Learn a language in 4 months: Interview with Ott Ojamets Founder of Speakly App

How many languages can you confidently speak?

Forget the actual answer – what do you want the answer to be. If your only excuses for being single-lingual are that you currently lack the time, funding and brain power, then prepare to become a polyglot.

Speakly is an app like no other. It is the only language-learning app on the market that can promise a complete novice confidence in using a foreign language after just 4 months, with roughly 30 minutes use a day and not a single Grammatical-drill in sight.

Based on the Pimsleur method, it hacks the learning system in the same way a child would, as opposed to focusing on endless structural formalities. The technology has been tried and tested over the last 5 years and big customers already include The Foreign Minstry of Estonia and Telecom company, Telia.

Many future developments are still underway including exciting video content and tutoring systems with real-life native speakers. Italian has very recently been added and many more languages are in development as we speak.

As for my personal experience with it? J’ai téléchargé récemment, et je suis déjà confiant “dans 53% de situations réelle” – un pourcentage qui peut être mesuré et calculé à le fin de chaque session.

Learn more by reading the insightful, funny and personable Q&A below and instead of spending your spare half hour perusing Insta Selfies, you may just metamorphose into a master multi-lingual.

If you’re already sold, don’t forget to reward yourself with the Codes at the bottom of the page that will give you your first month’s download completely free.

Q&A WITH FOUNDER OTT OJAMETS

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What inspired you to create Speakly and how does it compare to existing competitors?

This goes way back. It’s a romantic story about a young high-school guy who sucked at French and spent his time hiding out in the back row. Then one day he wakes up speaking 7 languages… as I do currently.

I originally went on to pursue languages at university because I was certain there had to be a better, more efficient way of structuring the learning process. My personal childhood experiences in Estonia taught me this – I would watch foreign cartoons (German) and in a matter of months, I could better understand them. I was able to achieve this without any of the traditional, laborious methods of reciting individual words and studying grammar. Instead, I had a great time watching cartoons and becoming multi-lingual in the process!

To cut a long story short, it’s been my personal quest to hack the language learning system that has lead to the creation of what is now ‘Speakly’. The result of an amalgamation of years of researching what works best and trying everything for myself.

In terms of the competition – there are a number of cool language learning apps out there but what I’m really proud of, is that our data shows we can get a complete beginner speaking a language well in only 4 months. This is after using the app for just around 35 minutes per day. And that’s really fast – the fastest on the market!

Agreed! I am all for working smarter, not harder. 7 languages is impressive. How did you calculate the time-frame of 4 months?

What Speakly does, is it strategically teaches words and sentences based on their real-life statistical relevance. It uses a pyramid-method, whereby you start learning the words and sentences that are most common in day-to-day life. This builds the foundations of using a foreign language up at a far more rapid rate which in turn improves confidence.

It’s actually a pretty complex mathematical system, but you wouldn’t notice just using it. In a nutshell, our years of research showed us that developing your language abilities in this unique way, you can become apt at expressing yourself in most real-life situations, within just four months!

Let’s forget complicated maths. Which languages, in your opinion, are the easiest and the hardest to learn via apps like Speakly?

Romance languages are pretty easy – French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese – they don’t have declension and it makes the whole thing a lot easier.

Obviously it’s more difficult if you want to learn a language that has a different alphabet. We are developing Russian, Chinese and Japanese for Speakly as we speak… and I can say that it’s actually something that should also be made far simpler. The notion that language learning is hard, in general, comes from the fact that the majority of people have spent their lives learning via time consuming and out-dated methodologies. It’s no surprise that after studying Spanish in school for five years and finding that you still can’t speak it, it cements the notion that it must be a near-impossible feat.

I find it funny that we are so reliant on high-end technology for almost every aspect of our lives, yet we’re concurrently still learning to communicate using methods that have remained unchanged for centuries!

I agree, you could say that about so many aspects of the education system… What is your advice when it comes to not just improving, but maintaining new language skills? Is it like learning to ride a bike?

