Lura wants to leverage AI to teach English

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Among the professions that are at risk of being replaced by AI, language teacher is definitely at the top.

This is not necessary as it is a good idea. AI, some employers have decided – including most recently Duolingo – is a reasonable enough stand-in for human experts when it comes to language instruction. Despite the fact that AI-translated text tends to be less lexically rich than human translations, the cost savings are attractive enough in the minds of some managers to make the trade-off worth it.

But some companies argue that AI can do at scale what language teachers cannot.

One of them is Lura, which relies on conversational AI to teach English to students. Founded by Roy Mor and Yonti Levin, Loora's iOS app lets users chat with a chatbot that responds to their English understanding.

“Idea for Laura [came from] Our frustration is with learning the language,” Mor told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Language learning apps are only designed for beginners or casual learners, and human teachers are too expensive, inconvenient, and of limited availability.”

Loora, whose name is the Arabic word for “language,” offers learners a number of AI-generated conversation topics and scenarios to choose from, ranging from sports, tech, business, fashion, books and TV shows to interviews and presentations. The app provides feedback on grammar as well as pronunciation and pronunciation, and – if users get stuck – direct translation into their native language.

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Image Credit: lura

Lura scores users based on their proficiency over time, and uses this score to personalize conversations based on their speaking level.

Several English learning platforms offer features along those lines, including OpenAI-supported Speak, Preply (which has recently doubled down on AI technology), and ELSA. But Peacock claims that Lura is different because it is aimed at “serious learners” who are individually trying to achieve fluency in English. And Professional advancement.

“Most other language learning apps on the market are limited and gamified,” Peacock said. “Lura built, trained, and optimized its AI for the sole purpose of enabling users to achieve English fluency – far beyond casual conversation skills… We are committed to training and optimizing our models. We use only our own data and bespoke training and assessment systems, resulting in continuously-improved retention.”

Mor additionally makes the case that Lura is a better fit than other apps and tutors for specific language learning use cases – presenting ideas in a business meeting, for example. They claim that teachers are limited by their domain knowledge – a limitation Loora's app doesn't have (or so Peacock claims). And specialized tutors are likely to be in greater demand than general, all-round tutors, says Peacock.

“Let's say a learner is interested in learning to discuss business concepts at a high level for work purposes,” Peacock said. “If the tutor is unfamiliar despite being a native speaker, they will not be suitable to teach English for that specific purpose.”

This is very promising given the limitations inherent in language learning apps – especially those with no element of human feedback.

In a study of the effectiveness of popular language learning apps at Michigan State University, almost every participant improved grammar and vocabulary, but only around 60% improved in oral proficiency – a common sticking point in digital language learning programs. The study authors concluded that a hybrid setup—that is, a combination of online and classroom learning—is the best way to learn and retain second language skills.

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Lura assigns a score based on the user's perceived English proficiency.

But that hasn't discouraged Lura's investors, who would likely have been put off by the size of the total market for English language learning (more than $70 billion by 2030, according to data analysis firm Research & Markets).

Lura today announced it raised $12 million in a Series A round led by QP Ventures with participation from Hearst Ventures, Emerge, and Two Lanterns Venture Partners – bringing Lura's total raised to $21.25 million. Peacock says the cash will be used to finance the development of Lura's Android app, “deepen” Lura's core AI technology and conversational capabilities, and expand the startup's headcount from 14 employees to 25 by the end of 2024.

Lura also intends to launch an enterprise service, which will further expand on its existing customer base of 15,000 app users. (Lura charges $15 a month, or $120 a year, for access to its app.) While the startup's consumer business continues to grow — 8x in 2023, in terms of annual recurring revenue — Peacock is adding on corporate customers. Looks at the accelerator.

“Our planned business-to-business offering will make Lura available through employers, universities and institutions, making it increasingly accessible to those who want and need it most,” Peacock said. “with [the Series A] Fundraising, our efficient unit economics, growing customer base and ever-increasing demand for English learning solutions, we believe we are well prepared to face any potential headwinds and take our learners forward Will continue to grow and serve them.