Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Case Studies - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

About Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology—or MIT—has long been considered one of the most globally-minded universities in the country. The Institute is known world-wide, and it attracts students, professors, and scholars from around the globe. MIT acts as a hub for collaboration between people from myriad nations. True to its motto of "Mens et Manus", ("Mind and Hand", or the idea of practical application,) thousands of students go abroad each year. They travel to other countries to work, study, and conduct research. Yet many of those community members lack even basic competency in the language of the country they visit. This limits their ability to truly engage with their "host countries"—and the citizens of those countries—in a deeper way.


MIT needs a more far-reaching, flexible way to support these diverse language-learning needs. Traditional classroom courses at MIT are limited to just seven foreign languages, a much smaller number than the 50+ countries that MIT community members visit. Aside from the limited number of languages served by traditional classroom courses, the ones available can prove infeasible for students with overloaded course schedules and curricular requirements.


MIT Libraries identified Byki, (an acronym for "Before You Know It",) as the solution to their community members' needs. Byki is a web app for learning over 80 languages and is available 24-7. This new system will help MIT students gain a basic foundation in foreign languages and will also help foreign students practice their English. Because Byki is available online and through mobile devices (both iOS and Android devices), students are able to learn language at the computer or on the go—a critical feature for a tech-savvy school like MIT! Students may access the system from the libraries, dorms, or anywhere else they get online.


The Byki program launched at MIT in the fall of 2011. Patsy Baudoin, the Foreign Languages & Literatures Librarian at MIT, expected to see high demand from students who go abroad: "People here travel a lot. They need to brush up on language skills or learn the basics". Patsy was correct: within the first four months, almost 200 MIT community members had signed up for an account. In total, they've logged over 140 hours of language learning. Spanish has been the most popular language that students access, with French, German, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese close behind. This spring, the Byki program will also be implemented by the Foreign Languages & Literatures department. Language professors have the ability to author their own learning material to complement existing curriculum.