It’s actually quite simple. Our bodies only do things that make our lives better, easier and happier. Lets say you go to a foreign country for an extended period of time, eventually your brain will be like “well, he probably needs this jibberish, so I’d better start doing my best to understand it.”

It really is that easy – can you convince your brain that you actually need this language or not? It all comes down to repetition so naturally, not using that new language will mean you start losing it. That’s not to say that the language is erased and is no longer there (now we’re getting really deep into linguistic science) but that constant demand for practice is roughly how it works. So, yes, it’s exactly like riding a bike.

Although technology can convince our brains to learn, it can also dissuade us. Do you think automated translation gadgets could nullify the need to learn languages in future?

No – you can’t replace the raw gratification and connection that comes from real human interaction. Imagine sitting in a bar in Malaga and having a heart to heart about the world with a Spaniard, now imagine doing that but holding a gadget in-between yourselves or having a bot constantly yapping in your ears. It takes away from the experience.

Not everyone is interested in learning a language. For example, the majority of Polish people statistically only speak polish and they’re mostly content with that because it’s enough for them. If you aren’t one of those people, then you’ll probably have a strong enough desire to want to speak the language for yourself.

My mother is originally from Korea and I find we have some cultural contrasts in humour (which can be humorous in itself). How do you improve your understanding of the cultural context around a foreign language?

Humour is something that always develops last and there are many complex reasons for this. Essentially the best way to improve, is to truly immerse yourself in the native environment and slowly but surely you may start to pick up these little things that later help you to connect the dots. It is one of the harder aspects of foreign language learning.

What are your future visions and ambitions for Speakly?

There are so many great new features and additions coming to Speakly in the near future! But like all great magicians – you should never reveal yourself too early ;)! And of course the main vision is to create a more connected world, where it’s the norm that everybody speaks at least 4-5 languages and where we as human beings and societies become more empathetic and understanding thanks to that.

I love that and feel we need it now more than ever, no wonder you are so motivated. What is your favourite language and why?

Mine is German, because as I mentioned at the beginning, I have a strong childhood connection with it. However nothing beats having a French conversation in Café de Floré and Estonian is equally great – it’s a language to have business conversations in, nobody understands it. It’s like a secret language, that sounds a little threatening.

Brilliant, I must add the latter to my list. What factors have you used to determine the monthly price plans in Speakly?

We want to offer really valuable services with a reasonable price tag, so that it would be accessible to everyone. The figures we settled on is kind of the ballpark where we felt that Speakly could have the largest influence on the most people’s lives.

Do you think that the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn new ones?

Absolutely, it’s like a muscle. When you train it, you get good at it. Again the notion that it’s difficult in part comes from our past experiences at attempting to learn. So with an app like Speakly, mastering one language in just a matter of months will give you the right mind-set to keep going.

Do you feel that the languages you speak impact your character or personality?

Sure – and it’s so cool to see how a person’s personality changes when they start speaking other languages. My friends tell me that all the time, I’m different depending on whether I’m speaking French or Spanish or German, they all have such different aspects to their characters in themselves. Being surprised works differently. Doubting works differently. Thinking about something has a difference noise. All of that. It’s a fascinating thing!

Amazing, what language do you dream in?

The funny thing is my partner has told me numerous times that I mumble in different languages while sleeping from time to time! So I guess that it kind of changes from night to night. But of course the majority of dreams are in my native language, Estonian.

What has been the biggest challenge with launching Speakly?

It’s just such a big task to build something so substantial. The system itself is really complex and there is such a vast volume of content. Plus we tested the whole system for three years on more than 1500 people before even launching it. But I really enjoy it – the 14-hour workdays and everything that comes with that. I know that Speakly is a real game-changer for the industry and having such a positive effect on so many people’s lives really motivates me.

What is the best inter-cultural experience you’ve had, thanks to your foreign language skills?

