Something appears to have gone wrong. In our race to create newsfeeds full of angst and bile about Brexit and Trump, or photos full of pouting-teens against which ads can be sold, we’ve forgotten something. Namely, the power of the written world. And as Orwell himself wrote when illustrating “newspeak”, he who controls language controls the world:
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . The process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thought-crime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. . . . Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?”
― George Orwell, 1984
But that perhaps is in a parallel future that hopefully will never arrive. Right now we have an opportunity to turn the ship around. According to neuroscience, our brains recall information better when it’s associated with something unusual or funny. Thus, it makes sense then to create a platform where that happens to aid learning. If we could achieve that then children would fall in love with learning words, and their vocabulary enriched, staving off the 1984 predictions.
To address this, enter Mrs. Wordsmith, the 1-year-old edTech startup focused on high quality visual content, that has now raised £2 million pounds in seed funding. London-based Kindred Capital led the round, which includes US edTech investor Reach Capital, SaatciNvest and Ropart Asset Management. The startup aims to disrupt the way literacy is learned through a monthly subscription-based vocabulary program
Currently, Mrs. Wordsmith is entirely paper-based, and the words come from a curated list of 10,000 words that have been identified as the ones academics have determined are the rare and challenging ones that help improve writing and comprehension.
Founder Sofia Fenichell, who announced the funding at The Europas conference, says “Not a single publisher anywhere has artfully curated and illustrated these words. We have not only identified which words to teach but how to teach them, through illustration and spaced repetition by putting them into context.”
Launched in 2016 by CEO Sofia Fenichell to help her own children improve their writing skills, Mrs. Wordsmith is aimed at transforming the way young people learn, retain and use the type of words that drive literacy and academic success.
She’s damn right that vocabulary is one of the most important indicators of academic success, there is little formal teaching, in such an efficient way, of the 10,000 words that enrich writing and deepen comprehension.
Mrs. Wordsmith has created a subscription-based vocabulary programme that helps young people learn rich and unique words in a way that’s visual, and easier to grasp and retain. Working on the neuroscientific basis that our brains better retain information that is unusual, the words have been creatively illustrated by Mrs Wordsmith’s Art Director, Craig Kellman, the award-winning artist behind the films Madagascar and Hotel Transylvania, and his team.
Mrs. Wordsmith will use the funding to continue to develop and improve its popular subscription-based paper product, but also to build out its technology team and to expand internationally into consumer and school audiences.
Leila Zegna of Kindred Capital says, ‘We are incredibly excited about the ambitious vision and unique approach that Mrs Wordsmith is taking to improve learning outcomes for young people around the globe. The initial product has been a runaway success with customers and achieved impressive uptake and revenue growth, predominantly via word of mouth marketing and customer evangelism, showcasing the strength of the brand that Mrs Wordsmith has already been able to build in a short period of time. We believe the potential of both the physical and digital product set is vast.”
Wayee Chu of Reach Capital says, “Mrs Wordsmith is filling a gap in the market for high quality content and visual learning. We have yet to encounter a company that is truly pioneering high quality visual learning. We are impressed by their early traction with both educators and consumers. We believe their products are going to be embraced in the US due to their humor, ease of use and high impact. We look forward to supporting them in their US launch later this year.”
Leila Zegna of Kindred Capital and Basma Alireza, angel investor behind electronic gaming companies Playfish and SuperCell, join the Mrs. Wordsmith board. Professor Ted Briscoe, who leads the Natural Language and Information Processing Group at the University of Cambridge, joins the advisory board.