Holiday time is seen as a chance to get away from thinking about business ideas, but for Kai Lemmetty, his time spent traveling in Southeast Asia turned into Tutor Tigers, a new edutech company now getting off the ground. As the story goes, after a lot of time spent in Vietnam he realized that the locals know plenty of complex words and grammar, but many have trouble pronouncing the words.
This has real-world problems. For example, Southeast Asians looking to use their language skills to get employment, pronunciation can play a big roll in how a person comes across. As an example he shares these videos of two heads of state you normally don’t hear speaking English – Vladimir Putin and His Majesty The King Carl XCI Gustav of Sweden, which paints them in a different light than what they are on paper.
Additionally it can be difficult for many English learners to learn and practice speaking with “proper” tones and intonations – Lemmetty gives the example of barely being able to understand an acquaintance due to his Vietnamese accent, and was shocked to learn the man worked as an English teacher. Not to pick on anyone’s accent, but here’s one student’s recording (with permission) to give an example.
“Pronunciation is a big part of speaking a language, but people seem to focus on words and grammar,” Lemmetty tells us. “Pronunciation is the last piece people focus on.”
You could also find plenty of videos of Finns pronouncing english poorly, but from back in his school days Lemmetty remembers his class looking at a single text with the teacher making each student read a sentence or two outloud, correcting language mistakes as they go along. This helps all students listen and hear other common mistakes, while still getting a chance to work out their own difficulties. Essentially Lemmetty thought they could bring that same practice online.
So he got a few native english speakers connected to Vietnamese students on Skype and tested out the concept. After seeing the concept worked, he raised a little money in the Spring, put together a small team, and built the MVP during the last couple of months.
A student arriving at Tutor Tigers would first be asked to take the “Basic Tutor Tigers Language Test” where they read a text lasting about 2 minutes. The company then analyzes the recording and counts how many mistakes they make with phonemes to match students with students who have similar problems.
After every five classes students are given a chance to take the standard test again, and they’re given a to see how their score has improved. Currently this is still using the basic test, but in the future they have plans to make more of a certificate out of the concept. Here you can see an example of the results a student will get, and be sure to click on “Show fails and Passes” to see what they’re tracking.
The business model is straightforward. They charge students $5 for an hour long session where they join five other students, and tutors then receive a cut from the classes they teach. This means they’ll be playing a high volume game, but there’s millions of English learners with pronunciation problems to match with broke college students.
Looking at growth, at first they’re focusing on Ho Chi Minh City as a test market and have already roped in 1000 students in the MVP phase. Later, if they can get some more funding, they plan to move into Southeast Asia and South America as the next markets.