Launchpad 2017
Mike Kennedy

Mike Kennedy


2022 launchpad finalist


CEO: Mike Kennedy

Primary Audience: Government/Adult Ed., Graduate, Undergrad, Community College, High School

JinbuPal is an innovative web-based mobile application designed to help learners rapidly jumpstart their Mandarin skills by focusing on maintaining continual noticeable progress as the key driver of success. JinbuPal’s card-based system features individual character and word cards, similar to digital flashcards. JinbuPal confronts users with all the characters and words they will need to reach 90% recognition when engaging with real-world content. The beauty of our model is we provide students with an environment where they feel completely free to learn their own way while also limiting the content just enough to ensure learners gain the maximum practical results for their efforts. With JinbuPal, even complete beginners can take their Chinese to a high proficiency level faster than they would ever have imagined.

LaunchPad Questions

During the LaunchPad, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions about the products. The Tech Center shared those questions with the entrepreneurs and here are the responses. 

Will you include Traditional Chinese characters?

Yes! We have been working on implementing traditional characters and the Traditional Mode will be implemented in the very near future. Not only will the app support traditional characters, the Simplified and Traditional Modes will share common data so that users who are familiar only with simplified characters can switch to Traditional Mode to learn traditional characters even more quickly. For example, a learner proficient in simplified characters would switch to Traditional Mode to see their progress already reflected in all characters which are identical in both set simplified and traditional. Not only that, learners can utilize our Traditional Match filter to display only characters which are different between simplified and traditional character sets. We hope that doing so will help learners to quickly target and focus on which characters they are least likely to recognize based on their experience with simplified characters.

Do you plan to use similar methods to include other languages?

Yes! JinbuPal’s current design caters well to other character-based languages. We have already started internally testing a Cantonese version of the app and we would like to explore Japanese in the future. Much like the traditional character mode (see our response about implementing traditional characters), we will also utilize the power of JinbuPal’s data and filtering capabilities to allow learners to leverage their prior knowledge of one language to more quickly build their knowledge in another language. For example, a learner with significant experience in Mandarin who wants to learn Cantonese will be able to filter for characters which do or do not obey consistent patterns in their “conversion” of pronunciation from pinyin to jyutping or from their tone in Mandarin vs Cantonese. Also users would be able to filter only for characters which are used for vernacular Cantonese, or for words with significant vocabulary differences in Cantonese.

Where do you see the role of JinbuPal in Chinese language learning in the future?

Our goal is that JinbuPal will become the go-to solution for students to gain a grasp of the highest frequency characters and words so that they start seeking out real content they enjoy from early on. Once released, the JinbuPal Chrome extension will make that process all the more engaging, making JinbuPal the gateway for learners to jumpstart their skills as they seek out content across the web, taking control of their own language learning. Data collected from the Chrome extension will help us refine our data and provide even more reliable JinbuPal scores to future users. Ultimately, we want JinbuPal to be the product people think of as the best way to crush the misconception that Chinese is impossibly difficult and as the method which continually creates many long-term, self-motivated Chinese language learners. Corporations needing proficient Chinese speakers will know JinbuPal as the undisputed way to quickly bring their motivated self-taught employees to proficiency. Teachers will know JinbuPal as an excellent supplement to their classroom instruction, boosting students’ knowledge and fostering their students’ enjoyment and motivation to progress further every day.

Do you think this could be used by children to learn their heritage language?

Yes! We believe that JinbuPal offers a great way for heritage Chinese learners to learn Chinese characters more quickly and easily. When learning as children, it’s not uncommon for heritage learners to have Saturday Chinese classes which you can imagine ends up feeling like dreaded extra studying time that eats into their weekend fun. JinbuPal offers a great way for students to learn autonomously and rapidly grasp the fundamental Chinese characters while going about their day so they can break out of the textbook and start excelling with more interesting content personalized to their interests. However, keep in mind that JinbuPal is not directly catered toward children younger than middle school ages so it currently best suits adolescent heritage learners rather than young children.

Who is your biggest target group?

