Author Archives: Oliver Antosch

5 Ways to Make Music a Part of Your Language Learning

Today’s guest post is from Shannon Kennedy. She is the blogger/language lover/adventurer behind Eurolinguiste. She is a musician first, but an avid language learner at heart. She speaks French and English fluently and is currently working towards fluency in Mandarin and Croatian. You can learn more about her and her language learning strategies of at Eurolinguiste.

Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty.” – Sir Thomas Beechem

Why is it that we can recall almost every word to a song when it pops up on the radio as we’re driving, even when it’s been years since we’ve heard it? What is it about music that enables us to remember moments, events, and words that are only evoked when hearing a song? But more importantly as language learners, how can we harness that power and apply it to our studies?

Since its invention, music has been used as a way to teach, to keep records, to communicate and to entertain. It has long played its role in boosting memorization. So why not use this excellent memorization tool to help you with the vocabulary and grammar of the language that you’re learning?

Here are a few ways to utilize music to improve your language study:

1. Learn the lyrics to foreign language songs.

Take a moment to peruse YouTube or TuneIn to find music that you like in your desired language. The desire to learn to sing along is a must! Using music as a language learning tool is more effective if you’re enjoying yourself. A quick way to find music in your target language is to search one of the big record labels for their branch in the country that speaks the language you’re learning (i.e. Universal France, Universal Taiwan) or even Vevo France, Vevo Japan, or Vevo Russia.

I’ve also started to collect songs in the languages I’m learning on Youtube, so if you’re learning French, Croatian, Mandarin, Japanese, or Italian, you might find something that you like there.

Once you’ve found a song or two that you enjoy here are the next steps:

First, learn the words in the foreign language. Look them up online by searching for the lyrics of the song. To help get you started, here are the words for lyrics in several different languages:

  • French – les paroles
  • Spanish – letras de una canción
  • Italian – testo/parole della canzone
  • German – liedtext
  • Mandarin – ge1 ci2 - 歌词
  • Russian – slova dlya pesni

This is one of my favorite sites for transcriptions AND translations of foreign language songs.

Second, translate them into your native language. You can just paste them into Google Translate if you like, but you definitely get bonus points if you make an effort to translate what you can on your own first!

Third, memorize them and sing along! It helps with pronunciation. You’ll also pick up expressions and words that you won’t find in a textbook!

2. Set the vocabulary and sentences you’re trying to learn to the melody of one of your favorite songs.

This is a really great and proven way to help you memorize different words or phrases that you’re trying to learn. When I think of this method, I am often reminded of the episode of “How I Met Your Mother” where one of the characters forgets something important:

Traditions such as oral storytelling were maintained by performing stories in poetic and musical forms to aid the passing down of histories and stories. These stories were often performed in their poetic and musical forms because the rhythmic and melodic patterns helped those telling the stories remember them.

Music can really stick with you – that’s why you can remember the lyrics to songs years after you’ve heard them last. Applying this to language can definitely help you improve your ability to recall words.

One of the best ways to get the most out of this method is to create songs using groups of related words – colors, modes of transportation, directions, numbers, and so on. Using a random list of unrelated words may be harder to remember, even as a song, so it’s best to use several different melodies to memorize multiple lists of words.

But they don’t have to be difficult songs! They can be melodies from your childhood or the chorus of your favorite song. You can definitely get creative.

3. Listen to a set playlist while you’re studying a language.

Scientifically, music helps break information down into patterns and cues that allow us to better remember. But it isn’t just words that music allows us to remember – it’s also events. So turn your study sessions into memorable events by using a set playlist.

Using a specific music playlist as a background to our study can actually help trigger memories that surround previous study sessions, which in turn, help make your current study session more productive.

4. Use songs to practice dictation.

Songs are relatively short – usually about three to four minutes long. They often have repetitive passages too, which makes them great practice for transcription. Choose a song and get your pen and paper ready. As you listen, write down the words.

Be patient using this method! Don’t be afraid to rewind the track as many times as you need. Try to jot down the lyrics as accurately as possible, then look them up online to see how close you are.

