There are 6,909 languages spoken around the world; 800 of them can be found in New York City. So it should come as a surprise that Bushwick resident Walsh Costigan had difficulty finding programs to help her maintain and improve her French conversation skills.
Costigan, an avid polyglot, was not deterred after trying what felt like every language school and meetup in the city. In fact, she saw a business opportunity in the face of her frustration. Thus, Lexody was born.
Lexody is an app that matches people for in person, one on one language exchanges, or “Lexes.” Users enter their native language and at least one language they want to learn. Matches are created between two people learning each other’s native language.
Lexes themselves last an hour, with 30 minutes dedicated to each language. Costigan sees the benefits of conversing with native speakers far exceeding what can be achieved through self-study. As she puts it, “The nuance of language is the most beautiful part. And you really can’t teach yourself that. You have to just dive in and feel a little uncomfortable for a while.”
That discomfort is real, as anyone who’s learned a second or third language can attest. However, Costigan thinks that people are ready to embrace it, in part thanks to online dating. “Right now I think there’s this huge gap in the market for in person meet ups…Our generation is ready for this,” she said.
“I think that with online dating, you have that same kind of trepidation about meeting with a complete stranger and hoping that you can get through one drink together and not want to go to the bathroom and just leave. But going back to this age group, we are constantly putting ourselves in that situation. So I think we are the perfect age group to start a movement like this.” To help users push past that awkwardness, Lexody incorporates a set of conversation starters and simple games to play with a language partner, including one utilizing Giphy, an online service for creating and sharing gifs.
How Lexody was conceived
The seed for the company was planted offline, while Costigan was still in school. After returning from studying abroad in France, conversationally fluent, she was determined not to let her skills wane. “I was thinking in French. I got back to Texas, and people there don’t speak French. So I found a girl on campus who was there studying abroad for English. And I paid her $10 an hour to speak with me until I couldn’t afford it anymore, so I was like I’m gonna figure out another way to do this same thing but for free.”
Costigan went to the building housing foreign students on study abroad trips and put up fliers offering to match people with language exchange partners. Her motives in the beginning were self-focused, but they quickly evolved beyond that. As she explained, “It was just to find someone for me, but the turnout was huge. It was so exciting to see everybody come and for both sides to find this other person. By the time I was done, it just felt like there was something to this. If this many people at my tiny school were this into it, there had to be some larger scale application.”
How Lexody is growing
What excites Costigan most about Lexody is the community of users, an enthusiastic group, who want to see the app grow. “We actually have a lot of people signed up around the world, waiting for us to launch. For example in Iraq, South Korea, Japan, Colombia… In two weeks there’s a girl from Colombia that is meeting with me here, and she just wants to start Lexody in Colombia.”
Costigan hopes that in addition to language learning, interaction among these varied communities will help to break people out of their normal social patterns and encourage tolerance. “The beauty of language is that it truly is a different mindset you’re able to be put in. You get to then learn about the background of so many different people and their ideas. It’s so incredible. And I think that learning these different views makes you grow as a person.”
The biggest hurdle Lexody has faced so far is time. “I wish I didn’t have to sleep at night,” Costigan said. “I personally love working. I’m obsessed with Lexody, and I always feel that if I had another 10 hours today than I could get this and this and this done.” She also spoke briefly on the challenges of finding investors as a young woman in New York. “I think there’s a pressure as a young person to prove yourself more, to show more validity in your ideas as well as you as a person. They say you need a hundred no’s before you get a yes.”
Over the next year, Costigan hopes to close a round of funding and expand Lexody. Adding staff beyond her and her business partner, as well as pushing Lexody into new cities are her top priorities. Lexody won the One Minute Pitch competition at 2017’s SXSW festival, showing that others outside the language exchange community see its potential.
For now, however, Costigan has two valuable assets: dedication to an idea she believes in wholeheartedly and a community of users who feel the same. It’s hard to know what the future holds, but for Lexody that future looks bright.
Walsh Costigan in the Featured image courtesy of Lexody.