LingQ is a web and mobile language learning app. Users can learn over 40 languages using a content immersion-based and enjoyable approach that is more effective than traditional methods and takes advantage of the way the brain naturally learns.
Tell us about yourself?
After playing professional hockey in six countries on three continents, I learned firsthand the benefits of learning languages in terms of understanding your host country, understanding the local culture, and interacting and getting more out of relationships with the local people. This experience, combined with an engineering background, led to a decision to develop an application in this space. I co-founded the app with my father, Steve, who spoke nine languages at the time and had developed his own approach to language learning that was more effective than traditional methods. Those methods, in combination with technological advancements presented by the internet, mobile technology, AI and more, have led to ongoing improvement over time.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Focus on the product above all else. Even though we have more or less always done this, we have occasionally tried other approaches that proved less effective. Product has to be the focus. And, then, don’t rely on gut feelings. A/B testing is the only way to know what people will actually do rather than what they say they will do.
What problem does your business solve?
It helps people learn languages in an enjoyable, effective, and efficient way. Users are able to learn on their own time wherever they are, and they can do so by finding content they are interested in, including YouTube videos, Netflix shows, podcasts, audiobooks, and more.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
To be honest, we started the business based on difficulties in communication we observed firsthand with an immigrant from China we had hired to develop software for another venture we were involved in. My Dad, at the time, was learning Cantonese and had heard about this immigrant to Canada on the local Chinese radio station, who had had their life savings stolen at the airport when they arrived in Vancouver. He reached out to the radio station to contact this individual in order to offer him a job to help him get himself on his feet and get some local experience if nothing else. In the end, we couldn’t understand him, and he couldn’t understand us even though he had a high TOEFL score and was supposed to be hireable in a white-collar environment.
It turned out there were many other immigrants like him in the same situation, so we thought we would develop a system to help him out and then go after that market. In the end, we ended up pivoting away from the immigrant market and going after the global market for language learning.
What is your magic sauce?
Most methods and competitors offer an extremely limited slice of the target language that has been polished for the user. Unfortunately, even if users learn that content inside and out, they are still virtually nowhere in that language. We offer the user a massive native library of content along with the ability to import limitless content from almost any source they find. This allows users to learn by following their interests with meaningful content. We use AI to help users grade the content to their level and then learn from that content. Interest level is massive in terms of motivation and getting users to spend the time and ingest a massive amount of content in their target language. This process we enable is how people learn their native language well and is the surest and fastest way to get to a competent level in a new language.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
We intend to keep driving product improvement and continue integrating the latest technological advances like ChatGPT currently, where they make sense, of course. At the same time, continuing to look for channels through which we can spread the word.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Initially, back in the early 2000s, we had to overcome technological limitations along with users’ reluctance to pay online. Since then, we’ve had many pivots, from the introduction and then the proliferation of smartphones to the burgeoning amount of content available around the globe. The reality is that as time has gone on if anything, technological advancements have continued to converge and make our application even more powerful for the language learner. Of course, these technological trends require us to stay on top of them and enhance our app to take advantage of these new opportunities. This presents a constant challenge that, if done well, drives our product forward.
How can people get involved?
If you’re interested in learning a language, visit our website at www.lingq.com or look for LingQ on the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. You can sign up for a free account and try learning over 40 languages.