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Friday, Sep. 30, 2011

Net site thrives providing good will language help

Kyodo, Staff report

The banner on an Internet site set up by a Chinese man in Kyoto says "Learn a language the right way from native speakers," and takers are lining up worldwide.

The language-learning site, called Lang-8, allows registrants to post writings in a foreign language so other registrants well versed in that language can correct the grammar. At present, the site offers the service for free covering about 80 languages — not just English, French and Chinese but also minor languages such as Afrikaans — and has been accessed from 190 nations.

The site is operated by Ki Yoyo, 27, who was born in China and came to Japan with his parents at age 4.

"It was because of my own experience that I set up the site," he said.

When Ki studied at a university in Shanghai under an exchange program when he was a student at Kyoto University, he was unable to keep up in his classes because he didn't understand Chinese.

He began learning various expressions after starting to write a journal in Chinese and asked his Chinese roommate to correct the grammar. In return, he corrected the writings of students studying Japanese.

"Why don't I do the same thing on the Internet?" he remembers thinking at the time.

He started the site in 2007 after returning to Japan but was soon faced with a huge challenge — getting registrants fluent in various mother tongues.

He asked exchange students at Kyoto University to email bloggers overseas to promote the service. The site eventually spread by word of mouth, and now registrants number more than 270,000.

To test the service, a 30-year-old reporter wrote in Spanish: "I want to visit here if I could go on a trip." About 10 minutes later a Spaniard corrected the tense while an Argentinian cheered his effort.

When the reporter edited a Japanese sentence written by a South Korean, a message of appreciation was posted in broken Japanese.

Registrants are not obliged to edit content, but "people apparently feel joy when they are able to help others and are thanked for their efforts," Ki said.

Unlike one-on-one language lessons, where there is only one teacher, the service allows many people to offer advice, allowing the learner to study various expressions.

Because it takes a fair amount of money to develop and operate the service, Ki's company relies on a small amount of advertisements for revenue. Although the site doesn't rake in much cash, he said it "is based on the good will of people around the world. I'm only offering the site."

His goal is to increase the registrants to 100 million.

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