American English pronunciation training


Premise: SpeechAce is an American English pronunciation app that helps ESL speakers improve their accents, but a misalignment of customer needs and app features made attracting new users and retaining core users unnecessarily difficult.

Approach: I constructed a user profile based off test usergroup feedback, aligned user goals with clear task flows, and established feature scope, definition and priorities based on user impact. The primary deliverable for this project were the redesign mockups which the team could implement immediately.

Results: The redesigned mobile app substantially increased in usability and value for the primary user. I left the development team with a list of ongoing improvements they could work from.

Timeline: 2014
Role: UX Designer


Based on the feedback from an initial round of user testing, users were clearly having trouble navigating the app, identifying pronunciation errors, and receiving meaningful feedback.

Next steps were constructed around solving for:

  1. Who is the user?
    Develop a rough persona to better define user motivations.
  2. What do users want to get out of using SpeechAce?
    Create tasks that address their needs.
  3. How can we help users accomplish their goals?
    Prioritize and outline clear task flows.

The widespread confusion about how pronunciation was being graded told me that revisiting the pronunciation feedback graph would also be a good idea.

The second path was a shortcut deeper into the sales funnel, directly linked from any participating lawyer's directory page. Inbound leads to attorneys were already coming in via the Find a Lawyer directory, so those pages were prime real estate to offer new fixed-fee legal services. Users in this flow would first find the attorney they wanted to work with, then select a service they offered at a pricepoint they were happy with, and complete the transaction in just a few clicks.


User profile

With this new user archetype as our bullseye, I defined a handful of user stories to better understand what users were trying to accomplish with their time spent on the app.

"As a project manager, I want to work on speaking fluidly so that I can avoid miscommunication when I talk to my team or give presentations."

"As an account executive, I want to practice saying key sales terms so that I can confidently talk business with clients, be understood clearly, and close more deals."

"As a young professional, I want to be reminded to keep practicing so that I don't have to worry about remembering."

I sorted all tasks into a chart showing frequency vs ratio of users, helping to visualize feature priority. Focusing on the red routes will improve usability, which heavily influences user retention.




The feedback graph on its own was particularly frustrating for most users. Dropping the individual phoneme grades in favor of evaluating whole syllables improves the speed of comprehension, as well as using a more universally understood scoring system with secondary visual color and emoji indicators to reduce cognitive load.

The redesigned app supported three primary use cases:

  1. Practice specific topics
  2. Practice random words
  3. Understand where I need to improve

I also outlined a short list of high-priority features to follow up with that would meet the average user's needs:

  • Alternative email address signup & login method to welcome more users
  • Whole sentence practice and grading for fluid speaking
  • Track and test the user over time (spaced repetition algorithm?)
  • User-created word lists for customization

Providing advice on improving specific pronunciation errors is an NLP (Natural Language Processing) problem which requires a more sophisticated development solution than SpeechAce can support currently, but the need was identified and added to their roadmap.

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