For most people, learning a language is not easy. Even identifying the best method of language study can be a challenge, with a dizzying array of options on offer. If there’s one thing both experts and amateurs can agree on however, it’s that motivation is crucial to success. And that’s why Rakuten Viki’s new Learn Mode feature, a service that deftly combines language learning with television watching, is generating buzz.

Viki, a global video-on-demand service that allows millions of people discover, watch and subtitle TV shows and movies in more than 200 languages, has long aimed to remove the language and cultural barriers that stand between great entertainment and fans everywhere. Now Viki are turning their attention to helping people master languages through educational entertainment—“Edutainment” as it’s often called.

“Viki’s larger vision is to break down linguistic barriers and foster a better understanding between people from all different corners of the world,” said Viki CEO Joanne Waage.

Learn Mode allows Viki users to watch television programs with two sets of subtitles on their screens: original language and reference language. This means users can listen and read the script in the video’s original language and instantly confirm their comprehension by using corresponding subtitles in their own language. And Learn Mode does more than that, too. Equipped with useful features such as instant word look-up, word pronunciation, and segment-indexed replay, the feature essentially turns television programs, and in particular television drama, into bona fide learning tools.

“Viki’s larger vision is to break down linguistic barriers and foster a better understanding between people from all different corners of the world,” said Joanne Waage, Viki’s CEO“By introducing Learn Mode, we’re expanding on this vision to connect people through popular entertainment.”

While the feature is currently only available for Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese titles, Japanese content is likely to be available soon and other languages are being considered.

“We knew we had the building blocks for a very powerful tool.” Stanley Kok of the Rakuten Institute of Technology in Singapore.

“We knew we had the building blocks for a very powerful tool.” Stanley Kok of the Rakuten Institute of Technology in Singapore.

The technical mastermind behind Learn Mode is Stanley Kok of the Rakuten Institute of Technology (RIT) team in Singapore. “My background is in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, so in some ways I feel like working on this project was my destiny,” he said. “With Viki’s database of community translations across multiple languages we knew we had the building blocks for a very powerful tool.”

Ewa Szymanska, who leads RIT in Singapore and spearheaded the project, stresses the value of Viki’s platform for language learning.  “Viki is a gold mine of natural language data,” she explains. “Viki users are a very passionate community, helping to translate thousands of hours of content across multiple languages. The translations are constantly being refined and can achieve very high accuracy, and since the content itself is television dramas from around the world, it is all authentic spoken language.”

Learn Mode was first launched in Beta in late 2016 and was immediately greeted by an enthusiastic response. After incorporating feedback from its community and working out some of the bugs, Viki launched the current, fully-integrated feature on its platform in April, where it has has been attracting over 25,000 users a day, adding a material boost and growth engine to Viki’s viewership.

While Viki is providing the service to its users free of charge, the prospect of taking a slice out of the giant language learning market must be tempting. Market research firm Metaari (formerly Ambient Insight) estimates that digital tools will capture 12% of the USD 56 billion industry by 2020.

“This new feature will fundamentally transform the video watching experience from a passive lean-back one to active viewing, allowing you to learn new languages while being entertained,” said Alex Chan, SVP of Product and Engineering at Viki and the project sponsor.

We can’t predict the future of Learn Mode, but we are certainly excited about the possibilities. If you haven’t tried it yet, be sure to get your Learn Mode on in Korean or Chinese here, or visit Viki.com for more information.