Learning Culture Nuances with Native Speakers

My Role     





End- to- end design process: Research; Design Strategy; Visual design; Prototyping; Usability testing; Project Management

Sketch, Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop, Principle, Keynote, Premiere, After Effect 


8 Months (Fall 2017- Spring 2018)

Conversa is a language assistant app that allows people to learn idioms and their context through using conversational videos.

The way people communicate varies widely between, and even within, cultures.

In a survey commissioned by Education First in partnership with the Economic Intelligence Unit, almost half of nearly 600 executives from across the world admitted that communication misunderstandings have stood in the way of major international business deals and therefore caused significant economic losses.

As a language learner studying in the U.S., I have found it is challenging for me to communicate my ideas in certain situations. I am not alone - many non-native speakers have similar issues. This inspired me to start my thesis project. 



I set out to understand how people learn a language in their daily life, what the challenges are when language learners communicate with others, and how people document their questions. I conducted qualitative and quantitative research that helped me understand users’ needs and problems.


  What is an effective way to build a  language assistant  that improves the way people understand cultural nuances as they learn and communicate with others who share different language backgrounds?   


  • People have a hard time understanding cultural norms.

  • It is hard to understand the contextual meaning of certain words and phrases.

  • The pronunciation seems a little bit off when they speak with native speakers. ​​

Armed with design requirements generated from the research findings, the next phase of the project is design. This includes ideation, early concept directions, user flow, storyboard, low-high fidelity prototypes and mockups.




Usability testing was conducted 3 times during the design process. The purpose was to get feedback from target users to iterate the product. I learned what aspects of the design were working and what aspects needed further exploration. After getting feedback from users, these insights were implemented into decision making and design iterations. 

I personally learned a lot during the past 8 months, and my thesis is just the beginning. This story is a part of the learning network. When you build your network, you are able to learn from others over time.

To move forward this project, I will need to create a user community simulation where I can leverage users from an existing platform to test with real people and document their learning process. In order to do that, I need to partner with existing language learning platform and video service such as Youtube, Lynda, Google Assistant, etc. and see if they are interested in build a small team internally.  


My Long- term goal is to create a learning environment for people to share their knowledge through teaching. In future iterations, I will add more opportunities for interaction between learners and teachers, consider business model and constraints of technology. Potential business model would be revenue share and subscription model.

It provides language learners a more efficient and accessible way to learn from native speakers over time. Based on the feedback I received, 90% of people usually ask friends to explain the meaning of certain words or phrases. 45% of language learners face difficulties talking with native speakers because they don’t understand the context. 40% of language learners mention they don’t understand most idioms. There is a huge opportunity to use an online platform to make the teaching process more accessible for everyone. People are able to use this tool to improve their language, as well as share knowledge with each other.


It creates a learning environment for people to share their knowledge through teaching. During the evaluation process, users acknowledged that it is helpful to have real people teaching idioms and giving them a chance to ask questions because there are multiple perspectives and opinions about what idioms mean. Learning from native speakers who have experience makes the learning process a lot of fun for language learners.  If we can combine AI chatbot with human knowledge, we will help people learn cultural nuances better. Once people learn that, they can build connections with others, expanding their learning network continuously.  
(Network Effect)