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Local creates language website

By Staff | Nov 11, 2011

Learning a foreign language can be a daunting task for some. The sheer amount of vocabulary, not to mention the cost of traditional classes, can scare even some of the most dedicated people away.

But one Shepherdstown resident is hoping to take away the emotional and financial stress of learning a new language, with his new creation Pronunciator.com.

About a year ago, Robert Savage had an idea to create a way to evaluate how well people speak a foreign language. There were two criteria he wanted his idea to meet. It needed to work in a web browser, and it needed to be free.

After one short, bumpy year Pronunciator.com went live in September 2011 with over 60 foreign languages, twice as many as competitor Rosetta Stone, according to Savage, available to learn completely for free. The website now contains approximately 3 million pages of interactive lessons, Savage said.

Savage thought up, financed and now manages all aspects of the Pronunciator project, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have help along the way.

Savage worked with over 200 people worldwide to bring together the lessons. He also has ongoing help from a team of programmers, web designers and graphic artists. He wished for the service to be “maintenance free,” though he admitted that with a project this scale that still meant constant maintenance.

In creating the software, Savage called upon his long history of creating large-scale web services, which he said began in 1995. He also used his experience working in France and Italy at the University of Venice.

“I learned these languages the old-fashioned way. First in a classroom setting, and then by living and working in the countries,” Savage said in an email interview.

Savage claimed that the goal of Pronunciator was to simulate both the classroom and the real-life immersion within a virtual environment. In order to do this, the software offers virtual conversations, which can give the user feedback on how well they are speaking the language.

Users who visit the site will log in, and then choose which language they currently speak and the language they wish to learn. Lessons are divided up by level, with Level 1 being basic vocabulary and Level 5, conversations. The software speaks the word to the user, and then the user has the option of speaking back to be evaluated.

Users can register for an account to save scores and track progress. Savage also offers a premium service on Pronunciator called Audio Assistant. This consists of downloadable audio courses for those on the go. The Spanish Audio Assistant contains over 880 lessons. This premium service costs between $99 and $129 per level, or users can by all of the levels bundled for $499.

“The service is suitable for a wide variety of people, from school children to retirees. You can learn an unlimited number of languages at no charge. You can refresh your knowledge of languages you learned in the past,” Savage said, encouraging users to explore the software.

Shepherdstown residents are starting to adopt the software. The Shepherdstown Public Library was amongst the first customers of the service.

“I was really impressed So many people around the world are going to be helped by it,” said Anne Eden, children’s librarian.

Savage came to the library to present the tool to library staff, who was using competitor Rosetta Stone up to that point. Eden was so impressed with what she saw that she passed on the information to a friend who was trying to speak with a pen pal from Cuba.

“I can see where young kids could pick it up easily since it is so graphic,” said Shepherdstown resident Rita Rudolf referring to the large, high-contrast images that accompany the vocabulary lessons.

Savage claimed that even if you do not intend to use what you learn, the act of learning a language is a beneficial mental exercise.

To learn more, visit pronunciator.com.