Michael Odokara-Okigbo held a discussion event on Sept.27 at the Foster Center for Innovation about the new African language learning app NKENNE.
Odokara-Okigbo was born and raised in Portland, Maine and is the proprietor of the NKENNE app. This app is designed to teach various African languages to its users while also creating a sense of community within the app space. Currently, the app has four available language options: Yoruba, Twi, Igbo and Swahili. NKENNE is planning to add Somali in the future.
When signing up for the app, the user can choose their native languages along with the four current available languages to learn. The app itself has five separate tabs to utilize, including a tab for lessons. Users can practice phrases in their chosen language with flashcards. Since the app is only available in its beta version, more features will be coming soon such as the speed round function and practice section. Each lesson also has a “driving mode” which allows users to listen to the lesson while driving their vehicle.
The app also includes a Profile tab which allows users to share their interests, current achievements, current languages, language skill progress and in-app reviews on NKENNE. The Community tab allows users to search nearby for other users and add them to their favorites. You can also message other users in the Chats tab.
Other prominent features of the app include the Media tab, which showcases weekly podcasts and blogs on current events. The podcasts themselves touch on various topics and how they relate to culture in African countries, such as LGBTQ+ rights in Africa and life after college. The podcasts range from three minutes to nine minutes in length and are usually targeted toward the Generation Z demographic.
Currently, the app has two main populations that make up its user base. The first is individuals who travel to African countries, and the second is people in the U.S. who want to learn a second language. Odokara-Okigbo says that the most successful group that are consistently using the app are African Americans from the Atlanta area. As of now, the NKENNE app is focusing its advertising money on cities in the U.S. They are targeting big cities such as Atlanta, Houston, New York City and Boston.
When developing the app, Odokara-Okigbo and his team took inspiration from various other language learning applications on the market, such as Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. NKENNE is able to stand out from its contemporaries due to its niche of being the first dedicated African language education app.
“When you build your companies, study your competitors. Study what they do right, what they do wrong. We try to elevate and innovate on our attention rates and customer acquisition costs,” Odokara-Okigbo said.
NKENNE got its first initial traction of users from Reddit. When developing the app, it had a focus on maintaining customer retention over a long period of time. When the app introduced the ability to read blogs and listen to podcasts back in August, it effectively doubled the average retention spans of its users.
The staff at NKENNE jumped from three members last year to twenty team members currently. The growth of the team has been quite challenging to keep up with, according to Odokara-Okigbo. The team receives emails every day to see what works in the app and what doesn’t in order to learn from the community and keep improving the app’s experience.
NKENNE wants to branch itself out in order to be used in campus environments. By offering bundle packages to universities, students will be able to use the app for free. The ability for students to use the NKENNE app throughout the university is a great opportunity for them to open up and learn new languages. Above all else, Odokara-Okigbo and his team want to preserve these African languages and allow the next generation to learn them in an accessible format.
“My favorite part is providing options for users to learn languages that have been hard for the western world to learn. We are able to see the reason why our users downloaded the app, and many of them say that they want to connect with their roots, or connect with loved ones with African languages. It makes us want to work harder,” Odokara-Okigbo said.