I can read! A laborious language learning process made easy

Like many an expat around the world, I’ve learned a new language (well, a third language actually). And I’m proud of myself for that fact! We all learn languages differently; some of us are visual, some grammatical, and others learn through hearing a language. But reading is a common thread and acts as a great support for anyone learning a language. Kids at school learning a second or third language, or adults who are relocated through work, love or dreams, all benefit from reading to learn.

Languages are mMiles Avisony passion. In my day job I run a translation and language agency in Stockholm, Sweden, my adoptive home town of the last 12 years. I lived in France and learned French. Génial! Now I live in Sweden and am still learning Swedish. Sweden is a Mecca for bilingual, trilingual and many-more-lingual kids, and it’s great to see. It’s going well for me; after 12 years I am fairly fluent. But I don’t read as much Swedish as I would like! In fact, whatever the language, all of us are reading (and I mean concentrating for a lengthy period on one book/publication/volume) less than we used to. We skim. We bounce from one input of information to another.

So when I was approached by the founder of Flikkt soon after he had his idea (Scott is also an expat, and a friend of mine), I was extremely curious to hear his excited ramblings; something about reading in a second (or third, fourth…) language, and being able to get quick and context-sensitive translations of the difficult words you come across. Scott, like me, had tried reading in Swedish and had sat reading with a highlighter pen and a dictionary, or with sore copy/paste fingers and a home-made Excel glossary. He even went the extra mile and made a program to generate flashcards to learn the words, as long ago as 14 years. He’s clever like that; somewhat of an IT geek. To cut a long story less long, I joined Scott, along with two other partners, on his new venture, as a partner in a new business.

Scott wanted my input as a linguist and qualified language trainer as to whether this idea of context-sensitive translations of difficult words, in eBooks, on an iPad screen, was feasible. Could we make a business from it? Could we bring it into schools and help children around the world to learn a language more easily? Could we help them get through books (be they novels, text books, classics or easy readers) in a language that is not their first, more easily? And could we help integrate classrooms more easily, bettering inclusion and putting learners on a more level playing field? We decided we could. And it’s been an exciting 11 or so months in a start-up company aiming to make big changes in reading and language learning.  This video shows the technology in mobile app format: http://bit.ly/Flikkt_App_Video. A web-based version of the technology is the next part of the project, and this will include a far more interactive approach to learning for both teachers and learners.

I’m looking forward to meeting many potential educational partners at Bett next week!

Miles Avison



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