Currently, our primary target audience is highly motivated self-studiers of Chinese who are at least high school age and up through professionals. Our current marketing strategy has been targeted toward directly marketing to these individuals in a B2C model. However, we have been working recently toward marketing in a B2B model, targeting both schools and universities as well as corporate applications. We believe JinbuPal makes not only an excellent method for self-studiers, but also makes for a great supplement to formal classroom instruction which students can use to rapidly boost their vocabulary for soaring confidence and lasting motivation.

Do you plan to release any of your data or models as open-source, or work with other apps, corpora or platforms for learning or categorizing Chinese characters?

​​We don’t have plans at this time for releasing our data or collaboration with other apps, but it may be a possibility in the future. We plan to grow our 3.2 million character corpus over time and refine the data analysis derived from it. When the JinbuPal Chrome extension is released, users will be able to instantaneously analyze native online content on webpages (Chinese language news articles, blogs, etc) to see their JinbuPal score come to life and calculate their JinbuPal score specific to that web page itself. We plan to collect and analyze the deltas between the user’s overall JinbuPal score at the time and their real-world calculated score on content they seek out. This analysis will help us to provide more accurate predictions to users when calculating their JinbuPal score by providing reliable ranges they can expect to see when engaging with authentic content.

How could this be used in the classroom, or with other learners who are just "following the leader" and need more guidance to keep progressing? Also, can you speak more to the pedagogical underpinnings of the app? How well does it connect reading practice to other skills (writing, speaking) and in addressing the integration of these skills for, say, receptive modes of communication?

For the reason you describe, JinbuPal makes a great supplement to an instructor-led course. Teachers and professors can provide formal grammar instruction and assign task-based learning tasks, for example, while also asking students to complete a prescribed number of characters of their own selection in their JinbuPal account. We plan on ultimately providing instructors with their own accounts to connect all student accounts in their classroom. Doing so will open up many possibilities for monitoring student progress, completion of assigned numbers of characters, and perhaps creating engaging experiences for classroom participation based on which characters and words the class collectively knows. Our focus at JinbuPal is less about the development of reading skills directly within the app and more on providing users with a foundational level of Chinese characters as quickly as possible, such that learners are self-motivated and confident to start seeking out real-world content that they enjoy beyond the app itself. We believe in the strong benefits of receiving as much comprehensible input as possible, but also understand that familiarity with quite a few Chinese characters is necessary before this can be practically and confidently approached through reading. The lack of integrating speaking and writing skills has been a design decision we have made thus far to stay focused on our current specialization, as these output-based skills can be well-addressed in the classroom or with tutors in a generally more effective way than when interacting with software. For more information on JinbuPal’s pedagogical underpinnings, please refer to our answer to the question “How do you know this approach works?”.

How do you know this approach works?

We have yet to conduct any efficacy studies for JinbuPal’s use. However, we feel that JinbuPal well aligns to existing research in the field of Chinese Second Language Acquisition. Our primary focus with JinbuPal is to promote confidence and motivation for students, while dispelling the demotivating factor of reinforcing the belief that Chinese is a particularly difficult language to learn. Studies in motivation for L2 Chinese learners have shown the importance of promoting self-confidence, self-efficacy, and learner autonomy for sustained motivation. Our JinbuPal Score provides the learner with real-time expectations of the usefulness of what they’ve already learned. This metric can be undeniably reflected in what a learner recognizes in genuine content personalized to their own interests.

Regarding JinbuPal’s method of allowing learners to hand select characters, significant research has gone into understanding which types of characters learners are able to grasp most easily at which phases of their learning. For example, learners are shown to better recall groups of characters which share common radicals and those with lower stroke counts early on. Over time, they become capable of more easily recalling characters which share pronunciation or meaning but which share no visual similarity in their components. These findings reflect the benefits learners experience as they strengthen their network of character knowledge. Conventionally, these research findings might be used to influence the selection of characters introduced to learners in a textbook. On the other hand, JinbuPal users can take complete control of the learning process by effortlessly selecting new batches of characters for study as their lexicon and understanding naturally shifts throughout their personal phases of learning. We believe that offering students this autonomy cuts down on wasted time trying to force memory of characters the learner isn’t yet as prepared to naturally acquire, providing a more efficient and effective learning approach.

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The Language Flagship Technology Innovation Center is funded under a grant from the Institute of International Education (IIE), acting as the administrative agent of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO) for The Language Flagship. One should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. Project P.I.: Dr. Julio C. Rodriguez