HiNative: Giving language learners a handy way to ask native speakers

Lang-8 co-founder and CEO YangYang Xi(喜洋洋)

Seven years ago, Tokyo-based entrepreneur Yang Yang Xi launched the language-learning platform Lang-8. He came up with the idea while studying language at Kyoto University.

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His company, also called Lang-8, fundraised an undisclosed sum from Tokyo-based VC firm CyberAgent Ventures in January. Because startups usually fundraise to launch a new business or expand their current business so we’ve been interested in how they will take a next step from there. That’s exactly what we want to tell you today.


A new product from Lang8, HiNative gives users who are studying a language an easy way to connect to native speakers of that language.

Typical language learners often have to refer to a dictionary or consult a foreign language teacher to learn appropriate expressions. However, a dictionary takes a grammatical and a formal approach, which does not work well for daily conversation, and a teacher is not always around to help.

HiNative is just the app to overcome these problems. It allows users the choice of one of four question templates to query a native speaker on the platform (see below picture). Users are notified of their answers to their questions via e-mail.

hinative_screenshot1 hinative_screenshot2

You will set your native language(s) and the language(s) you are interested in when signing up for the service, so you will be requested to answer when another user puts a question on your language. The app is developed based on a responsive web design so you can comfortably keep using it on a smartphone or tablet as well as on a desktop.

Xi explained what has triggered his team to start developing HiNative:

With the Lang-8 platform, we initially thought that blogging is a good way to learn foreign languages with communication. But to keep blogging requires users to sustain a high motivation. While many web services have been shifting to mobile, blogging or writing a long story using a mobile interface is pretty difficult. So we had to develop something beyond the Lang-8 platform.

If a native speaker were standing next to you, it would be easy for you to ask him or her for a proper native phrase. But it’s not substantial. That’s why we developed HiNative.

Xi and his team have developed HiNative leveraging all the experience they’ve learned from the Lang-8 platform both in good sides and bad sides. Despite the fact that they launched the HiNative app as early as several months ago, they are already confident for user acquisition but are more focusing on tactics to improve user retention rate. Xi elaborated:

For a better user engagement, I think what users experience during their first visit to our service is a key. That’s why we’ve been running usability tests a bunch of times. Duolingo nicely marked 36 million downloads worldwide. But they are a content-based platform. We believe that a social network approach will be a main stream in the language learning platform. We aim to be the top platform in the social-based language learning category.

He added that the user active rate of the HiNative app is pretty better than that of the Lang-8 platform. In order to give users much better experience, they will launch an iOS app some day next month, as well as planning to start developing an Android version soon.