How we Handle Errors


It's the classic scenario. You've been through the paper a hundred times. You can't see anything else that needs to be changed, so, hesitantly, you hand it in. Moments after submitting it, you look down and notice a typo…

We've all been there, but that doesn't change how painful the experience remains. With our programs, we are constantly hunting down errors, and because we get into so many nitty-gritty details, it can be a maddening experience. In this post, I'd like to clarify how we deal with errors.

In short, we fix them.

We make every effort to put out clean and error-free materials for their first launch. This is almost impossible, though, and I hope to clarify why. You might say, “Just get more people to proofread the materials.” We tried that, and it didn't work. Four different native speakers proofread our Latin American Spanish map before it came to me to run through and prepare for filming the explanatory videos. By that time — owing to the level of proofing that had been done — we had already run off the first print batch of maps and begun selling them. When I started going through the map, however, I discovered a number of critical errors, from spelling mistakes to grammatical inaccuracies and omissions. It was a painful experience. What did we do? We stopped selling maps, hunkered down and went through absolutely every word in the program to check for accuracy. Once it was cleaned of errors, we contacted everyone who had bought one of the maps already and offered replacements. It was a costly experience in both time and money. Lesson learned.

What's most important to take from this is just how hard it is to make error-free content. With so many eyes combing over the details for the sole purpose of proofing it, you would expect to have a sure-fire method of ridding materials of error. Not so. In my experience, it is largely in my own preparation for filming the explanatory videos that the maps are cleaned and tidied up in a kind of baptism by fire. In order to explain actively — rather than read through passively — all the content on a map and the relationships between all the patterns, I talk myself through the map and in doing so, I notice inconsistencies and details that have otherwise been overlooked.

If you go into a bookstore and pick a random book of the shelf, you will almost certainly be able to find several typos and little errors. In most books, however, these errors are irrelevant because the underlying content is what is solely important. In creating our maps, it's different: we are working to build a definitive resource, so every word, every letter, and every accent mark is vital.

Since I am the voice in the explanatory videos as well as the company director, responsibility ultimately rests on my shoulders for the accuracy of our content. Whenever I become aware of an error or something that needs to be fixed — no matter how small — it nags at me constantly until it is done. Because I am the presenter as well as project overseer, most users assume I am the content creator. Most of the inaccuracies, however, are in fact generated by the native speakers we hire to provide examples and to proofread them.

Just the other day, someone wrote in having spotted something amiss in our German program. It was something that I had myself noticed as seeming odd and not what I had remembered from learning the rules of German. When I was filming the explanation, however, I assumed the content was correct because it had been created, proofed, and recorded by Germans… It was, however, wrong, and has since been fixed.

It always stings to have errors pointed out, but I would rather know about them sooner than later so we can fix them. We never publish content we know is incorrect and we make every effort to correct errors as quickly as possible. The difficult part is that because we present our content in video, it's not a simple matter of fixing a typo and clicking “refresh.” A single wrong letter means the whole video must be filmed again, edited, exported, and replaced in our online system. It can take several hours to fix a single typo.

If you see an error on our site or in one of our courses, please do let us know. If you do, be aware of one fact as you compose your message: I will personally receive and respond to your message, so don't write as though you are speaking to some disembodied Internet being who oversees production and maintenance of a faceless website. We are actual people, there are only a few of us who remain from language to language, and you can talk to us face to face. It may not have been us here that made the mistake, but it will be us who fix it.

Our ambition is to produce the best language programs in the world for as many languages as we can. It is a high ambition, and we are eternally grateful to all those who help us in improving the state of language training for serious learners. We will continue our work in expanding the number of languages we offer, as well as in improving and building upon the courses we already offer. I'm excited for the languages we're working on now :)

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