures, Halogen Ventures, Vitalize Ventures and strategic angel investors.
Dietz took a similar point of view, arguing that while language learning products like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo had some of the success, “getting people to change their behavior and go to that one website is such a big challenge” , especially regular basis.
Therefore, Toucan is designed to help users learn a new language (Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese are currently supported) while surfing the Internet as usual without having to change their behavior.
According to Nieman, when taking digital or in-person classes, expansion can be used to solidify and expand your vocabulary. Or, if you’re not taking a class, you can still use Toucan on your own and it can help (as Dietz put it) “achieve that magical moment of realizing that you know a few words in other people’s languages”.
To ensure accuracy, the company works with translation teams, including college professors and students, while using natural language processing to understand the context in which words appear. Users can also report incorrectly translated words.
And Toucan is experimenting with fun ways to promote yourself, including the ability to “own” a word so that your name appears whenever a word is translated by Toucan. In fact, the Tukan team gave me the word “writer” – but since the property is currently vacant, I guess it’s not a bribe?
Finally, the company could charge individuals and companies to own certain words (aka sponsor). In addition, users can sign up for a premium subscription which gives them access to additional vocabulary. Dietz suggested that Toucan would continue to explore different business models, but said the team is committed to “accessible” education and will keep “a large part” of the offering free.
Looking ahead, Toucan plans to add new languages and launch browser extensions for Firefox and Safari. And finally, Nieman said the startup could apply the same approach to other subjects: “How does it look for history, for science, for mathematics, for general knowledge?”