Why one British business just did a 12,000 mile road trip across Europe

By Kitty Knowles 30 September 2016
Memrise language app. Pic: Memrise app.

Making an app that's full of personality.

There are plenty of great reasons to road trip across Europe: who doesn’t want to explore all that our lively cities, rolling countryside, mountains, and coasts have to offer?

But one new business had a wholly different reason to cross the continent: to obtain 20,000 videos for their app.

Memrise have just finished a 12,000 mile road trip in a 1970s double decker bus, with a kitchen-cum-dining room on the lower deck, and 7 beds up top.

Having spoken to more than 6,000 native speakers, they think they’ve made a language app like no other.

Cooke (centre) and team on the top deck. Pic: Memrise.
Cooke (centre) and team on the top deck. Pic: Memrise.

What is Memrise?

Founded in 2010, Memrise has long had an innovative approach to learning.

“Other language learning products are primarily academic,” Memrise CEO Ed Cooke told The Memo.

“They’re more like interactive textbook apps, tailored to mainly teach you what is needed to pass exams.”

Memrise, on the other hand, is designed so it doesn’t feel like homework or a chore: you can just play games to help you develop specific skills.

“It’s something you play without a sense of effort or obligation and that you’d even want to play without especially caring about languages.”

“It’s entertainment learning.”

Filming native speakers in Portugal. Pic: Memrise.
Filming native speakers in Portugal. Pic: Memrise.

A language app like no other

The Europe trip will help them to create a new immersive natural language learning mode called ‘Meet the Natives’.

This will be a kind of video dictionary, featuring different native speakers from 9 different countries, to help you learn different dialects.

“This mode’s mission is to recreate the experience of learning a language directly from the locals themselves,” Cooke explained.

“We managed to record a vast range of accents, personalities, and cultural mannerisms along the way, in order to capture each individual language in all its diversity.”

Not even some serious engine meltdowns and low bridge fiascos stopped them on their mission.

The Membus on the road. Pic: Memrise.
The Membus on the road. Pic: Memrise.

Bussing forwards

The so-called project ‘Membus’ went ahead after raising £72,408 through a Kickstarter campaign.

The popular app has also been supported by VCs including Balderton, Avalon, and some interesting angel investors like Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress) and Jeff Hammerbacher (the first data scientist at Facebook).

For Memrise, the new natural learning mode is just one further step into a long, and innovative future.

“We’ll continue developing the game, making it even more entertaining and enjoyable,” said Cooke.

We think we feel our inner-linguist coming on…

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