- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Two years ago, Thomas Reese was a University of Illinois student learning Chinese. He figured there had to be a more effective way to pick up a new language than by using flashcards.

One day, while browsing the Web, it came to him.

Why not create an application where users can simultaneously be online and learn a new language?

“I figured there’s nothing really special happening when you’re browsing the Web. You’re just trying to get content, and you might as well at the same time be getting some other value out of it,” Reese said.

The computer science graduate, who earned his master’s degree this spring, came up with the idea of FlipWord: an application that allows users to browse a website while passively being exposed to words in another language.

When the product is ready for purchase - which Reese hopes will be by the end of this summer - users will be able to download the software onto their Google Chrome Web browsers. They will then select which language they wish to learn, and which language they are native in. There are currently around 60 languages to choose from.

As users visit any Web page, a few highlighted words in the new language will periodically appear. Depending on the user’s mode of input, he or she can then hover over a word with the cursor or click on it to hear it and see its translation.

Over time, that word will appear repetitively until new words begin to appear.

Reese said the program is designed to make learning a new language passive, so the user doesn’t have to spend any extra time or effort studying.

The user also doesn’t need to set anything up with the software.

“People can customize it, but it is all completely automated at that point,” Reese said.

Joseph Milla, a senior in computer science at the UI, is working alongside Reese to create content for FlipWord. The two also have mentors and 150 people testing the software to provide feedback.

“We can only improve it if we get feedback,” Reese said. “We don’t want to just improve it to what we think is best. It should be designed so that you want to use it, and not so that some corporation thought that was a good idea. It’s designed first and foremost for the user to learn something.”

Reese developed a prototype for FlipWord over a year ago, but began putting more work into improving it this past semester.

“The main thing I want out of it is I want to make it easy for people to learn,” Reese said. “No matter what, you will gain something.”

The two will be participating in the Illinois Entrepreneurship Fellowship this summer, an eight-week incubator featuring top student startups. Participants are provided with resources to build prototypes, further develop their ventures and learn more about the competitive landscape.

FlipWord won first place in the non-university funded category in this year’s Cozad New Venture Competition, which is hosted by the Technology Entrepreneur Center at the UI. The team was awarded $15,000 in funding.

Reese and Milla have also participated in several hackathons and have built different modules for their product.

Milla, a native of the Philippines, said he became interested in working on FlipWord because of his own experience learning a new language when he came to the U.S.

“Hopefully, this will be a big thing in the next year or two,” he said.

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Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, https://bit.ly/1Hgtfnm

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Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com

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