New Social Website Connects Language Learners With Native Speakers

Name: Verbling

Quick Pitch: Verbling is a web-based platform where individuals can pair up with native speakers to practice speaking new languages on live video.

Genius Idea: Verbling makes language learning easy by offering a free way to connect instantly with native speakers with timed prompts and conversation-starting topics.

Verbling was launched in 2011 when co-founders Jacob Jolis and Mikael Bernstein met while attending Stanford University. The two dropped out of the prestigious school and teamed up with then-Google software engineer Fred Wulff to build the language-learning startup of their dreams., a Y Combinator-backed startup, is a website that people can access globally to speak with native language speakers living in different countries. For now, only Spanish and English speakers can access video chat, but the founders hope to add Arabic, French, Chinese and German — among 10 languages in total — by the end of the year.

The idea of Verbling is to solve one of the biggest problems for language learners — not being able to practice speaking with natives. People devote time and money to learning language basics, but slowly lose linguistic skills without practice.

“It’s very difficult to find native speakers without going abroad,” said Bernstein who speaks English, Swedish, German and Russian. “With Verbling, you can do that instantaneously. You don’t have to schedule or waste any time trying to find someone.”

Verbling is all about the trade. Convenient prompts with the in-browser video chats lets users know when to speak in one language and when to switch to another language. Each language is spoken for five minutes at a time, making sure both participants get the practice they are looking for.

Participants are matched up automatically. The company currently doesn’t connect people based on age, gender or location, but may be willing to consider it in the future. The founders read emails and feedback from all users and will implement suggestions as the product continues to be developed.

During the chat, there are buttons users can use to display conversation topics for beginners, intermediate learners and advanced speakers. Then you can “super-like,” “like,” or “dislike” the conversation when it ends. This will determine who you will be matched up with next time. Mutual good reviews will prompt users to be linked up for a second or third conversation.

Users are automatically matched up with a native speaker. If you speak English and are looking to practice Spanish, you’ll be connected with someone from Spain or South America, says Bernstein.

“It’s very exciting to talk to people from all around the world,” he said. “It’s a real cultural experience.”

Verbling founders believe they have created a product that is better than other online language-practice programs such as Live Mocha — offering over 35 languages with 11 million members in 196 countries — or My Language Exchange — over 1 million members from over 133 countries, practicing 115 languages.

“Verbling is instantaneous whereas other sites force you to search for people to talk to. Instead of wasting time searching for language partners in obscure forums and scheduling times,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein recalls speaking with people in Egypt and Syria and chatting casually about the revolutions and protests happening across the world. He hopes to improve the linguistic skills of language learners in different countries, as well as enhance the human connection between people.

Verbling is now a company consisting of the three founders and two employees. The company’s office are based in Palo Alto, Calif.

The group has come a long way from working on the product from the apartment the creators shared not so long ago. The trio started Verbling with money they received from being a part of Y Combinator — a startup booster program that has boosted companies such as DropboxReddit and Scribd onto a global stage. The startup also received seed funding from SV Angel, a venture capital firm, and investors.

Verbling hopes to continue to increase user numbers over the next few months, but already see a huge response from current users. A neat phenomenon the founders have already noticed: Verbling has been recently assigned as homework by high schools and university language professors.

Taken from 02.02.12