TalkAbroad, LLC - Connecting language learners to native speakers around the world -

TalkAbroad, LLC - Connecting language learners to native speakers around the world -

Organization type: 
for profit
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Language learning is difficult. Particularly in schools. Why? Because there is an enormous scarcity of the one thing most needed: People who were raised speaking the language. One teacher. 30 students. But this shouldn't be! There are millions of the native speakers of any given language. The problem: an imperfect market. Hundreds of thousands of native speakers are willing to work and spend time with students to share their language and culture- But they have no access to the students. The market is in classrooms thousands of miles away. TalkAbroad solves this inefficiency. We provide international entrepreneurs with the tools and training to create a business of their own with access to the institutional language learning market.
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Currently we work with entrepreneurs in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. These entrepreneurs come from a variety of backgrounds, but the goal is the same: to create businesses that will provide employment for those in their immediate community. These entrepreneurs are employing over 60 people and are providing language services to universities and high schools in the United States for Spanish studies. The response from local communities has been terrific. In most countries the entrepreneurs have a waiting list of people who want to work with them. Similarly, the response from universities has been strong. We are now partnering with over 10 schools to provide speaking opportunities for students. Michigan State University is presenting a research paper in late May after doing a study of alternative teaching methods using TalkAbroad. TalkAbroad plans to expand and work with entrepreneurs speaking Chinese, French, German, and Arabic by Fall of 2012.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

TalkAbroad addresses economic justice issues in developing countries. One of the most crippling problems in helping communities out of poverty is that there is a lack of jobs. Lots of people, but limited employment opportunities.<br /><br /> TalkAbroad helps these communities to mobilize one of their primary skills (their language), and to create employment and profitable businesses around that skill. We are, for the first time, providing access to the language learning market for native language speakers located internationally. This is innovative as it combines traditional vocational training with a proven business model and sales channel, making a tremendous impact on success rates.<br /><br /> Secondarily, TalkAbroad is innovating the language learning market. Traditional learning has revolved around reading, writing and grammar. By integrating TalkAbroad conversation partners into the curriculum, educational institutions are now able to require and supervise conversations for their students with native speakers internationally. This enables professors to focus on oral proficiency skills to a much higher degree than possible in the past.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

TalkAbroad works with two distinctly different communities:<br /><br /> International Entrepreneurs: We provide training and mentoring to international entrepreneurs interested in starting a business working with students. In doing so we partner with local development organizations to identify potential entrepreneurs, and work directly with the individuals to help them create a business plan and become ready to participate in the global language learning market. Once successful these businesses employ members of their community, providing jobs and invigorating the local economy.<br /><br /> Educational Institutions: We work directly with schools who desire to provide students with increased exposure to the target language. We provide access to native speakers internationally, as well as software tools for complete transparency and supervision in the process. Current clients include Michigan State University, Auburn University, Virginia Tech, University of Oklahoma and others. Logistically, the entrepreneurs start a company that employs conversation partners in their community. These conversation partners use TalkAbroad software to connect with students studying the language. The students are required to use TalkAbroad by their instructor as part of the course. When we work with instructors we encourage them to think of it as though their student is sitting down for lunch with a native speaker in the target language (done through video-conferencing). And they can provide the topics of conversation to reinforce what they are teaching in class. For instance, if the student needs to write a paper about Ecuadorian culture, the instructor can require the student to interview a resident of Ecuador (the conversation partner) and include quotes. In practice, students make reservations to speak with specific conversation partners on the TalkAbroad website. When the reservation time arrives, the conversation partner calls the student from their home country using a video-conferencing tool. At the conclusion of the call, the audio recording is uploaded to the website and made available for review and supervision by the students professor!
About You
TalkAbroad, LLC
About You
First Name


Last Name




About Your Organization
Organization Name

TalkAbroad, LLC

Organization Country

, CA, Santa Clara County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, FM

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

<a href="">Todd Nichols</a> is the founder of TalkAbroad. Todd first began developing the TalkAbroad business model when he lived in Honduras. He worked at a local micro-finance agency, and one thing was evident in the organization: entrepreneurship was being forced, and it was affecting success rates. What Todd realized was that local entrepreneurs were taking out loans to start a business, but they were doing so without appropriate training and without a business plan that had any good chance of success. They were forcing business in areas where they were not skilled.

Todd realized that one of the skills each possessed was their ability to speak the language. As a language learner himself, he realized the benefit he received from sitting and speaking the language with the entrepreneurs, and thought back to the absence of opportunities to speak with native speakers during his language training in the US.

