Completely Foreign

One of the core ideas underlying Composite is that health is about habits – the small things you do day in and day out that add up over time to meaningful change.

To that end, we’ve been developing an algorithmic approach to acquiring new healthy habits. First, we assess clients’ current habits, in areas like movement, nutrition, and lifestyle. Then we automatically build a prioritized stack of new habits that would be maximally beneficial, introducing them a couple at a time. By monitoring compliance through an app (and egging clients on with accountability to a human coach), we can use learning techniques like spaced repetition to determine when we should be adding new habits, and when we should be doubling down on practicing ones already introduced.

As a result, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time looking at other algorithmically-based learning systems. Which is what led me to discover language learning site Lingvist.

Lingvist is the brainchild of a physicist at CERN, who had been living in the French part of Switzerland for years, but had never learned the language. He built the prototype system for himself, studied with it for a few months, and developed enough fluency to test out of the equivalent of a high-school French class.

The approach weighs the importance of words by real-world statistical occurrence, so you spend most of your time focused on the parts of the language you’ll actually use. (I discovered the value of this the hard way, when living in Japan as a high school exchange student; though I could say ‘kindly give me the fish of your brother Yamada,’ I couldn’t say ‘hey guys, I think we just ran out of toilet paper.’)

And it uses an adaptive algorithm: based on your real-time performance, Lingvist alters the pace of learning new words, and the frequency of re-testing old words, even within a single practice session.

I’ve spent some time playing with both the French and Spanish versions, and can confidently say Lingvist is très bon / muy bueno. Try it out yourself.

June 28, 2017