Originally going by names such as WorldTongue and Linguist, Linguistic began back in 2015 when it was nothing more than a simple web-based chatroulette site. Discontent with the current offerings in the language exchange market, Tyler Nickerson set out to develop something better, a website that would automatically match you instantly and randomly with native speakers of whichever language you are learning. However, the website faced a cold-start issue, as it required a constant stream of users to run effectively, yet no users would stay on because no one was online.
The solution? Adopt a more intimate model. Users would be matched with a limited number of partners per week, for a limited amount of time. This soon became the seed of the modern Linguistic philosophy. By placing users in a limited number of concentrated conversations, the focus shifts from the quantity of conversations a user could have to the quality of those they do have. Best of all, because matching is not instantaneous, the system can take its time to match users with the best available partner available, similar to a dating platform. Work began on the new platform the following summer, yet was soon put on hiatus as Tyler and his colleagues began to discuss which direction to take the platform.
From the beginning, it was decided that Linguistic would not be another run-of-the-mill language exchange. Instead, it would utilize conversation as a form of instruction, providing users with in-app tools that would allow them to learn directly from the people they speak to, crowdsourcing the learning process. Yet, with a new form of instruction comes a new form of assessment. Eliminating traditional question-and-answer examinations means that traditional point grading cannot be used. To replace it, AI tools were put in place to infer learner proficiency directly from their behavior within the app. Additionally, the new model allowed for a built-in recommendation system, in which users could receive recommended lesson content based on their inferred proficiency.
“When I was first starting out learning Chinese, I would translate songs and articles to help expand my vocabulary past the trivial topics they taught us in the textbook. I also spent a lot of time on language exchange apps like iTalki. Despite the flaws of those apps or the time it took to translate text by hand, it gave me an edge. It really did. By the time I went to China, I was ready to apply my knowledge and speak Chinese, whereas many of my classmates weren't. They lacked the confidence. Now, with Linguistic, my goal was to bring those study methods to the rest of the language learners out there. We want to change how languages are learned, and prepare these students for the global society we live in.” – Tyler Nickerson
In addition to just individual learners, Linguistic opens the doors for educators and businesses as well. Using this new technology, businesses can not only boast the foreign proficiency of their employees in specific subjects, but show where their employees stand against their peers. Teachers can instantly gain a birds-eye view of each student's individual proficiency, and can provide extra assistance to those who are struggling. Linguistic's recommendation mechanism can also provide teachers with in-class reading and viewing materials appropriate to their class' overall proficiency level.
Today, Linguistic leverages a plethora of different technologies to deliver the most beautiful, functional, and progressive language learning platform on the planet. We are excited to continue the development of our flagship product, and are even more excited to get it into the hands of the public as soon as we can. As we get closer to our beta release, we will be opening a Slack channel for testers to hop on and give their feedback. See you all soon!