There are tremendous benefits to learning multiple languages, and studies show that those who start earlier in life have a better chance of developing native proficiency and pronunciation. Bilingual speakers have sharper problem-solving skills, and perform better academically than their monolingual peers. Bilingualism can even delay memory loss and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the U.S. Census, about 20% of Americans report speaking multiple languages at home. Zid in Cincinnati, Ohio, hopes to increase that number by exposing children to new languages and cultures, at school and at home, through interactive play.
“We know that earlier is better for children to learn languages. Their brains are like sponges, soaking up new skills that just don’t come as easily later in life. We also know that they love to play games,” said Moulay Essakalli, co-founder and CEO of Zid. “Why not make learning a new language fun? They’re picking up knowledge that will give them advantages for the rest of their lives, but to them they’re just playing. That’s what Zid is all about.”
This interactive teaching tool is built as a web-based learning software optimized for any device—mobile, tablet or desktop. Zid learning involves all five of a child’s senses by leveraging activities like art, cooking, music, nature, numbers and imaginary play. Each module mixes in diverse, hands-on activities such as stories, songs and online games to retain students’ attention. The curriculum keeps going at home, too, with activities designed for parents and their children. Early feedback indicates that parents enjoy taking ownership in their child’s education, learn a bit themselves and bond with their children in new ways.
Essakalli grew up in Casablanca, Morocco, and is fluent in Arabic, English, and French. He has spent his life as a teacher, designer and entrepreneur. Zid’s curriculum was designed with his wife—artist, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Julie Klear. She’s an Ohio native and graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. After getting married, the couple moved to Morocco and combined their expertise in design, education and art to form Zid, focusing first on physical educational products. Their products received international recognition, including The Global Entrepreneurship Award in 2010. Their new focus on digital learning brought them back to the U.S., specifically Cincinnati.
Zid was a member of the 2016 class at the Brandery, a southwest Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier and nationally-ranked accelerator program. There, they were partnered with Context Digital, a creative agency in Columbus, Ohio, to design a new logo and refine their branding efforts. Essakalli was impressed by the mentorship he received at the Brandery and from the entire Cincinnati startup scene.
“I’ve worked on three continents and I’ve never experienced this level of generosity. Whatever questions we’ve had about growing our business, there’s been somebody there who’s willing to help,” said Essakalli. “This is not usual. Being a part of the Brandery was a great experience for us and it absolutely accelerated our growth.”
Zid is still in testing mode, getting feedback from early users, fixing bugs and improving the product. The first version of the software teaches Spanish, but Zid plans to offer many additional languages, such as French, Mandarin and English as a second language. They plan to roll out their product in the 2017-2018 school year and have received interest from several schools in the Cincinnati area, as well as Nashville, Tennessee.
“We are working to address all the feedback we get, and so far, it’s been very positive. People are recommending it to their friends and colleagues, so that’s very encouraging. Offering additional languages will not be difficult—the technology does not change, it just requires some translation,” said Essakalli. “We are ready to make Zid the go-to product for children’s language learning in the U.S., and we’ve found Cincinnati is a fantastic place to do it.”