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Jesús Martín Tévar: Immersion in the English Language by Means of Gamification and Artifical Intelligence

Jesús Martín Tévar: PAPUA Learn English

PAPUA.app achieves immersion in the English language by means of gamification and Artifical Intelligence.

Spanish people and Hispanic people in general cannot speak English fluently. According to the EF English Proficiency Index.

PAPUA entails a totally disruptive, yet effective pedagogical approach. We combine gamification and AI (speech voice recognition) in order to achieve an immersive experience.

The user becomes the protagonist in an interactive adventure in which he can actually talk to a variety of characters in real life situations.

Now, with PAPUA, everybody can boost their English in a virtual trip to NY with natural and pedagogical conversations which are adapted to your level of English.

Tell us about yourself?

Born in Madrid, Spain, in 1982. PhD in English Linguistics. Co-founder and creator of the PAPUA method. 15 years of international experience as a teacher, linguist, researcher, contents developer, translator, and text editor at companies such as 8Belts.com, Gate Gourmet, Synovate, and UNIR.

The last institutions where I have worked as a teacher in higher education have been Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, Escuela Superior Aeronáutica, Universidad Internacional de la Rioja, and Hainan Foreign Language College of Professional Education.

What got me into this line of work? Well, we need to go 25 years back Year 1998, Madrid (Spain), I was 15 years old and I was passionate about video game consoles. Resident Evil 2 for PlayStation® was released. After playing it, all of a sudden my English grades in high school skyrocketed to A’s.

One A-plus after another. One A after another. It wasn’t that I suddenly learned English, but that I suddenly fell in love with English. Back then many video games were translated into Spanish but not dubbed. The voices of the characters were in English.

As I immersed myself in the story of Resident Evil 2, I also immersed myself in the English spoken by the characters. I began to understand them, to listen to them, and also to imitate them out loud in English.

All the disjointed pieces of vocabulary and grammar lacking context and emotion began to fit together. I was living out the present continuous tense with the mythical phrases of Leon S. Kennedy: “Where are you going Ada?!”. And so on with all the verb tenses. I relied on the Spanish subtitles, and related them to the English voices.

My English gave an incredible boost, but not so my classmates who also played it. It was not a didactic videogame, but I gave it the extra effort/initiative so that for me it was. What would my classmates need for the videogame to have the same effect on them?

The answer, which I didn’t know then, but I do know now, is to pace the content, to make the assimilation of English easier, without neglecting the emotion of the story. My enthusiasm for the English language led me to study and work in the UK, to immerse myself in English. I became an English teacher, linguist, translator and researcher….

One day, in 2018, Madrid, working as a linguist for a startup company at the time, a visitor arrived at the office with a virtual reality and augmented reality device. It was using English Speech Voice Recognition (SVR) technology to give commands to the machine. At that moment my mind “clicked”: we can’t take everyone to London or New York to immerse them in English, but we can take them virtually. We can’t get everyone to practice English with English speakers, but we can get them to do it with virtual characters using SVR.

We can include language content that is paced and dosed in such a way that it is easily digestible by users. And we can wrap all this in a story that they are passionate about, just as I was in 1998, 22 years earlier.

The following week, I got a call from a former college classmate. He wanted to become an entrepreneur and create an interactive online English teaching tool. He invited me to be his partner and create the new method. The rest is history.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster of emotions. There are times when you are at the top and times when you are at the bottom.

The best thing to do is to buckle up on this roller coaster of emotions and hold your ground. It’s not a matter of luck, it’s a matter of working hard and moving forward little by little, small but sure steps, and in the end you will reach the goal. Focus and move forward.

What problem does your business solve?

Spanish people and Hispanic people in general cannot speak English fluently. According to the EF English Proficiency Index, which is based on the results of more than 2 million tests taken in a hundred countries, Spain is relegated to the lowest positions in Europe.

Moreover, according to this international ranking in South America, Colombia, Mexico, and Ecuador have a very low level of English.

They have studied English at some point, but they can’t speak it fluently. E.g.: 81% of Spaniards have taken English lessons , and yet more than 40% can’t speak fluently.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

The inspiration is to learn languages naturally but without the need to travel abroad. The inspiration are the emotions I experienced playing Playstation(r) in English that made my oral proficiency soar (see introduction and background above).

Many Spaniards cannot afford to travel and live in an English speaking country. In Spain you can watch series in English or play videogames in English, but these are designed so that you can learn as you you experience the exciting events.

Papua makes these immersive experiences possible and at the same time teaches English in a way that is adapted and digestible for the users.

What is your magic sauce?

Ingredients: -Real-life situations. Real-life English, in different contexts and situations, both formal and informal. -All skills. Speaking, listening, reading, writing, pronunciation and socializing with the characters. – Linguistic contents taken care of by experts down to the last detain. Adapted for basic, intermediate and advanced levels. – Stories. 15 episodes per season.

They are of short duration and very dynamic, to maintain attention and learning. Appealing to your emotions. The art of masterfully blending these four ingredients is what makes PAPUA unique.

We are the only app that simultaneously: thrills you with stories, teaches you all the skills, provides you with high quality content, and exposes you to frequent and useful situations. PAPUA entails a totally disruptive, yet effective pedagogical approach.

We combine gamification and AI (speech voice recognition) in order to achieve an immersive experience.

The user becomes the protagonist in an interactive adventure in which he can actually talk to a variety of characters in real life situations.

Now, with PAPUA, everybody can boost their English in a virtual trip to NY with natural and pedagogical conversations which are adapted to your level of English.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

The challenge is first to penetrate the market in Spain and Latin America. To teach English to Spanish speakers. Both via B2B, through educational institutions and companies that want to train their employees; as well as via B2C, since we are available in the stores for the end user.

The second challenge is to teach English in other countries. Easily scalable since with just a few changes of subtitles we can teach English in countries like China, Italy, Brazil, France, etc. The longer term challenge is to teach other languages. Using the same technology and the same methodology we will be able to teach any language anywhere in the world.

For example: Spanish for English speakers. We already have: – More than 2000 free downloads so far. – More than 500 surveyed students at educational institutions. 90% consider their English has improved thanks to Papua. 80% consider their speaking skills have improved thanks to PAPUA. – A scientific study carried out at UHU (Universidad de Huelva, Spain) concludes that users value the app positively in aspects as important as motivation, speaking skills, or self correction (Peña Acuña, B y Crismán Pérez, R (2021).

Validacióm del cuestionario acerca del aprendizaje de una lengua extranjera debido al uso de la app Papua. REIDOCREA, 10(28), 1-13) – Another study carried out by BRAINTERPRETER (www.brainterpreter.com) on the emotions of users concludes that the results are positive. The interaction arouses emotions with positive valence.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

One of the biggest challenges has been to adapt the product to consumer tastes. Thanks to the feedback we were getting during the R&D stage, we were modeling the aesthetics, the dynamics, and the extra gamification. It was also a great challenge to find a voice recognition system that was as simultaneous as possible, so that users have the feeling of having natural conversations.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

On the one hand, we want to reach educational institutions and companies interested in training their employees and giving them extra oral English practice. Flexible, gamified, dosed, and with their mobile devices. On the other hand, we also have the B2C route open, and we want to make ourselves known to end users, who can acquire this immersive experience through the stores.

Written by Mark Kendall

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