Welcome to Lingvist!

New | 2 April 2014


Hi there, 

this is Mait. He is the particle physicist turned data scientist who after discovering the Higgs boson took it upon himself to crack language learning. He is the visionary behind the company and the CEO. 

There is a great story behind every great company. Mait took some time to tell the rather remarkable story of how Lingvist (which for a while was known as Language Accelerator) came to be.

” I used to work at CERN as a part of the team which in 2012 discovered the Higgs boson. I had not managed to learn French before, although I had been living in the French speaking part of Switzerland for years. I never had the time to join a language class and I was also bothered by the fact, that language learning continued to be low-tech at it’s core: despite the rise of e-learning, the programs were still using learning methods originating from text-books. After we had found the Higgs boson, I decided to use my spare time to try to implement similar technology as the ones we used in the discovery to try and accelerate my French learning.

Firstly, I took a moment and thought about my past failures at language learning (regardless of having a PhD in physics I have a pretty bad track record with Russian and German) and devised a new approach in my head. My tool for language learning would make use of statistical analysis – this way I could make sure that the language I learnt was the most relevant and contemporary. It would also make use of the processor power of my computer – the computer is much better at keeping track of what I should learn next and when should I repeat it. I was sure that these kinds of optimizations would reduce the time needed to learn a language.

Then I downloaded huge amounts of texts from the internet, subjected them to statistical analysis and used an algorithm to optimize my learning process. 24 iterations in software development and 200h of studies later I was curious to test my knowledge taking the Estonian State Exam in French, which is meant to be taken at the end of high school. Amazingly enough, I passed with merit!

Some things I noticed along the way:

  • The first weekend of intensive learning made me feel that I can understand some French radio (although I admit that the content of the news was familiar to me)
  • After learning for one month I couldn’t find a French speaking person who wouldn’t change to English when I tried to practice my French with them… Just so you’d know, the Swiss speak fairly good English even in farmost mountainous villages.
  • However, Two months later they didn’t change to English anymore! I had passed the field test successfully! Not fluent French, but highly operational! “

If this story inspired you, you can follow a similar path (but tailored for your experience) with Lingvist!

(photo credit: Tõnu Tunnel)