bsnl-enablem-onmobileBSNL has launched an spoken English mobile learning program called “Learn English” powered by EnableM in association with OnMobile Global, looking to address opportunity in learning spoken English. EnableM also powers the same module on SMS for Nokia Life Tools, and OnMobile Global would have brought in the IVR and speech recognition technology.

There ‘Learn English’ services tap into the opportunity provided by the need to learn English in India, with the language increasingly becoming ‘aspirational’. Ethnographer and blogger Dina Mehta, on Nokia’s invitation, had visited a village where she met a farmer who has subscribed to the Learn English component of Nokia Life Tools service for his son Umesh, and views it as an investment rather than an expense.

Mehta writes that Umesh, a 9th standard student, didn’t want to have have audio content instead of text: “he thought about it for a moment and said no! His reason was with text, you can read it again and again, understand the sentence well, and make corrections easily, which he felt would not be possible with audio.”

I think there’s a case for both text and audio, instead of substituting one with the other. The spoken English component is best served through voice services, which is what the EnableM-OnMobile combine and a startup called English Seekho are doing:

EnableM: BSNL users can subscribe to the program by dialing 1255537; Learn English is priced at Rs. 20 subscription, and a surprisingly low Rs. 0.30 per minute for the call. The content is available for Basic and Advanced English, and is available for users proficient with nine Indian languages – Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Telugu and Malayalam. Daily SMSs and practice tests are a part of the learning package. We’ve requested EnableM for a demo of the service and will update when we have more inputs.

English Seekho: developed by IL&FS Education and Technology Services Limited, the company has tied up with Tata Indicom (dial 129222) for powering English Learning through voice services. The service also costs Rs. 20 per month for subscription, but is priced comparatively higher at Rs. 0.60 per minute for access. The demo at had instructions in Hindi, with a sentence in English being spoken, and the user being asked to repeat. The voice recognition system would then verify if it had been correctly spoken or not.

Now key to the spoken English piece is the language recognition technology that powers it: the speech recognition software by itself is open source, but the training of the software is where the value lies. The more the usage, the more the software learns and correctly interprets the words spoken. One would have to deal with a counter-productive situation with the learning process: if the software learns the incorrect pronunciation of a word, then the student might end up thinking that the incorrect pronunciation is correct.