The Clarion

Speaker creates content for language learning

Katie Paape, News Editor

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On March 27, Madison College’s STEM center had guest speaker Andy Plante-Kropp speak about language learning software Voxy, and the unexpected twists and turns of her life that lead her to become a Voxy partner.

Plante-Kropp graduated with a degree in linguistics and German from the University of North Carolina in 2012. She applied for graduate school and was well on her way to achieving her Masters in language when she was given the opportunity to teach English to German high school students. She loved it so much she postponed graduate school and moved to Berlin. Her life took another unexpected turn when she met her now husband.

Plante-Kroppe began a new phase in her linguistic career when she started working for Voxy in August of 2017. Voxy is an online English learning program founded in Brazil in 2010 by Milwaukee-native Paul Gollash. The platform now has 4 million user accounts in 150 different countries.

Voxy uses real world situations to teach real people English. This is completed by content developers like Plante-Kropp who believe in teaching living language rather than grammatically correct sentences that have no context for use in real life.

“We kind of throw people into the deep end,” laughs Plante-Kropp on teaching people the English native speakers use daily. However daunting at first, English learners will get more out of regular English conversation than sentences such as, “the monkey sits on a tree,” which is commonly used in language learning apps and platforms, but seldom sees the light of day in a real conversation.

“Living languages change over time, and they change depending on who you’re speaking to,” said Plante-Kropp. You can’t rely on textbook translations to get through real life interactions within a culture.

There’s more to learning language than translation alone. You have to be able to communicate what you want to say. This is where Plante-Kropp’s content development comes in. It is her job to find material that’s relevant to each learner.

“We always begin with a needs analysis. We just ask you what you’re interested in,” said Plante-Kropp. Whether it’s sports, cooking or studying for an English test, you can learn new vocabulary from anything you’re excited about. The more enthusiastic you are about the subject, the more likely you are going to remember the new words.

Right now, Plante-Kropp is working on developing content for courses in criminology, geospatial information science, flight attendance, and even a vineyard in Argentina, who wants their employees to improve their English.

To create personalized language content requires a variety of skills. “I do video editing, I do audio editing, I do photoshop, you become a jack of all trades,” she notes. “It’s a combination of skills that goes into making the lessons.”

Content developers for Voxy work with AI to predict which words will be good vocabulary words. “Let software do what it does best, and let humans do what we currently do better,” emphasizes Plante-Kropp.

Essentially, AI gives you words it thinks you don’t know, and it remembers what you do know so you are not wasting time practicing what you already remember. “Because everything is adaptive, everything you see is based on the skill level you’ve shown so far. The better you get, the harder the tasks get.”

Voxy currently has 55,000 hours of content, and this number is growing every day.

“People stick around on our platform. Something we’re doing allows people to get through the basic level in record time.”

Voxy values research, and giving people the best education they can, and they are constantly improving their content. “We’re grounded in research and focused on outcomes,” says Plante-Kropp.

“I love love love my job. I super believe in Voxy’s mission statement, and the way we go about what we do.”

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Speaker creates content for language learning