Use your interests to learn languages. Meet Gen.
Gen is a tool that is geared towards cultural connection between English and Japanese speakers, using a social and media focused environment to help learners of both languages perfect their skills. Gen uses lesson guided around a user’s interest from Japanese TV shows to J-pop lyrics to craft tailored lessons plans. 

How is Gen different from other services on the market?
Gen is different in two ways. Many language learning softwares currently on the market focus too much on one aspect of three important parts of language learning: social connection, building off of interests and rote memorization. Gen seeks to blend these three learning values where the student can not only learn the language, but use their interests to learn and connect with others.
A sampling of screens from Gen. 

Profile and group pages foster a sense of community connectedness where students can collaborate across countries to learn. 

Lessons pages use the students interests and proficiency at Japanese (for English speakers) or English (for Japanese speakers) to test students and expand their knowledge. 

Quick bits supplement what the student knows by using articles from the web to complement their lesson plans with cultural anecdotes.
Setup screens for Gen on mobile and desktop.
Example of lessons screens styles for Gen on mobile and desktop.
The hallmark of beginning the journey towards near native proficiency in a target language is what linguists call "creative language use" or the ability to take an already learned rule of a target language and extend this rule to other areas of the language as well. The goal of Gen is to focus less on translation and instead give the user help in building creative language use and preparing them not to simply translate between languages, but to think in the target language. 

Part of the challenge when designing the UI for Gen is that I wanted everything to look as simple as possible. Although I wanted students to experience language learning in ways that helped them learn more about their interests and challenged them, I didn’t want any one screen to try to do too much. On screens that focus on the student’s progress towards learning the language, that is the focus, on screens where connecting with others is the goal, those items are in focus.
Example of the on-boarding flow for Gen showing the different ways that users can interact with the app.
Messages, just one of many ways that users can interact with the app and connect with folks across borders.
Delightful details such as the color of completing a lesson successfully are an integral part of reassuring the user and congratulating them on their progress. During my research with teachers and students I looked into effective ways of positive reinforcement and its’ effect on students’ motivation towards learning language.
Example of reaction to completing a lesson perfectly.
Although I speak Japanese and have minor knowledge of some of the core values of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), I wasn't quite sure where to start when designing Gen. Part of my initial research were to read a few books on the subject. Soem of the books that most aided me were, Second Language Teaching and Learning in the Net Generation by Jeffrey and Raquel Oxford, Second Language Learning and Language Teaching by AJ Cook and the journal/magazine, Studies in Second Langue Acquisition. 

All of these readings helped me to create a framework for what I wanted to do. They also assisted me in the development of what an example curriculum could look like and provided some insight into which language learning ad assessment strategies are most useful for students.
The mind map that I created after reading the books and brainstorming on the types of interactions that I felt students would learn the most from as based off the authors’ examples.
After reading, I knew that I needed to conduct some user research, but I wasn’t quite sure how to test without the base and groundwork of the UI laid out. So I set out to work on a basic system map and some wireframes of example screens, feeling that with a base UI created, I could get feedback that was more nuanced because users would get more of an idea of what I wanted the system to look like.
My UI sketches for Gen in preparation of building wireframes to test with.
There were still some loose ends as far as learning style that I wanted to clear up before fleshing out the prototype designs as you saw above. For this, I started going directly to students and teachers, asking for their basic feedback on how they personally approach learning and what some of the gaps were as far as classroom teaching vs. online learning were concerned.
Basic timeline for research and feedback. More than likely, I’ll have to do another round of research after the second round, but because I’m still awaiting feedback from round 2, I’m unsure which aspects I will need to account for.
Top: the survey sent to teachers. Bottom: the survey given to students. 

I personally know many students who are learning Japanese, but not as many teachers who teach language, so I used the internet and reaching out to some friends to get a hold of them and look into their responses. 

Although this first survey didn’t go into the curriculum of Gen (that is the process I’m currently working through right now), I learned a lot from this survey and many of the responses influenced the final design of the app. 

For example, learned that both teachers and students found it hard to find ways of getting to interact with native speakers and accordingly, that it was hard to find material to use with learning that was relevant to the student’s interests.
For the first round of research, I kept the questions a bit more open ended, but in the subsequent sessions, with the new UI elements in place, I’d like to get more of a deeper understanding on what students think of the app itself and my attempts to balance the social with the more academic sides of the app.
For the second round of research, I created a small prototype with video and text input functionalities to see if I could get feedback on the language learning experience as well as media integration. The prototype also has the on-boarding flow and site landing page. 
Another screen capture of the mini prototype I made for the project. You can view the prototype at the link here. Please be advised that it has limited functionality!
My storyboard for the testing prototype. I intentionally added different types of entry points form multiple choice to free answer and basic translation to verb conjugation to get some feedback on what users found more successful and more valuable. 
System map for Gen. Screens marked in green represent areas that I have built out in the Ui prototypes.
I still have a little ways to go with this project and I’ll continue to try to push myself towards delivering a system that can be expanded. As I understand that setting out to map the curriculum for an entire language is too much, I need to find the balance between making the entire curriculum and building a part that I feel serves as the most plausible example of a part of the system.
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