OpenLanguage Podcast Host Spotlight: Q&A with Jason Bigman

Lesson hosts are the heart and soul of OpenLanguage. They bring language expertise, life stories and charisma to the learning experience. Today, we introduce Jason Bigman, host for OpenLanguage Japanese, Spanish, and English.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I am a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Aside from my obvious passion for languages, I also love good design, dumplings from various global culinary traditions, writing, and dry climates.

Q: You are quite the language nerd. Besides English and Japanese, what other languages do you speak?
A: If we go with “speak” meaning I can have conversations that involve original sentences that I’m coming up with on the fly, I can also speak Spanish, Mandarin, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Arabic.

Q: Why do you keep studying different languages?
A: I love the experience of a learning a language well enough that new worlds open up, both in terms of how to express ideas and describe the world around me but also the cultures and people of communities where that language is spoken. We live in an interconnected, globalized world and being able to personally connect with people from hugely varied geographic and linguistic backgrounds never gets old to me.

Q: What is your strategy when it comes to learning a new language?
A: One of the biggest factors to successful language learning is making sure that you’re studying a language that you truly care about, whether it be for personal or professional reasons. If you have the internal motivation, then the rest comes easily. I also tend to speak aloud to myself when I’m alone to practice speaking languages for which I don’t have regular conversation opportunities. I promise I’m not crazy.

Q: What’s your favorite OpenLanguage lesson that you’ve recorded so far?
A: I really enjoy recording Japanese lessons where my co-host Wakako and I get to delve into the complex relationship between the Japanese language and Japanese culture. The lesson “My Mom Buys Me Gifts” has some good examples of this.

Q: Any thoughts or suggestions for fellow OpenLanguage learners?
A: Keep studying! Take lots of notes and go back to lessons that you’ve already done to reinforce what you’ve previously learned. With words that are hard to remember or complex grammar patterns, try to come up with your own personal tricks or methods of comprehending them. You have to make your learning process your own.

How Important is English in Your Career Development?

A recent article in The Economist titled ‘The English Empire’ noted that an ever increasing number of international companies are adopting English as their first language. While this comes as no surprise for most English learners, what’s worth noting is that global firms from non-English speaking countries are adopting English to replace their native language as the official language.

Taking China’s Lenovo for example, its CEO Yang Yuanqing set a very personal example when he made it his priority to become fluent in English at the age of 40. Despite a grueling work schedule, he made sure to set aside time studying English everyday from learning with a personal tutor to watching American TV. He now conducts board meetings in fluent English. Another Asian boss who exemplifies commitment to learning English is Hiroshi Mikitani, the boss of Japan’s Rakuten Group which operates the ubiquitous Uniqlo chain. He made his staff learn English and once warned to demote or even fire staff who didn’t reach desired fluency. Companies from Asia to Europe recognize that it’s far more efficient to conduct business in English.

This trend means that English is becoming ever more important in one’s career development. On top of communications benefits, some business leaders including the aforementioned Hiroshi Mikitani also think that the English language helps promote attributes such as free thinking and creativity amongst employees.

Does your personal experience reflect the bigger trend? We hope you can share your experience by answering the following questions:

  • How much of a role does English play in your professional development?
  • What’s your view on the role English plays at work?
  • Do you think it’s sometimes mistaken for professional competency?
  • Did you have to learn English on the job?
  • Does your employer provide English training?
  • What key factors do you consider when looking for English training?

As the creator of English learning materials for busy adults, we want to hear your thoughts!

New OpenLanguage Design

At OpenLanguage we believe the more time you can spend connected to your studies, the more likely you will achieve your learning goals. Increasingly, a large number of our students are using 3 different devices (tablet, phone & computer) during the day to study. According to a 2013 comScore report, device usage varies heavily throughout the day. Smart phones are most popular in the morning, computers during the day and tablets at night.


To help ensure our students have a consistent study experience with web browsers on their tablets, phones & computers, as well as with our iOS and Android apps, we are implementing ‘responsive web design’ on the website and working towards a consistent design interface within the apps.

New Study Menu

The biggest change students will notice is with regards to the revised study menu.


Of note:

  • the Library of courses and lessons has been moved to a more prominent position
  • the previous ‘Courses’ and ‘Self-Study’ sections have been renamed ‘My Courses’ and ‘Saved Lessons’ to improve clarity

Additionally, many of the administration pages have been moved to a revised Account section.


This update is a work-in-progress so please let us know your comments and suggestions.


Updated Feature – Vocabulary Deck Management

We have updated the management of vocabulary decks and flashcards on both our Android and iOS mobile apps, as well as on the website. The highlights of these changes include: easier deck management, full-screen flashcards, easier vocabulary card management and a new SRS mode.

Deck Management
After you tap ‘Vocabulary’ you will be re-directed to a newly designed Vocabulary section. We have simplified and ‘flattened’ the design to draw more attention to what is important – the vocabulary decks (or ‘stacks’ of vocabulary flashcards). Each deck box displays the deck name and the number of target terms. Options for this view allow you to create a new deck or change the target language that you are studying. If you ‘long-press’ on a deck box, options to rename the deck will appear. If you ‘pull’ the page down, the decks will sync with your cloud account.


After you tap a deck box, you will be immediately be taken to the flashcards. The first thing previous students will notice is that the cards are now much bigger. Tapping the icon in the the top-left will even make them full screen!


