When Artur Janc attempted to read “Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal” with his rudimentary Spanish in 2005, he grew so frustrated at constantly referring to a dictionary that he decided to perform some wizardry of his own.
Mr. Janc, then a Polish student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, created Lingro, a widgetlike online dictionary for budding linguists who want to put aside their Berlitz and master a tongue.
“For a lot of people learning languages, making the jump from the classroom to the real world is really tough,” explains Paul Kastner, Janc’s business partner at Lingro.com. “Say you’re learning Spanish and you want to read about the latest soccer game in Spain. You could read an [online] article in a Spanish newspaper through Lingro and [it] will let you click on the words that you don’t know to pop up the translations while you’re reading the article.”
Lingro keeps track of all those words so that users can later play flashcard games. Users can also contribute translations to the Lingro dictionaries – seven languages in all. Soon, it hopes to add Chinese to the Euro-centric tongues currently available.
The start-up is relocating from Worcester, Mass., to San Francisco to tap into Silicon Valley’s veins of venture capital. To date, it has won $10,000 in a business-plan competition hosted by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
The company also is looking to expand beyond its online widget, hoping to partner with language schools and multinational corporations that host structured language courses for employees.
“What we’re doing right now is really important in the context of globalization,” says Mr. Kastner. “We really like being able to help break down these language barriers, especially on the Internet where the channels of communication are already open."