How do you help BILLIONS of people learn to read, spell and pronounce the English language
with ONE system?
That’s the question we asked ourselves when we decided to build Frederick, the world’s
first English language and literacy app that anyone, anywhere can learn with.
And the answer will definitely surprise you…
To begin, why is another reading program necessary when there already are so many methods available?
Because, as you’ll see, all current programs have limitations that make learning to read
a slow, confusing and painful process…
And because new challenges – like speakers of different languages all learning together
in the same classroom – require a new solution.
Interestingly, the problems many beginning readers experience are the exact same frustrations
that many foreign language students also struggle with:
Lessons depend on teachers and memorization, not student-centered exploration…
Confusing rules, explanations and translations make lessons forgettable, and fluency hard
This comparison is so useful because when you learn to read you truly ARE learning a
Almost everyone learns to speak their native language, but written characters are a new
language of symbols and rules that must be decoded the same way a French speaker might
learn German, Chinese or Portuguese.
An English-speaking child, for example, might know the word for “bird,” but the written
word is a NEW language that must be learned.
Many educators have likely noticed this connection between teaching reading and teaching a foreign
But the real change in thinking required to make an effective reading system that ANYONE
can use only happens when you re-think the student.
Lessons in reading and foreign languages are created for humans by other humans.
And this causes teachers to make assumptions and decisions that can make learning much
For example, if you look at this picture and I say a word in a language you don’t know,
will you likely understand what I mean? The word for this image is “bluah.” But am
I talking about a person, an object, the scene generally, or some emotion? As the teacher,
I know. But without some kind of explanation, you likely will not.
These kinds of dangerous assumptions are incredibly common when teaching someone to read or learn
another language. And very quickly, they can cause someone to HATE what should really be
a very simple and fun process.
But, we can finally eliminate problems like this if we imagine our student is a creature
from outer space!
This one surprising idea transforms everything about the way we’d teach reading – and
When we imagine a learner from another planet, we are forced to make lessons as clear and
understandable as we can because translations and explanations would be impossible.
So, how exactly would we teach an alien to read the English language? And what rules
would we have to follow to make the process understandable, and even fun?
Well, the system would have to be incredibly simple, intuitive and discoverable.
Fortunately, we don’t have to leave the planet to find inspiration…
Great video games have enabled players to learn the rules of systems for years without
any explanations, simply though great game design.
Many classic games have made their story, rules and goals obvious to players…
But one of the best examples is found in the original Super Mario Brothers.
Level 1-1 opens with Mario on the far left of the screen facing to the right. This shows
the player that there’s one direction he should be moving in. Experimentation with
the controller buttons quickly reveals how to make Mario move. The player also learns
to jump, step on enemies, get power-ups and complete the stage all through the level design
It succeeds as a memorable experience that trains and tests the player. But it doesn’t
feel like a lesson.
And that’s the key. This isn’t “gamification,” where traditional, boring lessons are made
to feel more exciting with trophies and rewards. Mario’s level 1-1 is satisfying all by itself.
When games are too complicated, confusing, or just badly designed, the player must be
told what to do with prompts, dialogue boxes and information from other characters…
Just like a student in a traditional classroom.
But in case you don’t think this is possible in the REAL world, here’s another example…
I’m a native English speaker who also speaks Japanese, and a few years ago, I was visiting
a friend of mine in Fukuoka, Japan. We decided to go to a popular Korean BBQ restaurant,
but I speak no Korean.
When I was left alone, because my friend had to take care of his son, I noticed a poster
of the actor Will Smith, and his son, Jaden, on a wall near our table. With that, the game
was on, and I challenged myself to see if I could learn some Korean.
The poster was for a movie that was out at the time called After Earth, so I had the
context figured out. I also guessed that since the actors share the same last name, I should
find two identical Korean translations of “Smith” near each other at the top of
And that’s exactly what happened!
The coolest part of the discovery was that the Korean characters for the name “Smith”
appeared to be phonetic, as the first and last characters of the name were the same.
If you look at the translated name, the character I took to mean “su” is repeated twice.
Translating it back to English, we should get something like “su-mi-su.”
And checking a translation, that was correct.
The same “su” character also appears in the title of the movie further down on the
poster: “After Earth.”
The poster was the lesson, and it enabled me to teach myself!
Had some Korean friend been with me, they might have given me some forgettable translation.
But because I discovered it for myself, the lesson has stayed with me to this day!
Now, if an alien could use this approach to learn a language from Earth, wouldn’t it
be even EASIER for us to do the same thing? Of course!
So let’s build a system that an alien could use to learn to read, speak and pronounce
the English language!
First, it would need to be icon-based.
You saw earlier how even a simple photo can be difficult to understand when you can’t
use translations or explanations. So you have to keep things simple, the same way computer
programs use simple icons.
So, we’d begin with a very simple combination of sound, symbol and icon. We’ve got a “cat”
icon, the spelling of the word and we can hear how it sounds.
cat cat cat
We also hear how each of the letters of the word sound individually, so we know what letters
make what sound part of the word.
c a t cat
But to make sure this is 100% clear, we’d also need…
This allows you to compare the differences between things.
cap can cam can cap cat cab bug bun bug bud
Just by testing different letters, we can discover how the rules of English words work,
all by ourselves. Isn’t that cool? We also learn what letter combinations make actual
words, and which are just sounds.
ton tug bug bud
This is important because though a combination like “rab” is not a word, it prepares
us to understand other words like crab and rabbit.
Next, now that you know how to learn, you need a way to test yourself. This is where
games and challenges come in.
sit rap beg rap
We can even test MULTIPLE skills, the same way we’re tested in Mario, by checking our
a pot of men
We can hear how words blend together, improve listening, learn to understand grammar naturally,
gain confidence and develop fluency!
You’ve just seen the stages of level 3 of Frederick. But there will be 35 levels in
the completed app, so players will be able to move step-by-simple-step from the alphabet
all the way to difficult words like “apocalypse” with lightning speed!
See how this isn’t just theory? Real humans all over the world are using Frederick right
now to teach themselves to read, spell and pronounce English INSTANTLY.
It is a reading program, but it’s really so much more!
It’s how an adult English learner can check their pronunciation before an important meeting.
And how an elementary school student in ANY country can quickly improve their spelling
and listening, anytime, all without a teacher! It’s how students who speak different languages
in the same classroom can all learn equally – and be tested in the same way – with
ONE simple system!
To try it free and see why one early tester called Frederick “the best language learning
app on the planet,” click on the link in the upper right, or on the link in the description
below this video now.
It’s been over 10 years from first idea to initial release, and we’re so excited
to hear about how YOU use Frederick.
So click on the link to learn more and we’ll see you inside!