The educational value of emojis has been long debated since they were popularized by Apple in 2010. Emojis have been argued to enhance critical reading skills and are even used by New York hospitals to teach young people about sex. One entrepreneur, however, has built a tool that uses these Japanese icons to facilitate language learning.
Developed by Simon Schmid, Learnji is a vocabulary app that enables you to learn over 1,200 everyday words in a foreign language using emojis. It’s currently available for six different languages: English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. You can also study the population count of 376 countries.
The idea for Learnji first came to Schmid four years ago when he was walking through the streets of Milan, but the notion was overtly simple. He wanted to build an app that would teach him basic vocabulary using a flashcard effect at its core. This concept bounced around Schmid’s brain for two years until it finally hit him: Emojis.
“Emojis are widely known and used by a whole bunch of people and they’re supposed to fill the most basic communication needs we humans have,” he explains. “So I began filling spreadsheets with all emojis and seeing whether it would make actual sense in app form.”
Within the app, emojis are sorted by category. These 31 categories range from expected, such as ‘food and drink’ or ‘travel,’ to more offbeat, like ‘zodiac signs’ or ‘roger federer.’ Other features include shaking the device to shuffle words, testing your friends by sending text messages and even swiping to compare languages.
“I wanted it to include two elements,” says Simon. “A sort of flashcard mechanics, but also easily lets me compare these words to other languages, therefore adding another element of playfulness to it.”
Another particularly interesting aspect of Learnji is what Schmid calls the Dyslexic Special. What it does is switches the main font of the app to Open Dyslexia, a font specifically designed increase readability for users with dyslexia.
“It’s one of those things I’ve picked up along the way and I had a dyslexic girlfriend while I was starting to build the app,” says Schmid. “I really wanted it to be part of the app because I figure that digital solutions are probably the easiest way to help anyone suffering from dyslexia in any form.”
Learnji was released in early August 2017, which included a debut on Product Hunt. While it has only been out for a couple of weeks, the response has been encouraging – hundreds of upvotes and many five star reviews.
There are many features still to come, but at the moment, Schmid is focusing on increasing uptake and gathering meaningful feedback. “I know releasing the app is only the beginning,” he says. “Now I’ll start to look around and see who loves to use it as much as I do.”