Startup Expands Impact of UA Critical Languages Program
From Kazakh to Kurmanji Kurdish, Language Canvas is making UA-developed learning programs for less commonly taught languages available to people everywhere.

By Paul Tumarkin, Tech Launch Arizona
Nov. 9, 2018


Scott Brill, CEO of Language Canvas and former research engineer with the UA Critical Languages Program.
Scott Brill, CEO of Language Canvas and former research engineer with the UA Critical Languages Program. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)

Since 1996, the University of Arizona Critical Languages Program in the College of Humanities has been developing interactive multimedia systems for less commonly taught foreign languages. To expand the impact of these expert-designed courses, the UA has licensed 13 of the courses to startup Language Canvas, which is taking them forward and making them available to schools, programs and individuals everywhere.

Until now, the CD-ROM and web-based courses, developed by teams of experts ranging from instructional designers to software engineers, have only been available through the university. Each of the classroom-tested and peer-reviewed courses contains approximately 25 videos and thousands of native speaker audio recordings. As of today, the curriculum Language Canvas offers includes Brazilian Portuguese, Cantonese, Kazakh, Korean, Kurmanji Kurdish, Turkish and Ukrainian.

Through the subscription-based courses, students learn language and culture by following original, engaging stories. They watch videos, read transcriptions with annotations and test their knowledge with exercises. They can click on practically any word or sentence and hear it spoken by a native speaker. Each course is mobile-friendly, providing on-the-go instruction for busy learners.

“After working for decades at the UA on this language-learning technology as a software engineer, project manager and grant writer, it is gratifying to make this technology and content available to students worldwide,” said Scott Brill, CEO of Language Canvas.

Brill has a deep knowledge of the systems, as he served as a research engineer with the Critical Languages Program and played an essential role in the development of the courses.

Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from UA research, refined and protected the intellectual property for the program, and then worked with Brill to license the IP to the company. TLA’s Venture Development team also assisted Brill in developing the company’s initial business strategy through the unit’s I-Corps program. Short for “Innovation Corps,” I-Corps is an initiative started by the National Science Foundation to help scientists and engineers expand their focus beyond lab and classrooms to increase the impact of their inventive work.

Brill also had help early on from the students of the UA's McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, who studied the language software as a business case and helped shape the company’s early strategy.

“Language Canvas is an excellent example of how development work going on at the UA can create a wider impact through commercial pathways,” said TLA Assistant Vice President Doug Hockstad. “We look forward to working with Scott and the company going forward to continue growing the impact of these programs.” 

According to Brill, Language Canvas is making subscriptions available for individual users as well as schools and organizations. The company is already expanding the impact of the Critical Language Program's work; the Canadian Foreign Service Institute was one of the first Language Canvas subscribers.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Tech Launch Arizona website:


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Paul Tumarkin
Tech Launch Arizona