Learning a new language? Here’s how to teach it at the same time

When I was at school, as far as I can recall, my language teachers could all speak the language they were supposed to be teaching me.How the world has changed. Today Senja Larsen is helping thousands of people learn Swedish, despite the fact she can’t really speak it herself.

Senja Teaches you Swedish is an online language school with a difference. As Senja herself learns Swedish, a few words at a time, she shares the knowledge on Facebook.

Each mini-lesson focuses on a few useful words, with extra information supplied by a team of around 20 volunteers chosen by Senja. Though the lessons are posted by Senja and her volunteers, anyone can contribute. The page’s lively – and often hilarious – comments make each lesson more memorable, and help to give context to the words being learned. It seems to be working: the Senja Teaches You Swedish page now has over 13,000 members, all learning and discussing the Swedish language together.

Senja was inspired by her friend Samu, who offers Estonian lessons online, and the idea is proving infectious. As well as Senja and Samu’s language lessons, there is even an electronics school.

Senja now hopes to take her school into the offline world, and is using KickStarter to raise funding for a book. As I write this, Senja has raised $4,800 of her $12,000 goal, with two weeks left to go. I spoke to Senja about how she came up with the idea for her unique language school, and her hopes for the future.

Senja Teaches You Swedish is a totally original idea. What gave you the idea of sharing your learning process in this way?

– I wanted to learn Swedish but there was no place one could learn a word or two every day. In effect I established the site because I wanted to join it.

And what led from there to the KickStarter page?

– Publishers were interested in our book but having one would have doubled its costs for the end user. Since the content of the book is crowdsourced, we thought crowd funding would suit it perfectly.

How did you recruit your group of volunteers to help with the daily postings?

– They found the school! One is in Australia, another in California. As we have an online school, it is possible to participate regardless of time, place and level of knowledge.

What makes this such a good way to learn a language?

– Learning languages is a slow process. Words are the building blocks. In effect if you learn 1000 words in a language, you will understand most of what is going on.

What do you hope to achieve in the long term?

– More fabulous fun. I get to work with a wonderful group of people and continuously meet new ones. I learn new skills, which make me better at my work, which is PR and communications. As a bonus I learn new words in a language I did not speak one year ago. What more could one want?