Meet Jane French, a graduate of Springboard’s UX Career Track.
Jane had always loved languages. As a child, she would create quizzes in Microsoft Excel for her younger siblings to help them learn French. Then, when she and her husband moved to Spain three years ago, Jane found herself doing the same thing to help him study Spanish from scratch, while also using language learning apps like Duolingo. But something was missing: none of the apps were specifically designed to help learners master verb conjugations.
In Spanish, there are over 16 different verb tenses — which equates to over 46 different ways to conjugate a single verb. Recognizing a gap in the market, Jane used the skills she’d acquired in Springboard’s UX Career Track to create a mobile app called together with her husband called Ella Verbs, which is designed to help those who speak Spanish at an intermediate level become advanced speakers.
The app guides users through 30 levels of bite-sized lessons covering 16 major tenses and 1000+ verbs. Language learning apps have come a long way — over 300 million people use Duolingo, and many other apps have cropped up, some teach specific phrases, while others provide a complete online school experience.
Today, Jane’s app has a 4.9 rating on the Apple app store, and since she is able to monetize it, she now works on the app full-time.
“When we first started, we put Ella Verbs on the app store as a paid app and didn’t really think anything of it,” said Jane. “Now we have over 70,000 downloads in the Apple and Google Play app stores and it has grown a lot in the last year.”
Tell me about the UX design process for the app—what was your goal for the learner?
Our goal for the learner is to help them build confidence by understanding all the different tenses. In Spanish, the present tense is not just one level; it’s six or seven levels. Depending on what kind of a learner you are, you can start as a beginner and we’ll take you through three extra levels at the beginning to break it down even further. So we take into account where the user is coming from and what [proficiency] level they’ve started at.
What makes Ella Verbs unique from other language learning apps?
It’s unique because it’s built by people who are trying to learn the language, so we see it from a different side. The material has been reviewed by Spanish teachers, but I wrote all the lessons myself as I have a background in Spanish and my husband Brian is the developer.
We were traveling through Mexico and I was trying to help him learn Spanish, which is where the idea for the app came about. What makes us unique is we focus specifically on Spanish verbs. In English, there are four different ways to conjugate a verb, but in Spanish there are over 47. You have to understand when to use all the different tenses and all the different ways to conjugate the verb. Our app can really help you to master verbs and take you from an intermediate Spanish speaker to an advanced speaker.
The focus of the app is on personalized learning. How does that work?
The app learns from your progress. It saves your quizzes and takes note of things you’re good at and things you could get better at, and it will resurface those things you need to improve on. If you have a lower than average score for a particular tense or you’re struggling with a certain pronoun, the app will resurface that after a couple of weeks. We call them smart quizzes because we try to make [the learning experience] as personalized as possible.
Designing an app like this requires UX design skills but also the ability to think like an educator. Where did you get that teaching perspective from?
I was always creating quizzes for my brother and sister when I was younger in secondary school. French was the first language I learned where I thought, this is my language. I loved it so much. So when my brother and sister started learning it in school I would create quizzes for them. Maybe I was a teacher in another life. I really like helping people learn.
Have you been able to monetize the app, and do you see yourself as running a business?
When we first started, we put Ella Verbs on the app store as a paid app and didn’t really think anything of it. But it kept getting downloads and people were paying for [in-app purchases]. Only in late 2019 we started to look at it as something that could be a business because it was getting good reviews and people were sharing the app. It just felt like the next step. Now we offer a monthly, annual and lifetime subscription. We have over 70,000 downloads now in the two app stores. It’s grown a lot in the last year.
Tell me about your decision to study UX design at Springboard. Did you do so with the goal of starting your own business, or were you just aiming to find work as a UX designer?
My goal was to be able to work remotely, and I saw UX design as a path towards that. At the time I was working a full-time job in tax and business development. I didn’t love it and I wanted a change. We lived in Vancouver and I was looking at a couple of courses I could do and a lot of them were offline and just didn’t really fit into my schedule. Springboard was perfect because it’s a part-time course and it fit into my life a lot better. I’ve always wanted to have my own business, I just never really knew what that was — but then Ella Verbs snowballed into what it is today.
What initially attracted you to learn more about UX design and explore it as a possible career path?
When I worked in Dublin I had the opportunity to work on a two-month product design project, and I felt myself grow a lot during that process and I really loved the experience. When we moved to Vancouver a lot of our friends were designers who worked in the tech industry. I didn’t have any design experience so I was quite nervous about that. I just had an inkling that I would like UX design.
What initially interested you in Springboard?
The fact that I could study part-time while I also had a full-time job. Also, Springboard just seemed generally accessible. I read a lot of student reviews and saw that a lot of alumnae ended up landing good jobs in UX design. The course was practical rather than theoretical, especially with the capstone project. I learn by doing, so it fit right into what I was looking for.
What did you create for your capstone project?
I created an online recipe generator. I was a new vegetarian at the time and I was also trying to tackle the idea of how to avoid wasting leftover food. So I made a website where you can find recipes based on ingredients you already have. You input the ingredients you have and the site generates a couple of recipe ideas from food blogs. I vetted these recipes beforehand to make sure they were appealing and easy to follow.
What was your relationship with your mentor like?
My mentor really pushed me. I was lacking in confidence when I joined Springboard and I noticed a lot of people already had a background in design and I was a little concerned about that. He pushed me to iterate and try again and keep going. He was very methodical and a perfectionist — and I really like perfectionism. We still talk every now and then; he recently congratulated me on Ella Verbs.
What was the most valuable part of your Springboard experience?
The practicality of the capstone project and also giving me confidence to know that I can do it. I would say it built my confidence a lot. Just being able to do the project and go through it using trial and error really helped me.
Any advice for people who are considering switching careers?
I would say just go for it. You don’t have anything to lose. You can treat [your studies] as a part-time job; it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to quit your job straight away before you validate whether you like the new profession you’re looking to get into. Life is short. If you want something enough, it’s going to work out, and if you just keep going day in, day out it’s going to happen for you. Consistency pays off.
2020 was a tough year. What is something you’re looking forward to this year?
Being able to travel again and spend time with my family. The app consumes a lot of my time right now and I really enjoy working on it everyday and building it from the ground up. It keeps me motivated and excited.
Here at Springboard, not only do we pride ourselves on our students’ successes, but we genuinely believe that their dreams are what make up the foundation of our mission. Our alumni dream big—and they make big moves in stride. So we’re shining a light onto some of our favorite alumni stories: their journeys tell stories of accomplishment, grit, and determination against all kinds of odds.