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Obama Admits to Bad Spanish As He Gets Language Learning App Demo

Image: President Obama meets Von Ahn and Gotthilf of Duolingo as he views exhibits at the White House Demo Day at the White House in Washington

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets Luis von Ahn (2nd R) and Gina Gotthilf (3rd R) of Duolingo, a language-learning app, as Obama views exhibits at the White House Demo Day at the White House in Washington August 4, 2015. The Demo Day event showcased the work of U.S. inventors and entrepreneurs. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst JONATHAN ERNST / Reuters

President Barack Obama admitted to a 'painful' Spanish learning experience on Tuesday and luckily was shown there's an app for him.

“My high school Spanish was just painful,” President Barack Obama said to the creator of the language learning app Duolingo.

“My accent is terrific, but I have the vocabulary of a 2-year-old," Obama said. He turned 54 on Tuesday.

Obama met with business creators in what he said was a birthday gift to himself, a day dubbed “White House Demo Day." The event drew a diverse group of startup founders to the White House to explain to the president what they had created, why it was needed, how it was going to make money and how they were inspired to create it.

Among the entrepreneurs was Luis von Ahn the creator of Duolingo, a free language learning app. Von Ahn of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is originally from Guatemala and his language app has more than 100 million users worldwide.

He told Obama that the game-like app grew out of his passion for education and belief that education creates inequality because people with money can buy the best education in the world.

“That’s certainly true when we are underfunding education,” Obama said.

Von Ahn told him most people who are learning English are trying to get out of poverty but can’t pay the money for English lessons to get out of poverty. He said there are more people learning a language in the United States through Duolingo than in the whole U.S public school system.

“That means there’s a problem with the U.S. public school system,” Obama retorted.

But Obama has to wait a few for another birthday and a few months to use the app on his phone. “Right now I’m not allowed to have a smart phone,’’ he said. (That's for security reasons, not his age).

Obama also reviewed Student Loan Genius, cofounded by Tony Aguilar of Austin, Texas. When he moved to Aguilar's exhibit, Obama guessed it would tell him where he could get his cheapest student loans. "That's part of it," Aguilar said.

“We allow great companies to help their employees find the best repayment plan and then the company can provide a matching contribution just like they would a 401K so they can become deb-free faster,” Aguilar said.

Image: Barack Obama, Ramona Pierson
Andrew Harnik / AP

Aguilar graduated from college with more than $100,000 in student loan debt “and struggling to understand his options,” the White House said. He told Obama 4 of 5 people who use Student Loan Genius are choosing to switch to a different repayment plan.

Aguilar said he got the idea for Student Loan Genius while running what was the first financial planning company for millennials and saw how student debt was impacting young people’s lives.

“Companies are helping, you know, people save for retirement, but our generation is getting crushed by student loans,” he said.

Other Latino entrepreneurs exhibiting their businesses at White House Demo Day:

  • Francisco and Carolina Aguilar of Boston created Bounce Imaging, a ball-shaped camera that can be thrown to provide images from various spaces and transmit data such as temperature and oxygen levels. It was created in response to challenges faced by responders to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
  • Betsy and Emily Nunez of Littleton, Colorado created Sword & Plough which reuses surplus military gear for rugged and refined bags. The company has repurposed 30,000 pounds of military surplus.
  • Ignacio “Nacho” Pino of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico created CDI Laboratories to produce research-grade protein and antibody products that support scientific research on infectious diseases.
  • Rubi Sanchez of San Francisco founded Wearless Tech Inc. that is developing Cocoon Cam, which uses cloud-based data analytics to monitor a baby's wellness. The Cocoon Cam can track a baby’s heart rate, respiration and skin temperatures and do other tasks to track a baby’s health.