RUG student creates community with language app

For international students, integrating into Dutch society with its language and culture can be difficult. That’s where student Leah Hamilton comes in with her new language app, MYNN.
By Valeska Schietinger / Photo silke Wester

The 22-year-old Canadian moved to Groningen three years ago to pursue her Bachelor studies in Arts, Culture and Media. She realized quickly that there was more to living in Groningen than just learning Dutch.

‘For the first couple of months you feel like a tourist’, Leah remembers. Even after she had learned some Dutch, the culture references locals made in conversations were often still not clear to her. ‘Why is there a certain holiday, why do people celebrate things, why isn’t Christmas a bigger deal over here?’ she says, ‘there were all these different things where I was like: I need to understand this’.

That’s when Leah realised integration requires cultural connection.

Cultural context

When Leah shared her experiences with her housemate, (and MYNN co-founder), it became clear that she was not the only struggling with cultural barriers. So the foundation for MYNN was born.

MYNN is a new kind of language learning app that places language exposure in culturally-relevant context. The app curates podcasts, news articles, music, and videos according that match a user’s personal preferences and language mastery. The idea is help users improve their language skills by engaging with multimedia content from the country of their choice.

The app functionality is reminiscent of Facebook, which students will find easy enough to use. It even notifies users of trending news, events, and followed tags. But while MYNN is marketed as a language learning app, it doesn’t include services users might expect, like vocabulary exercises, grammar lessons, or quizzes.

Leah says leaving those services out was a conscious decision – the app requires a basic understanding of the language at the start. ‘It is social media and a tool, but in the context of language learning’, she explains. By engaging with hand-picked news and entertainment content, the users are able to create a language community and learn about other cultures at the same time.

‘I think there needs to be a tool that can offer seeing the world from another point of view.’ Leah says.

Developing the App

So Leah teamed up her housemate and a friend, both 25, to build an app for that. But the development and organisation of project proved challenging for three students without any entrepreneurial background.

‘I feel like a fish out of the water all the time”, Leah laughs. Developing an app with potential market interest means doing things that can be uncomfortable. ‘It forces you to deal with people you normally wouldn’t just call on the phone. I’ll call up a CEO after my seminar – that’s just not normal for most students.’

Leah’s comes from an artistic family, and they were surprised to hear about their daughter’s business endeavour. She left their house a professional dancer and came back from university a business woman. ‘They were just like “where is this coming from?”’ she says. ‘”This is so out of left field, you don’t have a development background or business degree”. And I still think they kind of think that.’

Even Leah still has to get used to the idea. Only a year ago, she was a student at the Honours College. She dropped out to develop MYNN. Then recently, she was invited back to give a talk to her former classmates about her project. ‘It was a strange feeling’.


But Leah likes being an inspiration. ‘If you have an idea, it is really worth pursuing because it might help other people’, she says. ‘Your story might inspire someone else to start their own project.’

Leah has one goal for the future: to create a ‘huge community’ that will share not only different languages, but cultures. ‘I think we can really foster a connection between people’.

For now, the beta version of the app can be used as web version or for Android. It is currently not available on iOS. We tried using MYNN on several devices and browsers with little success, but the fully functioning version of MYNN is going to be released for all platforms on May 6, 2019.


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