The entrepreneurs revolutionising children’s language learning

Creative Industries | Education | Interview | Interviews | Start-up
Jonny Pryn and Alex Somervell

One Third Stories creates engaging children’s books that start in English and end in another language by gradually introducing foreign words in easy-to-understand contexts.

Aimed at four to nine year-olds, the books help kids to learn languages in the most enjoyable way possible.

Co-founded by Alex Somervell (AS) and Jonny Pryn (JP), the concept was born out of a want to make language learning as simple as reading a story.

At school, Alex and Jonny were part of a team that took part in a Young Enterprise project, in which they published a story that told of a penguin who travelled the world, and learnt about foreign languages and cultures.

They decided to revisit this concept in 2015 whilst they were still at university and developed their Clockwork Methodology™ of gradually introducing words in another language.

BLM recently interviewed the pair about their entrepreneurial idea, the inspiration behind it and their advice to someone looking to start out in publishing.

Can you give our readers an overview of the company?

AS: One Third Stories aims to make learning a language as simple as reading a children’s book, one that starts in English and ends in a different language. Their stories, aimed at four to nine year-olds, gradually introduce foreign words in easy-to-understand contexts to help kids learn languages in the most enjoyable way possible.

JP: The books, which are complete with beautiful illustrations, are available to buy in three, six and twelve-month subscription to their ‘Story Box Club’ in French and Spanish. Each member receives a new storybook each month, complete with an accompanying audiobook, activity book, flashcards and other fun resources.

How did you start the company?

JP: The concept was born from our contrasting experiences in learning foreign languages. Alex grew up bilingual speaking English and Spanish in Paraguay and has since gone on to learn a few more languages, whereas Jonny grew up resenting his weekly French lessons. At school, the seeds of One Third Stories were sown as we took part in a Young Enterprise project, in which we published our very first story about a penguin who travelled the world, and learnt about foreign languages and cultures.

AS: We decided to revisit this concept in 2015 whilst we were still at university and developed the Clockwork Methodology™ with the help of the Spanish Embassy, dozens of teachers and hundreds of parents and children.

Was there a gap in the market that you were looking to fill?

AS: Absolutely – although we often hear that English-speakers are really bad at learning languages (or don’t care to learn them), the reality is the vast majority of adults just don’t believe they can learn them – because of a really bad experience growing up. We want to foster a love of foreign languages at a young age, and therefore inspire more people to learn foreign languages, travel the world and speak with people from other cultures and countries.

We saw a gap in the market for making language learning more accessible and enjoyable, not only for children, but for parents too. We’ve heard from many parents who feel that they can’t teach another language to their children because they themselves can’t speak another language. We wanted our offering to break down this barrier so that parents can help teach their children another language despite their own capabilities.

What was the inspiration behind the company?

AS: We founded One Third Stories as part of a desire to make language learning more engaging for children, and to break down the stigma and sense of apprehension that discourage so many people from pursuing languages in later life. Having lived in South America until the age of 17, I’ve seen the benefits of being bilingual first hand, but also the limitations of the language teaching system in this country. We want One Third Stories to help ensure children’s first experiences of foreign languages are positive, by helping them learn as a consequence of enjoying something as fun as a bedtime story.

JP: I’ve always loved reading books but, growing up I hated my French lessons. It was only as I got older that I realised all the amazing opportunities I’d missed out on by not learning another language. It was this experience that led me to wanting to inspire children to fall in love with languages through storybooks.

I was inspired by reading ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and how it gradually introducing words from the author’s own invented language (even though they aren’t always comprehensible). Using my background in literature, linguistics and creative writing, I worked with Alex to found One Third Stories and created the Clockwork Methodology™ to apply the same principles to real world languages in children’s books.

How are you planning on scaling up the business?

JP: Despite being a small publisher we now generate over £15,000 of revenue each month and increase our subscription base by over 10% each month too. We’re looking to grow our subscription base further so that more children grow up with positive language experiences.

Our books are currently available in French and Spanish and we have plans to introduce more languages in the near future.

What advice would you give to someone looking at going into publishing?

AS: If you’re looking to start a business in publishing it’s really important that you have a strong understanding of who the end customer is.

If you’re going to create a traditional publishing house where you sell through retailers and bookstores then it’s going to be really important to know who and how to pitch to these retailers.

If however, you’re going to go direct to the consumer you have to understand where these consumers are and how to target them (social media, paid search, PR, etc).

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