You just get a totally different connection with local people when you speak the language. It’s impossible to say what the best has been but I’ll give you a recent example:

I was in Malaga, waiting in a cafeteria line to buy some vegan scones and a cup of coffee. The seller saw my Movember moustache and struck up some friendly banter with me about why he still has a beard but no moustache. Eventually, everybody in the cafeteria became a part of the conversation and had a good laugh. I remember myself saying to a middle-aged guy behind me: “And where is your moustache?” he answered, “Tomorrow I’ll have it. I promise!” Genuine connection is such a priceless feeling.

I wonder if you would have had the same experience in London ;)… Have you had any embarrassing foreign language moments?

Sure! I remember being in high school and hosting a French guy as part of an exchange-program. One day we were all sitting in the school hall and had to present the activities of our weekend to each other, in French of course.

When I was asked what we did yesterday, I tried to say: “We watched the television”, which is “Nous avons regardé la télé”, a reasonably simple sentence. However I managed to slip on just one word by saying “Nous nous avons regardé…” before I even got to the last part everybody from France had already burst out laughing. What I’d answered was “we were looking at each other”.

Well you still achieved a feat by making the French laugh. How can we encourage borders to be more united, whilst maintaining the beauty of such a wide spectrum of different cultures, languages, dishes and traditions?

Exactly, that is the main question and that’s exactly why language learning has to be more efficient. This way, we can preserve all the wonderful differences of culture, without one dominant language taking over as lingua Franca. With learning programs like Speakly it’s possible to learn 4-5 languages during high school or university and with that create a generation of more connected, intercultural relationships and societies.

Where is your favourite place in the world to visit?

Although I am Estonian by birth, I don’t actually spend a lot of time there. Therefore my favourite place to visit is Estonia, especially in the wintertime. I miss hiking in the forests (so much magical Estonian forestry to be conquered) and then going to a sauna straight afterwards. It’s tradition to cook in a boiling sauna before jumping straight into an ice-hole (a crazy wintertime activity for Northern people).

I adore the European Sauna culture. I leapt straight into the local plunge pools in Vienna, so count me in as one of your crazy Northerners. What are the top 5 books on your reading list?

Everything by Tim Ferris, anything education-related by Robinson and absolutely every word that David Deida has ever written.

Some Techie cult classics right there. And your top 5 blogs?

The reality is that I’m working on Speakly at least 12 hours a day and have a pretty strict news diet, both online and offline. Therefore I can’t ever answer this J! The even more honest answer – I’m a full-blown nerd and I read scientific studies about brains, neurons and anything related to that in my free time, all this exciting science consumes my free attention.

I would like to recommend you ‘Wait but Why’ by Tim Urban then! If you could do any other job, aside from what you do now, what would it be?

Nothing. What I do now is perfect and that’s why I created Speakly together with my co-founder Ingel Keskpaik (an awesome polyglot as well). Speakly puts together everything that I enjoy: science, languages, having a real effect on people’s lives, bringing the world closer together…!

I can relate to that and your enthusiasm is infectious. Do you have any unconventional words of advice?

The advice is that if you’re reading this article, are an inspiring person who speaks loads of languages and want to be a part of innovating the world of language learning, then quit your job and contact us because we are recruiting awesome new people all the time.

What is your motto?

Easy choices hard life, hard choices easy life

Do you think entrepreneurial attributes are personality traits or skills that can be developed?

Personally I think that there has to be a fire inside that’s already there.

If money and time were no object, what would be on your to-do and to-see list?

Basically I would just develop Speakly faster and because of that it would start helping more people more quickly. That’s kind of it.

What language do you think god speaks in?

All of them. Even Estonian, even though it has 14 declensions…


To get started with a month’s worth of free learning, use the following codes (use capitals / cut and paste exactly):

English: NIA1ENG

French: NIA1FRA

Spanish: NIA1ESP

German: NIA1GER

Italian: NIA1ITA

Guidelines to start with free studies in Speakly.me:

  • Go www.speakly.me
  • Click “Buy now” on the main screen
  • Register yourself a free user account
  • Choose the target language
  • Choose the 1-month package
  • Insert the free coupon code to reset the cost to zero
  • Do the language test to assess your level and start with your studies
  • Wake up a Polyglot

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