Language, Clojure, and Entrepreneurship

Learning backwards

There are several language learning applications out there, with almost as many language learning methods. There are language books, like Assimil, that are broken into series, that grow and build upon eachother. There are online apps like Duolingo and Babbel, that over time grow their lesson offerings to support higher and higher levels of language. Then there are audio based courses, like Pimsleur, that have a couple courses in a lot of languages, and advanced courses in a select few.

These approaches all have varying levels of success for different people. However, they all suffer from the same fatal mistake: they start from zero, and try to build up to a language. I call this 'learning forwards'.

This approach makes a lot of sense - if you start at level 0, then your hard work is now available and understandable to everyone in the world. You can try different languages, and when there is traction, invest in higher language courses. Building the higher level material is also easier, because you know everything your students know, because you constructed the earlier courses. The end goal here is to build enough courses to fluency, so you have a complete path, easy as 1 2 3.

Here's the thing - I've completed all of these approaches. I've learned a lot with each one of these methods. However, I've never finished the courses anywhere near fluent. In fact, all I could do after finishing these courses was understand the course material. Put some music on, or turn on a movie, or god forbid put me in front of a native speaker, and all my confidence goes out the window.

The reason for this is that these courses are designed for foreigners. They're written by (mostly) native speakers, so they're definitely going to take you in the right direction. But they're starting from a weird spot (foreign adult with a bunch of linguistic bias) and trying to bring you a long long way away to fluent second-language speaker. These stepping stones would have to be incredibly precise to get you exactly where you want to go.

To explain what I mean, consider your language learning journey as an ocean crossing. You're starting in America, and want to make your way to Portugal. You're given a compass that you're told is 98% accurate - how likely do you think it is that you'll actually end up in Portugal? Those 2% error margins will compound exponentially, and you'll likely end up somewhere in Africa or the UK.

These 'learning forward' methods suffer from the same approach. They teach you a foundation and try to build upon it brick by brick, but every little mistake or slight bit of error you make early on in your language learning journey leads you a little bit astray.

That's why my approach for focuses on 'learning backwards'. We start with the destination, native language material, with the entire goal of making this content accessible to more people over time. We want to make sure that after learning a language with, you're able to interact with and enjoy real native content. We focus on the destination and extend a safety rope back from there.

The best part is, you can benefit from 'learning backwards' at the same time you practice 'learning forwards'. Build a foundation with any of the other methods mentioned, while learning to consume native content with our application to make sure you're solving the problem from both ends.

🏴‍☠️  Interested in languages?

Tech has the potential to capture our attention, to endlessly scroll, and to connect us with nearly everyone in the world. Yet all of these powers are used to shove ads down your throat, keep you buying gems, and break down communication between people.

I want to use these tools to increase the linguistic throughput of humanity. Language is the most powerful tool the human race has created, yet we try to limit ourselves to 160 characters. What more could we achieve if we pushed the boundaries of what language is possible? What if we never stopped learning, and everyday we became just a little more articulate?

If you're reading this, then you have the potential to learn any language still living today. Subscribe today, and join me in this journey.

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Jamie Larson