By Bianca Silva

Sheilla Sanon wants to make learning a new language a bit easier. Earlier this year, she developed Lexiconvo, an app that will soon be available on iPhone devices, which allows the user access to resources from articles to podcasts in their desired language. Even more fascinating: the user can connect with tutors and translators that suit their needs.

Sanon speaks with the Haitian Times on the inspiration behind her app and her career in industrial design.

Congratulations on your newest product, Lexiconvo. How did you come up with the concept? What inspired you to create it?

Thank you. In my freshman year of high school, I decided to learn French so I can speak with my sick grandmother without having anyone translate for me. She passed before I had the opportunity to truly speak with her one-on-one, but it gave me a little language bug, so to speak, and I wound up downloading a ton of apps and videos to help me learn. I even tried speaking with native speakers online and more times than not, ended up getting harassed or ignored. In the process, I gave up on language, but fell in love with the lifestyle and culture. That angle gave me a different perspective of the language and gave me a much easier, more immersive experience. I recognized that language learning was extremely fragmented and that there was a more cohesive, efficient, and modern way to both learn and remember a new language.

What were some of the setbacks you experienced in creating Lexiconvo?

So far, my biggest setback has been funding. Last December I hustled to save and borrow as much as I possibly could to pay for the development of a demo and a UI mockup. It was extremely expensive, and now I’m in the process of shopping these demos around enough to build a full version that could be placed in app stores to begin to raise real revenue. I’m also very much involved with every aspect of the project. Working alone leaves me responsible for project management, social media outreach, funding and more. It’s time consuming but extremely rewarding.

You have an impressive background in design and content producing. What led you to pursue a career in this industry?

Industrial design is an amazing study that has unlocked my brain, so to speak, and enables it to view problems as design opportunities. The field is more problem-solving and user-centered than other design fields and in a lot of ways, the design thinking methodology influenced my being able to see what problems I was encountering while learning and the tools to reiterate truly innovative ideas something solid was obtained. My design program at Appalachian State University was also extremely rigorous and exhausting at times. We had to actually build physical prototypes and quality models at the end. A single product could easily go through 50 iterations of drawings and mockups. In the end, we stayed in the studio until unrighteous hours of the night manually working on multiple projects at a time. This comfort with being uncomfortable, also helped me wake up at 4 a.m. to work on Lexiconvo before going to a full-time job for months.

How does your Haitian heritage factor in the work that you do and your long-term goals?      

Being Haitian has been extremely central to my work physically, emotionally, and mentally. As a child it was something I ignorantly wanted to detach myself from. But knowing our history gives me strength to be resilient and the audacity that great change is in fact possible. My parents speak English, Haitian Creole, French, and Spanish and yet my siblings and I were discouraged from learning anything from English as a way to avoid the very real consequences that comes from being bilingual in the American education system. As a teenager and young adult, learning French and Spanish on my own has really opened my eyes to many things I might have taken for granted had I been raised speaking the languages as a child.

Circling back to stigmas, my goal for Lexiconvo is to be an integral part at de-stigmatizing certain languages (as Haitian Creole was once to French) and to de-stigmatize the speakers of different languages in the process of learning (as Haitians are sometimes in the eyes of their own Latino community and to the rest of the world). The motto of Lexiconvo is Speak Differently to not only reiterate the fact that “alien” languages are relative and that non-English speakers merely “speak differently,” not incorrectly or inferiorly. The motto also stands to show the simplicity of learning a language is as attainable as speaking a little differently than you already do.     

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