Putting two and two together, TalkAbroad was hatched. Let's provide these entrepreneurs in Honduras with access to students in the US. They can run a business utilizing their unique skill set, and using a proven business model. We can provide access to the market through our relationships with individual universities, and software than connects the groups. We can raise the success rate for local entrepreneurs, encourage language learning and the sharing of cultures, and promote economic development through job creation. Do all of this as a for-profit company meeting the needs of the language learning community.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Success is very easy to measure at TalkAbroad, and we're tremendously pleased with the success we have had thus far. It is measured in two ways: jobs created, and schools using TalkAbroad conversation partners.

Jobs created: TalkAbroad has expanded to include entrepreneurs from 5 countries: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico. Through local entrepreneurs we have created over 60 well-paying jobs in the local community. One terrific success story comes from our community of conversation partners in Mexico. One conversation partner was able to use the job working with students in order to obtain enough financial independence that he could leave his hometown to attend university in Mérida. Read the full post <a href="">here</a>.

Schools: We've had a tremendous response from schools including classes from Oklahoma, Michigan State, Texas State, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Cal Poly, and a number of high schools. The feedback terrific. Take a look at our <a href="">testimonials page</a> to to get an idea of what students think!

How many people have been impacted by your project?


How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


How will your project evolve over the next three years?

In the next three years our project will grow tremendously. We expect to use money from competitions and investment over the next 12 months to expand to work with entrepreneurs speaking French, German, Chinese and Arabic. By Fall 2013 we expect to have worked with over 150 entrepreneurs and have created over 3,000 jobs in more than 20 countries.

This expansion will enable TalkAbroad to support a variety of languages, opening the possibility for extended partnerships with both university and corporate clients.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Sales Traction: The sustainability of TalkAbroad and the success of the entrepreneurs we work with depends on sales to universities. Professors are resistant to change, and this brings roadblocks in the sales process. This is addressed in two ways: educating professors on usage during the sales process, and focusing the features of the product on the specific pain points the professor has in the classroom. Surprisingly, our primary client is the professor, not the student.

Entrepreneur Development: Working with hundreds of entrepreneurs internationally poses an organizational and managerial challenge. This is addressed by creating a proven and replicable process that local entrepreneurs can use when managing their business, and by creating close relationships with in-country partner organizations.

Tell us about your partnerships

We have three types of partnerships:

NGO Partnerships: We partner with non-profit organizations to provide connections to local entrepreneurs in their community who are interested in starting businesses. These partnerships are usually with non-profits focused on economic development and that interact and work in the local community

Entrepreneur Partnerships: Local entrepreneurs who want to work with us are walked through a training program that helps them organize and plan their business. They employ conversation partners in their community, and use TalkAbroad software to work with students in the US.

University Partnerships. We partner with universities and high schools in the US. The schools use our tool in the classroom to provide regular conversation opportunities for students studying a given language. The universities require students to purchase a certain number of conversations, and then use our tool to supervise and evaluate what happened when the student speaks with a conversation partner from one of our partnering entrepreneurs.

Explain your selections

TalkAbroad provides a tool for universities and high schools in the US. The schools require their students to purchase conversation credits from our partners internationally. The income generated from schools supports both the entrepreneurs we work with as well as TalkAbroad.

TalkAbroad's initial funding was provided by the founder.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Continued partnerships with universities and international entrepreneurs will strengthen TalkAbroad over the coming 3 years. We expect to expand the number of universities we work with, as well as the number of languages that we offer to them.

We also expect to grow the number of international entrepreneurs that we work with. By 2013 we will be working with over 150 entrepreneurs to offer conversation partners to universities in Spanish, French, German, Arabic and Chinese.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Restricted access to new markets




Lack of efficiency

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Entrepreneurs in Central America do not have access to classrooms in the US where native speakers are urgently needed. TalkAbroad provides an opening to that market by partnering with instructors in the US who want to use conversation partners for classroom assignments. All conversation partners are employees of new businesses in Latin America.

Entrepreneurs are able to provide employment in their local community in the form of a job as a conversation partner. Conversation partners meet with students regularly via video-conferencing to give students conversation practice in the target language.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.


Grown geographic reach: Global


Repurposed your model for other sectors/development needs


Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

The funds from this competition will go directly to scaling the organization. First, by expanding to partner with and train entrepreneurs in more Spanish speaking countries (currently we work with entrepreneurs in 5 countries). Second, we plan on expanding to cover additional languages (currently we work only with Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs and conversation partners).

In the future we expect to repurpose our model to satisfy the needs of corporate language learners and provide more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

This has been fairly well covered in other sections. We collaborate with local community development organizations in Latin America to introduce us to local entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs receive training and a proven business model with which they can start a company providing conversation partners to US universities.

We work with Universities who use the conversation partners provided by local entrepreneurs to provide their students with regular conversation practice in the target language. Students provide the funding to pay the entrepreneurs and conversation partners!