Online Language Learning Business Takes Shape in EKU Business Accelerator

Brian Ragsdale photo

Want to learn the basics of a foreign language on your own time, at your own pace, in your own way and at minimal cost?

A new business taking shape in Eastern Kentucky University’s business accelerator might be your answer.

Language B Inc., the brainchild of Brian Ragsdale, is an online (languageb.com) software tool for foreign language education. The business, housed in the accelerator since February 2012, is the culmination of a longtime dream and perfect merger of the interests, talents and ambitions of a well-traveled Kentucky native and EKU graduate.

“Since the mid-1990s I’ve been thinking about ways to improve foreign language education,” said Ragsdale, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Eastern in 2000. It eventually became apparent that “if I was ever going to have access to software I wanted to use, I was going to have to write it myself.”

If necessity is the mother of invention, Ragsdale’s “baby” is carving its own niche as a highly personalized and customizable option in the field of language learning.

The initial target audience is the higher education community. Most of the company’s marketing efforts to this point have been directed to colleges and universities worldwide and to students themselves. The cost to use the site is $9.95 or less per month, but for now Language B is free to anyone with a valid EKU e-mail address. Paid or free, a subscription gives users access to every level of every language offered, as well all the lessons created and shared publicly by other members.

Language B offers users full multimedia, including text-to-speech, for all content; as well as interaction through games, discussions and presentations. Users can create their own lessons, including vocabulary, conversations, grammar, expressions, culture, reading, pronunciation, and songs; create customized games and quizzes; and access every public lesson of every language shared by the Language B community.

The Language B site features more than 20 languages, a number that is expected to grow as demand warrants. It’s the type of program that would have attracted Ragsdale’s interest when as an EKU student he was a two-time exchange student at Eastern’s sister institution, Yamanashi University in Japan.

Ragsdale went on to live four years in Japan, where he worked with a software company. Locally, he has taught courses in learning Japanese through EKU’s community education program, where one of his students was Eastern President Doug Whitlock, a frequent visitor to Japan. He also has taught American managers at some Japanese-owned companies in the area and in the University’s English Language Institute.

His interest in programming stems in part from a grandfather and two uncles who worked for IBM. Ragsdale remembers writing his first computer program on an IBM PC Junior in 1985.

Today, Language B employs several part-time and full-time programmers, as well as marketing and graphics specialists.

Ragsdale, who serves as Language B president, CEO and software engineer, said once he learned how to delegate responsibilities, it was a “team effort” that transformed his vision into reality. “For years, I tried to do it all by myself, but it was too big a task.”

In addition to the Language B staff, that “team” includes several associated with the Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET) in EKU’s College of Business & Technology: Kristel Smith, executive director of the Innovation and Commercialization Center (ICC) and the Accelerator; Michael Rodriguez, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC); and CEDET Director Ian Mooers.

“I’ve received a wealth of good advice,” Ragsdale said. “They helped me pick a new direction, helped me solidify a business plan, and gave me access to other departments at EKU.”

Language B “is now marketing its software products and seeking additional investment to accelerate its growth,” Smith noted. “Instructors or students interested in using this platform should go to www.languageb.com.”

The Accelerator team predicts success for the fledgling firm.

“Language B is a technology platform that engages the language learner with extremely comprehensive capabilities to make learning fun, interactive, and effective at an affordable price,” Smith said. “Brian has taken quite a bit of time to methodically think out the processes to ensure he has covered everything. Typically, this kind of thinking results in a more successful business.”

It was the kind of thinking that took root at his alma mater.

“I owe a lot to Eastern,” Ragsdale said. “I received a good education and the opportunity to go twice to Yamanashi, which led to an opportunity to live in that area. I worked with Dr. Joy Allameh (director of the Eastern English Language Institute). EKU has afforded me many, many opportunities, for which I’m most grateful.”

The EKU Business & Technology Accelerator, which includes the SBDC and ICC, focuses the energy, skills and intellectual capital of the university on enterprise creation and expansion. In order to facilitate business start-up and growth, it provides shared resources, affordable office space, and access to faculty, staff and management assistance.

 For more information about the accelerator, visit bizaccelerator.eku.edu. For more information about Language B, visit www.languageb.com.

Published on January 29, 2013