Estonian startup Lingvist, which is developing “adaptive” language learning software that it claims significantly reduces the time it takes to learn a new language, has raised a €1 million round of funding. The investment comes from SmartCap (the investment arm of the taxpayer-funded Estonian Development Fund), Nordic VC Inventure, and several angel investors from Estonia and elsewhere.
Founded just over a year ago by Mait Müntel, Ott Jalakas and Andres Koern, the company’s inception came about after Müntel, who has a background in physics and had been working at CERN for several years, became interested in learning French. As he began researching what online/digital language learning solutions already existed, none of which he found were up to scratch, he reasoned that by subjecting languages to statistical analysis in order to establish frequencies and correlations and by optimising the “memorisation process” it would be possible to drastically reduce the time needed to learn a new language.
Müntel then set about building a prototype — which he himself used to learn French to a high enough level to pass the Estonian State Exam in 200 hours, apparently — and showed the software to early Skype engineer (and since serial investor) Jaan Tallinn who encouraged him to pursue the project as a bona fide startup.
“Inefficiencies in language learning come from learning irrelevant content and suboptimal repetition intervals,” Müntel tells TechCrunch. “Most digital language learning tools are still using teaching methods that might as well be set in a physical textbook – i.e. they are not making use of the fact that the student is learning on a device that has computational power and the capability to record and analyse usage data.”
In contrast, Müntel says the languages taught with Lingvist are subjected to big data analysis. “We crunch through immense quantities of text to establish frequencies and correlations that enable us to prioritise what is most important in a language and teach the most relevant and contemporary vocabulary,” he adds. “The order is not [the] same for everyone, but depends on each and every student’s skills and knowledge.”
It’s this “adaptive learning” approach — in which the software tracks what you know and what you don’t, in order to determine what you should learn next to fill in gaps most efficiently — that the company claims sets Lingvist apart from competitors.