Polymigo seeks to connect and open doors for people seeking to learn English
This Biola startup combines language with augmented reality to serve children learning English. | Chak Hee Lo / THE CHIMES [file]
Junior marketing major Zihao Wang, graduate student You Chae and Public transport bus driver Grace Leal created Polymigo—a language learning platform geared towards children that combines augmented reality with a children’s book. They entered the Biola Startup Competition and won the third place spot, which earned them a $5,000 prize to help build their company. However, their unique idea did not start from a desire for money or success.
All three of them grew up speaking a different language. Wang came to the United States from China when he was 15 years old, Chae came from South Korea when he was 13 years old and Leal is a U.S. native. Wang and Chae spoke their native language, while Leal grew up in a Spanish speaking household. They each found themselves surrounded by people who only spoke English. The feeling of living in a place where everyone around you speaks a different language is difficult to grasp.
“Even though I was born and raised here, my parents spoke nothing but Spanish,” Leal said. “I had to learn [English] at school, so my experience was like jumping in the pool and learning how to swim.”
All three members of the team struggled to fit in and engage with the society around them. It was something that drew them together and connected them, like they were part of a club that most people around them could not understand.
“All of us here, English was our second language,” Leal said. “We all struggled learning English as kids, which is where this book was birthed because we all relate and we’ve all felt the pain of struggling to learn a second language.”
That struggle affected them not just on a social level, but on an academic level as well.
“I failed pretty much all my classes first year, high school,” Wang said. “[I] just felt alone all the time. I felt like nobody understands me, and just the state of isolation that definitely has a lot of effect on me until this day.”
How it Works
While the struggle impacts the team member's lives, it also belongs to many monolingual immigrants in the country. So, Wang, Chae and Leal got together and decided to do something about it. Wang and Chae study business while Leal has had plenty of experience helping run a family business. Wang came up with the idea to create an online platform that would teach English to Chinese students. Once Leal joined the team, she suggested shifting the project and coming up with a more original idea. The trio drew inspiration from Zach King’s recent book, “Zach King: My Magical Life,” which also uses augmented reality in a similar way.
Thus, Polymigo was born. They decided to create a children’s book that non-native speakers can start with at a young age. The book would contain all sorts of vocabulary from everyday life. This is where the augmented reality comes in: the words and images on the book can be scanned by a smartphone app that will bring the image to life on the phone. This makes learning language fun, something the group believes is often not the case when people learn through tests and lectures. Polymigo eliminates the feeling of a test by encouraging interaction. It shows children everyday terms in their own language by making everyday connections.
Polymigo is not just concerned with teaching children. The idea is to have a book that will be able to teach someone no matter the age. The group plans on releasing multiple volumes that become progressively difficult. For example, the first book is comprised largely of vocabulary, but later volumes will teach things like grammar and sentence structure.
“What we’re trying to create is a sustainable cycle where they learn it, they retain it and they always can refer back to it,” Wang said.
The entire company reflects their desire to spare people from the pain they felt when they struggled to learn English. They want to use language to connect and create opportunities for people not just in America, but around the world. It is in their name—Polymigo—a combination of poly and amigo. It means “many friends.”
“We felt like we were called to be the light and salt of children all around the world who seek a better life and better opportunities,” Wang said. “If you can communicate English, or whatever language that you’re trying learn, the doors [will] be open for you.”