Latin American children vs children in Latin America: What I learned in Start-up Chile


I knew that making educational software for Latino children in the U.S. and for children in Chile would need to be different. I just didn’t how or how much until I spent the last year working with schools here.

How Spanish speakers used our bilingual software

In the U.S. , Spanish-speaking children are extremely motivated to learn English. Their teachers speak English and may not speak Spanish at all. Most of their classmates speak English. The music, movies, TV shows, billboards – basically, everything around them is in English, which makes it easier to learn and also makes them a lot more driven to learn.

When U.S. Latino children played games like AzTech: The Story Begins, they listened to the videos or read the text in English first and tried to understand it. If they couldn’t answer the math or history questions, then they clicked the button to switch to Spanish.

Everyone speaks English here!

How Chilean children are different

Think back to when you were in school. How motivated were you to learn French, Spanish, German or whatever it was the school and your parents forced you to take? If you were like most students, not very motivated at all. Turns out, Chilean students are just like that because they are not learning English as a second language but, rather, English as a foreign language.

The difference is that they aren’t speaking English every day or surrounded by it.

So, what does a normal child do in this situation? They immediately switch to their native language because it is easier. It is exactly like when my kids were younger and we would go to bilingual mass. They’d just tune out the part in Spanish and wait until the priest started speaking English. They did not NEED to learn another language.

It’s not just a matter of motivation. Children in Chile are not exposed to English at every turn, like Spanish-speaking children in the U.S. are.

How we changed our games for Latin America

The first change we made was to step WAY back and start with teaching basic English vocabulary. The second change, at the same time, was to realize that the typical student is going to require more motivation than the average U.S. Spanish speaker. So, we have two apps coming out with augmented reality (AR). The first should be submitted to Google Play on Friday.  Each app will teach a small number of words directly.

Learn numbers in Spanish and English

The third change has to do with the slower download speed and more limited data plans in much of Chile. Having an app that is 400MB or more to download is more of an issue. We’re creating more games but with fewer levels, broken down more finely in the content taught. Instead of multiplication and division, for example, we’ll just have division.

How changing for Chile helps American students

One thing that surprises people who come here for the first time is how really big of a country the U.S. is. That means we have some of everything, including rural areas where download speed is an issue. We have teachers who would like software that is broken down at a more finely-grained level. In fact, this fall, we took what we had learned in Chile and applied it to create a game used primarily by rural students living on American Indian reservations  – Making Camp Lakota

tipi in the woods

This goes back to my previous post about the global market. You never know what changes you’ll need to make to serve users in another country. All you can know for sure is that it won’t be exactly like where you came from and it won’t be completely different. In what ways? You’ll need to go there to find out.

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