Ep 04: Hacking language learning – with Arnar Jensson

arnar jensson from CoooriIf you’re like me and you’re studying a foreign language, chances are that you sometimes feel desperate and don’t see the end of the tunnel. For most western foreigners living in Japan, studying Japanese can be a painful and long process. My guest, Arnar Jensson, faced the same difficulties while taking his MSc. and PhD in Language recognition at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He realized that language learning had not evolved for decades and that there was space to hack the way people were learning Japanese (Cooori also provides English learning for Japanese.)

He built “Cooori”, a comprehensive solution allying cognitive science and personalized pedagogy to improve students’ retention. As opposed to the traditional one size fits all textbook that is the same for all students, Cooori adapts to the student’s progress and interests to maximize results.

According to Arnar, you don’t need more than 15 min a day to make steady progress. Also, his studies show that Cooori’s “super users” spending some 45min per day can retain up to 600 new words in just a month!

Cooori has become one of the leading solutions for learning Japanese and English to Japanese and is now used by many universities as well as companies for employees training in Japan. More recently, it won the 2013 Japan Night, a Japanese startup competition held in Tokyo with finals in San Francisco.

In this interview, we’re digging into the birth of Cooori which took place in Yoyogi park. We also explore how Arnar was able to raise funds at the peak of the 2008 crisis in his heavily hit country, Iceland. We then talk about small hacks that you can apply to improve your language learning. Overall, plenty of advice that I’m sure will motivate you to keep learning languages!

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Show notes

  • (1:05) Introduction of Arnar Jensson
  • (5:55) How Cooori was born?
  • (12:45) Bringing an MVP to life
  • (16:03) Raising money in time of crisis
  • (18:37) Working with an international team spread all over the world
  • (23:08) What can you do with Cooori? How fast can you learn?
  • (29:15) Language learning, is there any trick?
  • (35:33) How Japan’s entrepreneurship environment has evolved
  • (37:17) CEO and Daddy: difficult balance?
  • (40:48) Quick-fire questions?


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