The following interview is part of an interview series in which we feature education professionals from a variety of different fields in order to highlight individual efforts and creative solutions to education in the 21st century.
1. Who are you and what do you do in education?
I’m Benjamin Houy, a Frenchman living in Berlin and the founder of French Together, a website where I help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters so they can quickly speak and understand the language.
My love of languages started as a kid when I decided to learn Portuguese to better understand the Portuguese community in my hometown. I then decided to learn Arabic in order to talk to other kids on a trip to Morocco and ended up studying English, German and Spanish at school.
After spending six months teaching French and English in South Korea, I decided to create French Together because I was frustrated with the way the French language was being taught. Most people start by learning French grammar and try to learn as much as possible even though you only need to know a surprisingly small amount of words and grammar rules to have basic conversations.
2. Describe a typical workday in your life!
I usually start my work day at 9 AM by checking my emails and making sure that nothing requires urgent attention. I then either write blog content, produce content for the French Together course or do research (I recently worked on a list of the most common French words for example).
Writing new articles usually takes me 6 hours and includes researching the topic, reading lots of content to make sure I understand what learners struggle with and simply finding the easiest and most efficient way to talk about each phrase, idea or grammar rule. I try to publish an article per week but regularly fail to do so because writing often takes much longer than expected. I want to make sure every single article I publish is the best article on the topic.
Working on the course is slightly different. The foundation of the work is a frequency list I created. I use this list to make sure each dialogue from the course only contains words people will actually use in real-life. Once I’m done writing dialogues, I look for the very best grammar hacks and try to explain the concepts as simply as possible. This means I sometimes spend hours researching and talking with French learners. I then send all transcripts to professional voice actors who bring the dialogues to life.
3. In what way has technology in general and the net in particular changed your work?
Teaching in Korea was both amazing and frustrating. Amazing because I could see the result of my work and follow up with students individually. Frustrating because I could only help a few students at a time.
The Internet has helped me reach millions of people, all over the world. When I create content, I know thousands of people will benefit from it and that’s awesome.
I’m quite excited to see what the future will bring and can’t wait to discover how artificial intelligence will transform language learning.
4. What challenges do you see for education in the future?
The main challenge is to focus on what truly matters. There is so much information available that most people don’t know where to get started. They don’t know if they should focus on grammar, watch movies or maybe go to a language exchange meeting.
In my experience, successful language learners are often the most stubborn. They choose a method and stick to it until they are done with it. They have their goal in mind and don’t let anything distract them.
5. Where can we find you online?