Lingvist Will Keep its HQ in Estonia after Huge Investment from Japan, is Hiring

Sander Nõmmik
Author Sander Nõmmik

The Japanese society is struggling with more than one problem: the economy is growing slowly, the people are getting older and they do not speak the lingua franca of the world, English, writes.

Learning English is compulsory at Japanese schools but the methods used are not very efficient. Hiroshi Mikitani, a legendary Japanese internet entrepreneur, wants to change this. The leader of one of the world’s biggest e-commerce platforms, Rakuten, believes that speaking English would open Japan to the world.

So, one Monday morning five years ago Mikitani started to wrestle with the language problem himself, deciding that the working language at his company Rakuten, employing 10,000 people, should be English. Mikitan called his plan Englishnization.

Now he is using modern technology to help him with Englishnization – and this technology is developed at Estonia’s startup Lingvist.

In November 2015 Lingvist announced that it received 7.4 million euros of additional funding. Its investors include Rakuten, SmartCap, Finnish venture capital fund Inventure and founders of Skype, Jaan Tallinn and Geoffrey Prentice.

Lingvist is a company developing innovative language-learning technology that grew out of an idea presented by Mait Müntel, a PhD in Physics. When Müntel had to learn French while working in CERN in Switzerland, he understood how impractical and non-effective textbooks are when learning. He decided to approach learning a language using Mathematics and created a prototype that helped him learn French in 200 hours.

The contacts between Lingvist and Rakuten started off last year when Mikitani visited the technology conference Slush in Helsinki. The president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves invited Mikitani to visit Estonia and have a look at what technology companies here are doing. The contacts were facilitated by Enterprise Estonia who invited Lingvist to present its innovative product to Rakuten.

Soon a Japanese versioon of Lingvist will be launched. Lingvist is also hoping for success in other East Asian countries as more and more people there have a wish and need to learn English.

The destination languages of Lingvist currently include English and French, the source languages Estonian, English, French, Russian, and German.

Lingvist sees the speed of learning as its main advantage. The magic of Lingvist includes a lot of big data analysis and taking into account the ’curves of forgetting’ – it means that the application knows when a learner is beginning to forget something. It is also important that what is learnt is really relevant to the learner – they do not begin by learning grammar or colors as beginners at schools do but things that are more useful.

Although there is a lot of work to be done in Asia, Lingvist is planning to stay in Estonia and hire more people mainly at its head-office in Tallinn and hopes that naming the well-known investor will help the company find really good employees for all its vacancies – as it needs to compete with all the other job offers by highly successful companies in Estonia.

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