5. Find songs you already know in your native language that have been translated into your target language (or translate them yourself).

Children’s songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and the theme from Sesame Street, or even holiday songs like “Frosty the Snowman”,  already exist in many languages and are a great starting point. They’re often quite short and simple and so learning them is an easy task. Plus you’ll very likely pick up new vocabulary!

How do you use music to improve your language study? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Further Reading:

Do Musicians Make Better Language Learners? on The Guardian

Music is Linguist’s Best Friend on Eurolinguiste

You can find Shannon Kennedy on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

Language Learning tips from polyglot Michael McCavish

A few weeks ago I talked to one of our users (Michael McCavish) about language learning. When I heard he speaks 7 languages, I asked whether he would be interested to write a guest post for us and he delivered! Here is Michael’s take on language learning:
 
I have never really thought of my ability to speak 7 languages as in any way extraordinary. I know there are many polyglots who can speak many more. I am the founder of Michael’s English School in Osaka, Japan. Many of my students ask me the secret of learning foreign languages and this has helped to formulate my ideas on the subject. I am happy to share my thoughts on language learning and hope that they may be helpful to others who might be considering learning another language or two.
 
Nature versus Nurture
 
“You are lucky you are just good at languages.” “I am no good at languages.” “My memory sucks!” These are the sort of comments that I hear day in, day out.
 
If you think you are bad at languages, let me put your mind at ease: you aren’t! The first thing that you need to do is change your internal dialogue. Get rid of that nasty little voice in your head that tells you that you are bad at something. It quite simply isn’t true. The first thing to do is make yourself aware that you have an astounding piece of equipment, namely your brain. Remind yourself that your brain contains between 100 and 500 trillion synaptic connections, that it is dealing with possibly millions of pieces of information every second, and that YOUR brain differs very little from Einstein’s brain or the brain of Sir John Bowring, once Governor of Hong Kong, a polyglot who could speak 100 languages and was said to “know” 200!!!
 
So now that you are in a positive state of mind about your equipment, you can now do what I do when I decide to tackle a new language.
 
The first question I ask myself is, “Why do I want to learn this language?” One of the most important things about learning anything is desire. As a young boy at school, I had no interest in French. I distinctly remember getting 8% in a French exam. It was not until my parents bought a place in the South of France, where there were a lot of very beautiful French women, that my interest in French rocketed… along with my abilities!
 
Sure, if you have children, start them young, but you can learn a language at any age
 
Now, I would say that it is true that a stimulating early childhood, possibly one in which your parents are of different nationalities, will cause neurological pathways to form which help you to learn languages. In my case my father was British and my mother Dutch, so by the age of four, I was already bilingual. I believe firmly, however, that these neurological pathways can also easily be formed in later life simply through application.
 
Many polyglots are the result of circumstance. As educators will tell you, circumstance usually leads to a need and a desire to learn how to equip yourself to deal with whatever environment you find yourself in.
 
In my case, my parents spoke English and Dutch, we had a house in France, I had some very close German friends, I worked for some years in Portugal before moving to Japan, and my wife is Belarussian. Voila! Simple!
 
During the course of learning these languages and teaching languages, I have developed tricks, which help me. Yes, I use mnemonics, yes, I use loci, or a memory palace. Mine has 104 rooms with two wings, equivalent to two decks of playing cards. But these are just useful for vocab building. In brief, just as described by Anthony Metivier, I basically take a new word that I want to learn. I convert it into something that it may sound like or make a note that it is similar to a word that I know in another language, frequently making a ridiculous connection, and then I place it in a room in my mental memory palace. There is so much info out there on mnemonics and memory palaces that I will not go into it.
 
Modern Tools and Antosch and Lin’s website
 
As a teacher and a learner I am always looking to upgrade my techniques. In a modern age, we may use modern techniques. Books are good but they do not help with pronunciation. As I said before, we have an incredible piece of equipment in the brain. It is very important to bombard the brain with thousands of spoken sentences. The brain will automatically scramble everything up and later be able to use a bit from this sentence and a bit from that sentence, as it requires. Repetition is very important. I break down what I want to learn into chunks. It is very important to take a rest from studying approximately every 25 minutes. I believe this helps the brain to really absorb the material.
 
