Chinese is made up of more than 40,000 characters. Traditionally, it’s recommended that one only needs to know 2,000 to read a Chinese newspaper, but three Ransom Everglades School seniors think that number should be multiplied by ten.
Because of his own difficulty learning the Chinese language, Dante Bolzan wants to develop a mobile app that will allow users to look up a Chinese character, its English translation and definition, and listen to its pronunciation by simply taking a picture — an idea that won third place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge’s High School Track.
"Studying Chinese can be frustrating," said Bolzan, a member of Ransom’s Chinese National Honor Society chapter. "Because it lacks an alphabet, you can’t know the pronunciation of a word without showing it to someone who can tell you."
Bolzan and his peers-turned-business partners, Adam Moreno-Mendelson and Ethan Arteaga, drafted the plan as part of their Advanced Placement macroeconomics/microeconomics class taught by Jennifer Nero, chair of Ransom’s Social Sciences Department. The three are seniors at Ransom Everglades in Miami-Dade.
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"The plan addresses a growing need in our society, where China is becoming an increasingly bigger part of our global economy and our lives," Nero said.
The 18-year-olds will invest $8,599 — a lot of saved allowances, they said — to purchase the software that they will use to create the app called Xue Wen, the Chinese word for knowledge. The team says the app’s photo recognition component will give it an advantage over the Chinese dictionary market.
"Everyone carries a camera around right on their phone, so we wanted to use that tool to simplify the search for a Chinese character and definition," Arteaga said.
Current Chinese dictionary apps require users to search with the Romanized spelling or a Chinese writing option like that on the iPhone. "It takes more time than taking a picture and isn’t as effective," Bolzan said. "This app will have those traditional options, but we want to emphasize character recognition. It will be easier, faster and more accurate."
The students plan to launch Xue Wen late in 2015, first in the Apple store.
Based on analytics of other Chinese dictionary apps from Distimo.com, the team estimates 10,000 downloads in its first year at $2.99 each, totaling $29,900 in revenue. Xue Wen will drop to $1.99 per download in year two and expand to the Android market by year three. The teams estimated total profit for three years at $111,055.
Moreno-Mendelson said the app will be marketed as a global educational tool. "We will make the dictionary as extensive as possible and want it to complement Chinese textbooks," he said. "Promoting its use in the classroom as a textbook or textbook aid will make it more widely respected as an educational tool."
Moreno-Mendelson, a National Merit Hispanic Scholar, will study behavioral economics at Carleton College in Minnesota. Arteaga plans to double major in aerospace and computer engineering at Lehigh University in Pennyslvania. Bolzan has yet to decide on a major, but will attend Yale.
The team plans to create Xue Wen’s working prototype this summer, before starting school in the fall.