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Lingvist Image Credit: PC Pro
Lingvist Image Credit: PC Pro

Lingvist

We meet the Hadron Collider scientist whose app can teach you French, Spanish or Russian in record time

Barry Collins

When they started building the Hadron Collider at CERN, it’s probably fair to say nobody was quite sure what would be discovered. But nobody’s shortlist of potential breakthroughs included an app that would rapidly accelerate the learning of foreign languages.

That’s precisely what Mait Müntel emerged with after his time in Geneva. The Estonian wasn’t only part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson particle; he also invented a way to teach himself French, in the scarce spare time available to someone helping to make one of the most fundamental scientific discoveries of the 21st century.

Müntel’s method is now a free-to-use app called Lingvist. But how did the Hadron Collider help him turn learning languages into a solvable mathematical problem?

Movie talk

Müntel had been working and living in Geneva for a few years, before it suddenly dawned on him how “impolite” it had been to live in the city without learning its language. At CERN, everyone spoke English – or what Müntel labels “Scientist’s English”. “It’s a bad English because there are so many different nationalities involved that have very, very weird accents,” he said.

Müntel had learnt English as a child, but it had taken him a decade to master it. He couldn’t wait another ten years to learn French, so he decided to find ways in which he could learn


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