[Herald Interview] Korean learning app Mypool aims to beat rivals

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Aided by the success of South Korean popular culture, interest in learning the Korean language has exploded in recent years.

The number of foreign applicants for the state-run Korean language proficiency test exceeded 375,000 in 2019, a hundred times more than in the past decade. American apps such as Duolingo and Rosetta Stone have been popular choices for many foreigners, but a local company hopes to change that.

“We wanted to create an app that teaches Korean by Koreans,” said Lee Hyun-jun, CEO of online learning services company eKYSS, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

The company launched a global version of its language-learning app Mypool in April after successfully launching a local version in February. The global version is for non-Koreans learning Korean, and the local version is for Koreans learning other languages.

“What sets Mypool apart from other services is better content, lower price and smarter learning,” he said.

The monthly subscription fee for the global version of Mypool is $3.90 per month, cheaper than Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. It also offers a combination of video lectures, quizzes and personalized services using artificial intelligence technologies that cater to individual student levels.

Mypool is the nation’s first subscription-based language learning app.

“We have subscription services for movies, music and even books. Why not for the language? he said.

For some other popular local e-learning apps, users have to buy expensive tablets to start lessons. But Mypool does not require any additional device. “With just under $5 a month, you’re good to go,” he said.

Lee’s personal life taught him the importance of education and inspired him to get into the field.

Both of his biological parents are blind and his biological mother left him when he was a baby. The only way his father could earn a living was working as a massage therapist.

“I was ashamed and fed up with poverty,” he recalls.

Still, he earned decent grades and majored in management at Hanyang University.

“From childhood, I knew the importance of education. With education you can change your life,” he said.

After gaining years of business experience at private learning centers in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam area, he launched the country’s first online language learning service over the phone in partnership with Samsung Networks in 2007. , years before the launch of smartphones in Korea.

The business was short-lived, though he knew the era of people using phones to learn would eventually come.

“We were just too ahead of our time,” he said, recalling how long it took to even text back then.

“But I don’t regret it. I learned by trial and error through the service, which became the precursor to Mypool.

After it closed, it started a new education business, partnering with churches.

“We rented unused education centers in large churches during the week at a cheaper price and provided education to students at an affordable price. For poor students, we didn’t get any money,” Lee said.

But as the business began to prosper, he soon had to close shop after becoming embroiled in legal disputes that drove his business into bankruptcy.

“But I didn’t give up. I thought I could start over,” he said.

As e-learning takes off and Korea accelerates its transition to the digital age, he established e-learning company eKYSS in 2012 and launched Mypool this year after years of development.

Just a few months after launch, the Mypool service has around 10,000 members on the local version and around 2,000 on the global version. It aims to attract 160,000 combined users by the end of this year.

The Korean learning service is now offered to those who speak English, Chinese, Indonesian and Vietnamese. The app will soon be extended to meet the needs of Spanish, Italian and Japanese speakers.

“I hope to make Mypool a center of learning where everyone can learn without barriers and change their lives like I was able to.”

By Shin Ji-hye ([email protected])

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