I was incredibly happy when I found the Antosch and Lin site. It was exactly what I was looking for. I use the pronunciation function. I record chunks on my iPhone and then replay those chunks frequently. Sometimes I choose chunks from the site that are theme-related. Sometimes I chose chunks that are level-related. I also use the site these days to refresh languages that I already know.
 
I think it was Nietzche who said something along the lines that “Life is about creating good habits and avoiding bad habits.” I wholeheartedly agree!
 
The walk from my house in Japan to the dojo where I practice Aikido takes about 25 minutes. So every day, I listen to 25 minutes of pre recorded sentences from the Antosch and Lin website. This has really helped me to tackle Russian. THEN I try to recall it. Far better to recall a small chunk of info than to wade through a lot of information, which you cannot recall 20 minutes later!!!
 
Further to the idea of forming good habits with regard to language learning:
  1. Personally, I do not smoke or drink alcohol. I sincerely believe that both damage the brain. It is akin to keeping your amazing equipment in good working order.
  2. Exercise is very important. A good walk outside is sufficient. Oxygen is vital.
  3. Declutter your life and set clear goals. I am fond of Zen and I always liked the idea that Einstein had several sets of the same clothing so as not to clutter his mind with what he felt were trivialities. You will not find me dressed in anything other than blues and whites. (I have to admit though that trivia can be fun. I also find that music after learning helps memory somehow!)
 Parents should help their children to form good habits
 
I am thankful for my parents. My father was an educator. He taught me that learning was fun. He introduced me to various ideas; he often told me, “we are what we eat”, “a healthy body is a healthy mind”, “by night a man, by day a man”, etc. It was he who first gave me the desire to learn, who first introduced me to the power of the brain and who taught me simple mnemonics to remember school tasks. To this day, I still remember him teaching me, “Three old Angels, Sitting On High, Chatting About Heaven” as a way of remembering tangent is opposite over adjacent, sine is opposite over hypotenuse, cosine is adjacent over hypotenuse. With these foundations, it was easy to start to use mnemonics for language learning.
 
My mother was Dutch. Not only was she keen that I should know her language but she was also a linguistic role model for me as she was also fluent in English, German and French.
 
Summary
  1. Yes, forming early neurological pathways helps but we can form them at any time.
  2. Be positive. Believe you can learn.
  3. Find out how many total immersion hours are suggested to become fluent in your chosen language and just get on with it!
  4. Foster a desire to learn.
  5. Use mnemonics and any other memory aiding techniques that you can find out about.
  6. Repetition is good along with periods of rest every 25 minutes. Use music to relax. Recall is vital.
  7. Use modern technology like the Antosch and Lin website to do repetitive pronunciation practice. This gives your brain vital speech patterns to mimic.
In conclusion I always tell my students: Watch movies, listen to songs, speak, read and ENJOY!

Don’t talk to me in English

Olly Richards from IWillTeachYouALanguage.com wrote an interesting blog post about the problem of people answering back in English instead of the language you are learning.

So you want to practise a language but they answer back in English. What do you do?

Here is a short summary:

Strategy 1: Pretend you don’t speak English or pretend you speak it poorly.

Strategy 2: Explain to the person that you want to practise their language and ask them not to speak English.

Strategy 3: Go to a place where they don’t speak English, such as in rural areas.

Click here to read the complete post from Olly Richards.

10 tips how you can easily remember new words

In today’s guest post, Yohana Petrovic explains how to easily remember new words.

Are you learning a new language? Or maybe just working on improving your vocabulary?

Did you stumble across a new word while reading the other night and want to remember it?

We are all always trying to remember things. Those of us who love writing are even more likely to try to learn and remember new words, whether they are in our own language or in a language that is foreign to us.

Would you like to be able to have much better recall of all new words that you are learning? Then, here are ten tips to help you out.

