Call it a colonial hangover or the aspiration to be part of the global dialogue, but Indians have always had a passion for English. In fact, Indian English is a recognised variation of the Queen’s English. And thanks to centuries of British colonial rule, Indian languages also lent a fair share of words to English. So India has had a strong influence on the way the language has evolved.
Even then, most Indians go to primary school taught in regional language or vernacular medium. After graduating through college and universities, these students often struggle to match up to their counterparts who have always been schooled in English. Thankfully, technology removes most barriers and gamification of learning and education has levelled the playing field in many ways and helped much of rural and semi-urban India catch up with the urban class.
These days, English is an indispensable language skill for Indians looking for jobs in the tech industry and the new-age economy. Beyond basic knowledge, employers are looking for modern communication, presentation, negotiation, and interpersonal skills. This extends to many gig economy jobs in the consumer services sector as well and in the retail market too.
To a population obsessed with being fluent in English, the lack of access to learning the language is a big impediment, and dodgy ‘coaching classes’ abound. This was realised by Arshan Vakil when he was working at an ecommerce startup in Mumbai which was helping underserved young workers get mentorship and advance career opportunities.
“English is inherently linked to most career opportunities in the formal sector yet there is a huge lack of access to English training across the country. So we started enguru with the aim to bridge the workplace English gap that unfairly hampers the majority of Indian’s career aspirations,” the founder of edtech startup Kings Learning, which runs the Enguru app told Inc42.
Reports state that English is the primary language—mother tongue—of 256K Indians, the second language of 83 Mn people, and the third language of another 46 Mn people in India, making it the second-most widely spoken language after Hindi as per the 2011 Census.
Focusing on English speaking, enguru uses a combination of self-learning modules as well as live classes for English learning users. Launched in 2015, the enguru app enables users to learn English through interactive games and conversations.
Thanks to proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, the app personalises the experience for each user, which happens in two ways. Firstly, enguru understands the responses from each user and accordingly frames the questions in the self-learning mode. Then it also helps a user understand where they went wrong with the pronunciation through a simulated conversation mode. The live class segment is activity-based where users practise speaking with each other through job-focused scenarios.
Gamifying The Learning Methodology
With English being a common language and plenty of free online courses to avail, learners are spoiled for choice. So generating revenue from a model like enguru’s would be a challenge, but Vakil believes in taking it one step at a time.
“We launched live classes as our first paid feature in September 2019. Live classes are purchased using enguru coins which can be earned by completing app levels or purchased directly. We have seen an MoM growth of 108% to reach over 32K monthly sessions.”
Besides, the consumer-facing offering, enguru also partners with businesses in the retail, hospitality, banking, financial services, and skill development sector. “These partnerships include training workforces on a quarterly subscription basis in addition to helping build our consumer brand. Our partners include Tata Trent (Retail), Oberoi Hotels, Magic Bus, and NSDC,” Vakil added.
The English learning app startup has raised a total of $2.5 Mn from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, while other investors include Village Capital and Weihua Yan. The round was raised in 2017.
Founded in 2015, Kings Learning claims enguru was the first third-party app to be launched on the JioPhone feature phone platform, where it claims to have got over 120K downloads on the first day and over 25 Mn downloads in under two years. Across its apps, the company claims to have 32 Mn users. Vakil told Inc42 that the recently launched live class feature offers activity-based classes where users practise speaking with each other through job-focused scenarios. “With an MoM growth of 250%, we’re at 1500 daily live user sessions,” he added.
In terms of its target audience, enguru focuses on young adults and working professionals in the age group of 16 to 30 years. Vakil said individuals that are going to enter the workforce or have recently started working are realising the importance of English in progressing at the jobs.
“Our audience has mostly studied in local medium schools while growing up but not always.”
Vakil added that classes that are targeting those from a vernacular background, as well as live classes, have made enguru popular among students.
Fighting Off Competition In Language Learning Segment
For the year ahead, enguru plans to start live classes offered by the platform and its B2C strategy would be the key focus. Vakil said that the increasing demand for tech-enabled learning solutions can be gauged by the fact that more than 3,500 edtech startups were operating in India.
A KPMG report on the edtech sector in 2017 predicted that India will have 9.6 Mn users paying for online education by 2021 and a market value of approximately $132.98 Bn by 2023. Vakil says these are conservative estimates and believes that the edtech sector in India will grow even faster, as more models are launched.
With those numbers in place, the presence and prominence of the edtech sector in India are expected. While it may seem that online learning in India is fairly new, enguru is not the first in the AI-enabled online learning space.
Indian online language learning apps like Hello English and HinKhoj, as well as international counterparts such as Duolingo have added to the competition in this space. Many have been here for much longer than enguru. Additionally, the likes of Pune-based Utter with over 3 Mn downloads have come up as newer rivals for enguru. So naturally, penetrating this competitive market comes with its set of challenges around customer loyalty, acquisition, UI/UX as well as feature building.
Vakil believes that digital innovation is disrupting traditional education and widening access to quality education while promoting richer outcomes and higher engagement. He welcomed the competition as it’s increasing the relevance of edtech in the consumer market.
“With the rise of edtech companies, video-based content and live learning portals, online learning is complementing traditional, classroom-based learning,” Vakil told us.
He believes that e-learning platforms need to work collaboratively with traditional teaching models. Tech platforms will help teachers and facilitators provide a more comprehensive learning experience by tracking student progress. And going ahead Kings Learning and enguru will continue betting on personalised and gamified self-learning journeys to keep learners engaged and outcomes measurable.