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Publishing Focus Part Four – One Third Stories

Regular readers of Publishing Focus may know that we run a similar series of articles across at Digital Book World called Indie Innovation. Recently, we spoke to two remarkable young gentlemen with some super ideas. Hereby introducing… One Third Stories.

Taking a passion for language learning into the publishing world, Alex Somervell and Jonny Pryn have come up with an exceptional idea; to start a book in one language and end it in another. This approach pulls the reader through a compelling narrative and achieves “stealth learning’, gradually plying them with phrases until their fluency improves. The pair have received significant funding in their early stages, and support from a variety of startup organisations and accelerators.

As newcomers to this publishing world, I asked Jonny whether the digital revolution is likely to help or hinder One Third Stories in the long run;

“Harnessing the digital revolution is a really important part of what we’re doing but at the moment it’s taking a little while to really shake up the children’s book market. Sales of physical children’s books are continuing to grow and the number one discovery point for new titles is still in a good old-fashioned bookshop…

For me, that’s not hugely surprising. Physical children’s books have so much to offer – the way they look, the way they make you feel- and not many people are producing really riveting digital content to rival that experience. It should be about more than just taking what’s on the page and putting it on a screen with a few twinkling stars to ‘make it interactive’- there’s an opportunity for real innovation.”

Inspired by Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, they’ve invented a way of learning called The Clockwork Methodology. This helps kids to learn a new language in a new and inspiring way. We all know that children’s brains are sponges, but do the guys have plans to release similar books targeted at adults?

“Lots of people will tell you that children are better at learning a second language but that’s a myth. They are, however, different language learners. For starters, they are much better at differentiating between similar sounds than adults are, and can mimic them more accurately leading to better accents. Crucially, they are also much more willing to ‘have a go’ and get things wrong, a facet sadly missing from all the evening language classes I’ve attended as an adult…

That’s why The Clockwork Methodology works so well for children. They are used to seeing words they don’t understand and inferring their meaning. In fact, that’s exactly how they expand their vocabulary in their native tongue. Their theory might not be quite right the first time around but they improve it as they see the words in new contexts and remember it better with each repetition. Meanwhile, most adults get frustrated and Google it, which isn’t necessarily bad but does make retention harder and certainly disrupts the process of enjoying the story…

Adults do have better analytical skills though, and a wealth of experience in their native tongue, which can make a new language easier to pick up. Taking that into account, I think our methodology could work really well for adult learners too. Anecdotally, I can certainly say it has improved my Spanish a huge amount. I think it’s also really appealing to adults because it’s taking an activity they’d be doing anyway, reading, and adding an extra level of value to it.”

It’s a tough industry to make a mark in, that’s for sure. Competition is fierce for language learning audiences and among educational publishers in general. Considering their recent progression, what tips did Jonny have for startup publishers in today’s world?

“When Alex and I first dreamt up this idea, we decided to test it out by making a prototype. We spent months and months working on it and we still hated it- the story didn’t seem right, it didn’t look very good, there wasn’t enough Spanish words, then there were too many Spanish words… We posted about what we were doing on a Facebook group for parents and suddenly our little tester book was in the hands of a hundred kids. It turned out they all absolutely loved it and were learning loads of new words. It transpired our biggest mistake was picking a font everybody found really hard to read…

The less time it takes to get out of your bunker and show people what you’re working on, the better the end product will be.”

One Third Stories has great hopes for the future, including the extension of their products to multiple different languages after their kick-start in Spanish. The guys aim to create a genuine “language learning revolution”, helping people all over the world to learn new tongues in an exciting and engaging way.

“We’d like to start working with existing titles as well as creating our own content both here and internationally. Is your child demanding the same book as a bedtime story for the 6th time that week? Why not read a version which teaches them a little Spanish and saves your sanity?”

Thanks to Jonny for chatting to me. You can find out more about One Third Stories on their website, and read the full DBW article here. You can follow One Third Stories on Twitter.

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