You can navigate the cards by swiping left and right to switch between the cards, or tapping to flip the cards. You can choose what to display on the ‘front’ side of the cards in Settings with the source language translation available by default, but also the option to display the target term, the term phonetics and the term audio. On the back side of the card, you will see all the information related to the target term in addition to a green ‘View Sample Sentences’ button that will direct you to the Glossary so that you can browse sample sentences for how the term is actually used in context.


Vocabulary Card Management
In addition to Settings, in the Options section you can Manage the entire deck, Shuffle the cards, Autoplay the cards, Move the active term to another deck, Copy the active term to another deck or Delete the active term from the deck.

SRS Mode
By default the flashcard section is set to Normal Mode. For those students who want to take advantage of spaced-repetition software (SRS) technology, you now have the option to switch to SRS Mode in the Options section.


In SRS Mode, you cannot freely switch between different cards, but instead need to indicate how well you remembered the term, by selecting between Again, Hard, Good or Easy, before proceeding to the next card. This feedback is used by the SRS SM-2 algorithm to ‘smartly’ present this term to you in the future. In layman’s terms, the goal is to use technology to help more these new foreign-language terms from your short, to you medium, to your long-term memory.

Please let us know you questions or ideas below in the comments.


New Feature – Speech Accuracy

A big challenge when learning a new language is knowing whether or not what you are saying could actually be understood by a native speaker.

If you attend a language class, your teacher can quickly give you feedback, but you might have to fight with other students for their time and perhaps you might be a little shy or afraid to make mistakes. If you are studying on your own, then you are likely in a worse situation being not able to even get this minimal feedback.

At OpenLanguage we take pride in our engaging lessons, which provide lesson input, and our software tools, that help provide review opportunities, but we also realize facilitating practice opportunities and providing corrective feedback is critical for developing your new language skills.

To help with this, today we are adding a new ‘Accuracy’ feature to the Sentence and Word Review tools available in our iOS and Android mobile apps.


To take advantage of this feature, simply tap the Accuracy button to get started. To hear a native speaker read the term or sentence press the play button. Then it is your turn to try. Press record and read the term yourself. The app will analyze your recording and give you an Accuracy score.


Now, this feature utilizes speech-recognition technology which is notoriously not 100% perfect. You should approach your score, not as an absolute measure of your performance, but more as an indicator of how likely you would be understood by a native speaker. The higher your score, the more likely you will be able to engage in a conversation with that native speaker.

This feature is simply designed to be a low-risk way for you to get feedback on how well you are pronouncing those foreign-language terms.

From a technical perspective, the app converts the spoken audio to a text string (with Android using the Android SDK and with iOS using Nuance) and then compares the resultant text string with the original for the native speaker. The app then uses a string comparison algorithm (Levenshtein distance) to determine an approximate accuracy score.

If you have any suggestions please let us know in the comments.


Koestel Family

Raising Multilingual Children: Interview with Franck Koestel from

Today we focus on language learning for the little ones. Children have an amazing ability to learn new languages. As parents, how do we inspire and help them acquire new languages? Listen in as OpenLanguage co-founder Jenny Zhu talks to Franck Koestel from, one of the most popular blogs on the topic about inspiring children to learn languages through daily activities and create rewarding family bonding experiences. Both Jenny and Franck have a professional as well as deeply personal interest in the area and they share their own trials and triumphs in raising multilingual children. Whether you are in similar situations as them or simply would like to ignite your children’s interest in languages, we hope today’s conversation will help you along the way.

OpenLanguage Learner Series: Inspiring Children to Learn Languages



OpenLanguage: a option for home-schoolers

At OpenLanguage we are committed to facilitating language learning in every form it might take. While many of our students pursue learning a language in their free time, we have teachers and students using OpenLanguage in both tradition schools and home-schooling environments. With the popularity of home-schooling growing, especially in the United States in recent years, we at OpenLanguage see this as a particularly important moment to provide innovative resources for teachers and parents to use with their young-ones .

So, in order to help facilitate home-schoolers we’d like to introduce our ‘Friends and Family’ subscription plan, and extend our academic rates to all parents using the service for home-schooling their children—just $50 per student per month!

Using our Friends and Family plan, as well as the Open Academy, parents and teachers will be able to join students in their language study process as well monitor their children’s progress. This is a decided advantage over the traditional classroom where the teacher spends a majority of the time inputting the information and trying to discover individual difficulties. This is what we term the ‘Flipped Classroom’ model. In the Flipped Classroom model, all the ‘inputting’ is done before the class and teachers can use their time most effectively to help students through their difficulties as well as practice newly learned concepts. By embracing this new model of learning and teaching we believe OpenLanguage can greatly improve the pace of language learning, whether you’re a casual learner, in a traditional school, or home-schooling.

The Flipped Classroom focuses on giving students the tools they need to expose themselves to language lessons before they make it to the classroom, thus giving the teacher the ability to help students practice the newly learned information and provide corrective feedback, instead of wasting valuable time talking at students! With our OpenLanguage lessons, not only do they receive the lesson audio, guided by two of our bilingual hosts, but they also have the opportunity to use our review tools to solidify their grasp of the vocabulary and grammar, in addition to expansion sentences building on the lesson dialogue.

Finally, before ever making it to the class the students will then complete exercises designed to gauge their comprehension of the lesson. The teacher or parent can review this prior to class, giving them a powerful understanding of each student’s strengths and weaknesses. With this new approach OpenLanguage believes students and teachers will be more likely to see rapid improvement in language acquisition by facilitating the input portion of the learning process thereby increasing the value of class-time.