Why I Started Readle - The First Graded Reader to Learn German
Get up. Get up now. Start something you are passionate about. Forget about making money as the main cause for a while. If passion, skill and a good idea come together, good things and great people along the way will happen.
Back in 2017, I was learning Chinese as a second foreign language. At the time I struggled to find good reading resources to immerse myself in the ocean of characters that undoubtedly look like tiny drawings to those unfamiliar with the language.
In contrast to speaking, reading was a constant challenge. That was until I found a valuable resource from the guys at The Chairman’s Bao.
The Chairman’s Bao is a graded reader that provides stories and news for learners from Level HSK1 (Newbie) to HSK6 (Superman). All articles come with audio & instant translation. Within four month, my vocabulary and reading skills skyrocketed from HSK2 (kind of newbie) to being able to read HSK4 (okay) stories & news.
All that improvement just by reading a story or two per day. Oh, and before you start thinking I’ve got some special polyglot talent, I don’t.
The Chairman’s Bao helped me more than any other language app I ever used. And the feedback amongst my friends was the same. No affiliation here, just a shout-out to the founders. What a great job.
Why does learning with short stories work so well? As human beings, we learn best when we have some context to connect what’s new with what we already have saved in our brains.
If you watch a movie, you are more likely to remember the content if it resonates with your value system, past experiences and interests.
If you are starting to learn Chinese and your favorite food is Chicken Rice & Noodle, a super easy HSK1 (newbie) story about the Michelin star street food stall in Hong Kong will probably help you remember words like “eat”, “food”, “chicken” and “delicious”.
After a week, you start reading another story about your favorite spaghetti bolognese in Rome. It’s got the same words, and you recognise them easily. Four weeks later, you get more confident and try a HSK2 story about a store in Nanjing that sells 5000 fried ducks a day.
Do you see how this could play out in your favor if context, bite-sized pieces, level and interest marry up?
Not only will your brain “save the data” easier while you read the story, but it will leave you with a positive memory that makes you want to read more the next time.
Most modern language learning apps are running on a class or lecture system. We are only now starting to see different approaches that get into the contextual space, including stories and podcasts about topics that are actually more interesting than dusty textbook content.
After my own learning experience in 2017, I began to really appreciate how this educational style can benefit language acquisition. With that in mind I decided to adapt this system to the German language.
I partnered with a developer that same year to build out the concept. That same developer has written every single line of code and still works alongside me today.
It soon became quite evident why nobody has tried this before. In contrast to Chinese, German is an inflectional language. This means you have dozens of forms for the same word. This complicates the development of a high-quality instant dictionary that must be at the core of the product. It posed a challenge. A very tedious but solvable one.
Finding the right target group for the product was another massive challenge. It was one that took us the next two years to work through. Firstly, I was still employed full-time, and on top of that found myself planning, developing, and promoting the product (mistake number one). At the same time, Germany was experiencing a migrant crisis, so I presented the application to German institutions and universities in an attempt to help (omg, mistake number 2).
We finally decided to take a commercial route. We built out a full first version of the app and released it on the App Store and Google Play.
By the end of 2019, we partnered up with a friend from college. He had successfully built his own app company and was willing to take our product into his store to test it out.
That was hundreds of working hours, 500 stories, and 100k downloads ago.
Two years later, having formed a company, added countless features to the app including a flashcard system with spaced repetition we find ourselves again at one of many beginnings.
The feedback we’ve received has been already overwhelmingly positive. We have also seen other well funded language learning apps adapting a similar method, sometimes taking it further thanks to the resources at their disposal. This will be a good thing for everyone.
What was back then an ugly duck apprehensively launched into the App Stores of the world is now Readle.