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 to try 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 essential to get the skeleton, but most learning happens outside. Ideally it would be 2/3 outside and 1/3 in class. But every morning on the bus I would still read through my paper notes, if I didn’t forget them at home.
Now at some point, this gets confusing, because you don’t know how a word is pronounced and because there are so many pages and notes. And then I may be learning something the wrong way. That would be an even bigger waste of time, because unlearning is usually more difficult than learning. However, the moment I started to speak Hebrew with a blond and stupid smile, and became fun.
One time when going out, I learned one word for “nothing”, כְּלוּם. But 10 seconds after I repeated it to myself multiple times, I had already forgotten it. Dammit!! So I asked the girl for it again, and tried my best to remember. An 10 minutes later it was gone again. Grrr.
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 to grab your phone, and within 10 seconds have a new flashcard created, without interrupting the 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. Then a transcription button for afterwards, with 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 simple core with, but the basis is that simple. For example now, you can just listen to all audioclips 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. And go through this in a loop.
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.