Marie Francois, Memrise

Marie Francois, Tour Bus Manager for language app Memrise, is currently travelling across Europe as part of the app’s Membus project – a summer roadtrip adventure to collect micro-videos of locals across the continent using their language in context in order to compile the world’s largest video dictionary.

How did you get involved with this project?

I met Memrise’s CEO, Ed Cooke, at a concert. He told me he wanted to buy a double decker bus and go on a road trip around Europe to capture the diversity of languages (he didn’t have the bus yet, it was just bragging at this stage). I was not sure what he was on about exactly, but I knew I immediately wanted in, so I pitched myself for this job. I thought it was such a brilliant idea in terms of its innovative and fun approach to learning languages, and a great opportunity to work on a mission I would truly believe in.

What has been your biggest challenge along the way?

Definitely running a 1978 vintage double decker bus around Europe. You would not suspect the amount of things you have to look into, as well as not listening to the ‘non-dreamers’ who said this was an impossible mission. I quickly got acquainted with things such as European legislations and mechanical jargon, which are skills I never intended to develop.

This project also became the biggest problem-solving enterprise ever created. For instance, one week before starting the tour, the bus being too high for Europe, we got in touch with a crazy French guy in the Pyrenees who was supposed to remove the top deck of the bus, cut 5 inches, and then re-weld it back together.

Luckily we decided not to go with this option and took the risk to see how far it would go, and nine countries and 12 000 miles later, the bus is still standing! It was all worth it as it became our mascot, and got us a lot of attention on the continent.

What has been your greatest achievement?

Collecting 20,000 videos of native speakers, from 6,000 different people, with a team of 60 volunteers hopping on board. It has also been a privilege to get to know that many different people and places. We now have a great database of video content for the app for nine different languages, which I hope will motivate people to learn even more.

What has been your favourite place that you’ve visited during this tour?

Wow, Europe is full of gems so it’s a tough one, but Venice was a showstopper for me. One of our volunteers was a true Venetian (rare creatures) and showed us the local spots, which only made it more special.

Your bus is full of coders and scientists – what would you say to women or girls looking to get into these roles?

In fact, it just so happened that the Membus team has always consisted primarily of women so we’ve got to know quite a lot of female coders and linguists. I believe that tech is a fantastic progressive environment to work in, for whomever, and regardless of your role.

Memrise bus

Do you think that learning a language can help advance your career?

Absolutely. I think it shows a sense of curiosity, hard work (coz’ it ain’t easy) as well as open-mindedness. It also naturally opens more doors if you want to be sent on a mission or job abroad.

What tips would you give to women looking to learn a new language?

Having a goal helps me (a trip planned, a friend speaking that language, a desire to go live somewhere…) because the first thing you need to learn a language is motivation. I would say to use different methods to diversify your learning, such as movies, apps, books, and trips – obviously the most immersive the better. Every time you have an opportunity to practice, take it, and give yourself credit for trying. Everybody goes through the same frustrating feeling to sound dull and slow, but that’s the only way you’re going to improve.

Do you have any advice for our members with regards to their careers?

The thing I learnt on the back of this trip is to be spontaneous, take up challenges and take risks. When I first joined, I was not prepared for the grand scale of challenges and hurdles to cross to make this tour a success, but I learnt on the spot because I had to. It forges your character, so I’d recommend to anyone to put themselves in these kinds of situations. Although they may seem daunting at the beginning, they are highly rewarding in the end. And if you fail, fail fast.

To check up on the progress of the Membus tour, in the last leg of its journey, please visit the blog.