All I wanted when I started this project was a fast and reliable way to create new flashcards.
Already in high school, I hated practicing vocabulary but knew it was the only way. And I’m happy I still know the majority of vocabulary from my 4 years of French. Back then, I found this tool called Teach2000 which was a cool way to automate practicing. The reason was that when looking through my notebook, I already knew most of the phrases. So much time was spent looking to find the words I didn’t know. On my computer I could practice the 50 difficult words in 10 minutes. But with my paper notebook it would take me > 30 minutes to find them all. Minimum effort, maximum result, good grades.
Then I decided to study in Amsterdam. Now I already spoke Dutch because I lived in NL until I was twelve. But most of my friends did not. Any many of them took language courses. I think on average, those who wanted to learn spent 1000€ on courses. But I noticed they didn’t speak after that. Only after getting a local job or Dutch friends, they became fluent, in a month or two. So apparently speaking with real people was key.
With 22 years, I had a chance to live in Tel Aviv for 7 months and thought I’d learn Hebrew there. I signed up for the most basic course, paid 500$ and sat in class every morning at 8:30. My teacher Etty was great, I even interviewed her for my App idea because she was a teacher for 20 years. She basically says, classes are the skeleton, but most learning happens outside. Ideally, it would be 2/3 outside and 1/3 in class.
Now, every morning I would look through my notes, many sheets of paper in a folder. This was terrible, and one of the problems I wanted to solve with Lingophant was to let me start immediately with practicing. I wasted so much time looking through pages of material to find words I didn’t know yet. Now with the algorithm, Lingophant takes care of this.
Now with some languages, you simply don’t know how a word is pronounced. English, Arabic, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew and French are weak here. It’s actually amazing that we still write single words onto the blackboard, although we have microphones and speakers available anywhere. So that’s another thing we wanted to revolutionise. Because learning something wrong and unlearning it again, is very difficult, as anyone learning to play the piano can confirm.
The moment I started to speak Hebrew with a blond and stupid smile, it became fun. One time when going out, I learned one word for “nothing”, כְּלוּם. But 10 seconds after I repeated it heard it, I had already forgotten it. So I asked again, and repeated it in my head multiple times. 10 minutes later it was gone again. Grrr. If talking to people is fun, but forgetting and asking again and feeling stupid is annoying, then maybe technology can help here.
I had the app idea, but wasn’t sure yet. Then I watched the TED talk below, back when it had only 300.000 views, not 13 million. And suddenly my understanding of learning came together. That was the moment where I decided that creating this App may be the best thing I could do. It’s now available for free in the App Store.
It was so simple and still all the hours I searched I couldn’t find anything like it. The goal was that you can grab your phone and create a new flashcard created, in a few seconds and without interrupting a conversation much. No more notebook. No more asking for a word twice. No more guessing about the pronunciation. No more carrying around paper. Just a record button, for quick audioclips on the go. Supported by voice recognition and translation. And then a spaced-repetition practice system to optimise practicing.
Over the time I got some more cool ideas on what to extend the core with, but the core is that simple. For example, you can just listen to all audio clips in an infinity loop while doing sports, or walking around. You can also practice your pronunciation, by listening to the original, recording yourself, and then compare yourself to the original.
Last week we finished our chatbot that makes it easy to get started and level up from doing certain challenges. It’s also a way to send useful phrase sets, and it’s just fun to play with. And also it could be an easy way to reach customers. And now this Friday we will start with a group of German learners, here in Vienna. They’re students from places like Russia, South America, China, Eastern Europe, etc. We’ll spend a month catering to their needs and learning from and with them.
Anyway, the tool is there, professionals and researchers from the field love the idea, and we’re having a lot of fun building it. Below the video that changed my mind and made me decide to go for it.