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Personalizing The Study Of Languages: The Story Of Gymglish

One of the things Dyn prides itself on is the creation of a unique culture, both within our offices and in our interactions with customers. We love to come across other companies that feel the same way: companies with great products and a distinctive flavor.

Gymglish is one such company.

Founded in 2004 by Antoine Brenner and Benjamin Levy, Gymglish provides online language education services via email, stressing tenants of pedagogical learning and personalized linguistic study.

GymglishThe idea came to Brenner years back when he was planning to work in Mexico.

Understanding that he had very little knowledge of Spanish, he enrolled in classes in the historical capital of Guatemala: Antigua.

The lessons, which lasted for nearly three months and were simply made up of he and his instructor, proved incredibly effective for Brenner and instilled in him an appreciation of one-to-one language education.

“I probably achieved, in those two and a half months, the same level of fluency that I had in ten years of German and English group classes,” Brenner said. “We worked for six hours a day and the teacher was incredibly good at recognizing what I personally understood very well and what I needed work on. You rarely get that sort of recognition in larger groups. It’s just much more difficult both for the teacher and the student.”

After his time in Mexico, Brenner still found himself marveling over how well the classes had worked.

“Being a technical guy, I immediately started asking myself whether it was possible to make a program that worked on those same principles.”

It’s from Brenner’s experience in Mexico that Gymglish was born. But don’t worry: with Gymglish, you don’t have to work six hours daily to make it effective. Brenner explains that the educational system that Gymglish provides is structured to fit into the busy day of its student.

“All of the lessons come to your email, so that you don’t need to go to any special page and log in to start working,” Brenner elaborated.

Each lesson lasts no more than ten minutes daily. While with some language education programs, you can put in as much time as you want, Gymglish restricts the time you spend so that each individual lesson has time to sink in.

“With most e-learning services, only, say, five or ten percent of users carry on past a few weeks,” Brenner says. “A lot of people work a few hours a day for the first few uses but then they just burn out.” imgres-1

After each lesson is completed, the user receives answers and corrections in their email with the next lesson reflecting the areas in which they had trouble. “All of the lessons are very personalized. The program isn’t just going through the motions. It’s tailored to you as a learner,” he said.

In addition to the focus on moderation and personalization, Gymglish has one other feature that sets it apart from other programs: a story.

All the lessons are structured around the tale of a fictional (and colorfully animated) company: the San Francisco-based Delavigne Corporation (seen right). The various antics of the corporation’s managers and staff make up the spine of the student’s learning experience, providing a lively and humorous tinge to each new section.

While this feature was not originally part of the plan, it quickly became essential to the Gymglish brand. “While my partner was working on the sales and more technical side, I was tasked with finding teachers. When we hired our first instructors, we found ourselves with a very personalized but, frankly, very boring product,” Brenner said. “All of the questions were bland and transparent and just very forced. It was all stuff like: Where is Brian? Brian is in the kitchen. How is the kitchen, Brian? The kitchen is fine. And so on and so forth. It’s very hard to stay interested when that’s what makes up your learning experience.”

To combat the potential tedium of this structure, Gymglish hired a team of creative writers to craft the story arc that now defines its product: a wacky, vibrant and brilliantly unorthodox take on the the study of English.

“We wrote the story without worrying about the lessons, because we didn’t want it to be overly linear like so many language programs are,” Brenner said. “We didn’t want the user to feel like they were just going step-by-step forward. That’s uninteresting for the student.”

Obviously, it’s working.

Gymglish currently has over 950,000 students, 4000 clients and is paired with 30 partner universities and it’s just the beginning.

“We’re very much growing in terms of customers and products,” Brenner said, “but we are still very small in terms of employees.”

The founder doesn’t mind this, though. In fact, he’s very happy to be part of such a tight-knit organization.

“I think we want to keep it this way,” Brenner said. “We’d rather be great than big.”

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