uTalk and Asterix: An Origin Story

Today is National Comic Book Day, so if you can tear yourself away from stories of superheroes or zombies, then why not check out our very own uTalk origin story? Spoiler alert: there are no angry aliens set on wiping out half of the universe’s population, but there are some comics involved!

Way back in the late 1980s, Richard Howeson and Andrew Ashe, the founders of uTalk, came up against their greatest nemesis: an inability to speak French. Oh well, you might think, how important could that be? Well, it was important enough that they founded EuroTalk (which would later become uTalk) in 1990, one of the first companies to use games as a route to language learning and, importantly at that point—comics. 

It’s true! Search the web and you’ll find some of the more vintage EuroTalk products, including Learn X Language with Asterix, where the Asterix comics have been translated into different European languages, with audio provided by native speakers. 

Still, while uTalk might not produce language courses that include Asterix anymore, there are key elements from these original products that have become the core of uTalk’s method to help people learn any language.

Native-speaker audio: This is a big one! For every language uTalk makes available for people to learn, we record audio (in our London studio!) from two different native speakers—one male and one female. This means you can hear all the words and phrases as they would actually be said out in the world.

A template for different languages: You might not know, but one of the things that makes our uTalk app unique is that you can change the base language right there in the app. What does that mean? It means you can learn any language your heart desires from any language you understand (or don’t—but that’s on you)! You speak Yoruba and want to learn Galician? You can do that! We’ve managed to develop this by having our translators use a template, working separately and then together to ensure that everything is as accurate—and as true to life—as possible.

It’s fun: Let’s be honest, this is very important, right? If it’s not work or something else we need to do, then if it’s not fun, why bother? For a lot of people, learning isn’t associated with fun at all—especially if it’s the kind of thing you might have been made to learn in school—but uTalk is one of the language learning companies trying to change that.

Of course, now there’s less Asterix around than there used to be here at uTalk HQ, but the games on the app are designed to have you learning in a way that doesn’t feel like a lot of work. 

And as for comics? There are still plenty out there—and plenty of people use comics for language learning, too! How many people do you know who have started learning Japanese because they want to read all the volumes of some manga they just can’t get enough of? French learners will surely be acquainted with Tintin (which has been translated into more than 70 languages, by the way). If you’re learning English then there’s plenty of comics for you to choose from—all those superheroes from Marvel and DC, The Walking Dead from Image Comics; even Sabrina the Teenage Witch originally came from Archie Comics! 

So, after you’ve done reading your comics this National Comic Book Day, why not also have a go at learning a new language? Like comic books, our app features a wide variety—over 150 languages for you to try. Let us know which one you choose on Facebook or Twitter; and let us know what you’re reading, too!

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