Language, Clojure, and Entrepreneurship

The language guy

The language guy
Photo by Clark Tibbs / Unsplash

I've decided to commit the next 10 years of my life to perfect the language learning experience. This means building the necessary tools, finding the perfect content, speaking with the necessary experts, and of course, learning a bunch of languages, and enabling everybody to do so themselves. Why though? Who am I and why am I going down this path?

My name is Benjamin Barrell, and I'm the language guy. 👋

I've always had a fascination with languages. Some of my earliest memories are of me standing in the kitchen, watching my mom talk on the phone, writing down notes in cursive on a piece of paper. I remember being fascinated that she could speak so fast, used so many words, and could do it all while writing.

I started reading at a young age, reading far above my level, until I got bored and decided I wanted to speak french. I remember pitching a fit, screaming and crying, because I would have to go to school down the street, when I wanted to go to french school in France. I think I was around 5 or 6 at this point - I don't know why I knew what french was, why I decided I wanted to learn it, or how I even knew what France was. I don't have any particularly strong franca-phonic memories, no french relatives, didn't grow up with any french influences - I grew up in suburban California, with english speaking parents, in a monolingual household.

Skipping forward through my life there are tons of language beats - I started learning French in school when I was 12 years old, started learning Italian when I was 15, moved onto some Russian and Korean when I was 18, before deciding to attend university for Linguistics, where I studied Japanese and German and more Italian.

I was always disenchanted with the methods of learning languages though - I could devour a textbook, ace all the exams, but I still couldn't fluently speak a language. I took 4 Italian courses, with 4 Italian teachers, each one would tell me that what I learned from the previous teacher was wrong. My Italian never really improved, until I befriended some Italian foreign exchange students and within a few months my Italian had surpassed my 7 years of french studies.

A few things happened in short succession after that: my Italian friends went back to Italy, I took a Computer Science course, and I dropped out of college to become a web developer with the ambitions to build a language learning artificial intelligence that could learn Okinawan from journal entries and teach me the language step-by-step (if this application sounds like exactly what you're looking for, I hate to disappoint you, because this is way more than I can chew, even now).

A decade passed, I moved out of the US, I learned Dutch, improved my French and Italian, studied another dozen languages (Croatian, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, Japanese, Hawaiian, Thai, Portuguese, Greek, Indonesian, Arabic, and Lithuanian), and my programming skills improved. But still, after all this time, I still don't feel like I have the tools to learn languages like I want to.

However, I have the skills to make these tools. I've been working as a full-stack web developer for over a decade now, and I've used almost every language learning app I could possibly find. I know what works, what's missing, and how to build it. I'm still committed and interested 10 years later, and so it's time to double down.

Get ready for a language learning revolution.

🏴‍☠️  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 everybody in the world. 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