1. Tie New Words to Old Words in Your Memory

Let’s say that you want to remember that the word “polyglot”. First you look it up in your dictionary or type it into a search engine. You will find that the definition is “knowing or using several languages” (at least, that is the definition according to the online Oxford Dictionary). So to remember what “polyglot” means, you could link it to a word with a similar definition such as the word “multilingual”. You can find more information here.

2. Match Your New Words to Pictures in Your Mind

This time let’s take the word “vex” as an example. You just read it in Pride and Prejudice and looked it up in your dictionary. So you know that the word “vex” means “to cause someone to feel annoyed, frustrated, or worried.” How are you going to remember this new meaning? Well, what happens when you feel annoyed, frustrated, or worried? Do you get a headache? Do your brows furrow? Now, imagine a stick figure. A cartoonist would draw x’s for the person’s eyes. “Vex” sounds like “x”. So to remember “vex”, just imagine an annoyed, frustrated, or worried cartoon character with x’s in place of its eyes and eyebrows.

3. Display Your Words Around Your House

One of the best ways to learn a new word is to constantly look at it, think about it, and bring to mind what it means. A good way to do this is to put words around your house. Now, don’t just put your words that you are trying to learn in random places. Are you trying to learn the phrase “J’adore”? (It is French for “I love”.) Then, put it near something that you love.

4. Use Acronyms

What is an acronym? It is where you form a new word from the first letters of several other words. For example, let’s say you are trying to remember the words “wily,” “odious,” “rancorous,” “decorous,” and “systemic.” How can you link these random words so that you can remember them? Well, the first letter of each word, put together, spells “WORDS.” This is an excellent way for you to remember several new words at once rather than remembering the meaning of new words.

5. Try Connecting Each Word In Your Mind With a Number

Let’s say that you need to remember three different new French vocabulary words that form a sentence when put together. These words are “J’adore le chocolat.” But you keep switching up the order. So, you need to attach each word to a number so that you can remember them as a sentence. Use either picture or auditory devices to link “j’adore” with “1”, “le” with “2”, and “chocolat” with “3”. This way you can remember each word in its proper order.

6. Make an Acrostic Sentence With Your Words

Did you ever take music lessons? If you did, then you remember having to learn the names of the lines of the treble clef. To remember them, you probably learned the phrase “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” The first letter of each word corresponds to the name of one of the lines of the treble clef. You can use this device to remember practically any word, phrase, or letter. You can find more information at this website.

7. Discuss Your New Words With Someone Else

Have you ever found that you understand a concept, a philosophy, or any other idea better if you explain it to someone and then discuss it with them? Not only is this a fun process, it is a proven memory device.

8. Make Flashcards

This step is pretty self-explanatory. If you are trying to learn a new word, one good way of remembering both it and its meaning is by turning them into flash cards. Put the word on one side of the flash card and the meaning on the flip side.

9. Use Your New Words in Sentences

One of the best ways of remember either a new word or the meaning of a new word or both is to use the word in a sentence. This way you can remember the word and, by the context of the sentence, what the word means.

10. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

One of the best, most time tested ways to remember something is to keep repeating it over and over again. Whether you are trying to learn a foreign language or just a new vocabulary word, you end up having to repeat, repeat, repeat it to learn it.

Yohana Petrovic is a writer and educator. Yohana has 10 years experience in educating and now she is a proofreader at http://globalessays.org. You can reach her on Facebook or on Twitter: @YohanaPetrovic

Comparing digital and paper-based flashcards

I recently gave an interview for Kerstin Hammes’ book. In her book I discuss pros and cons of paper and electronic flashcards. In the book I only discuss this in a short version so I wanted to do this more in detail on this blog.

Since one of the main features of Antosch & Lin’s courses are electronic flashcards it’s no secret that I do prefer electronic flashcards to paper based flashcards.

Here are the advantages of digital flashcards:

– You can actually listen to the words on the card and there is no way to learn a language without listening a lot. Theoretically it would be possible to write down the pronunciation or romanisation of the word but it’s not the same. If you listen to the word it will stick better in your mind.

– Another great feature of a modern system is that new and old cards are shown to you automatically. You do not have to organize the cards shown to you. You simply tell the system when you want to see the card again and it will arrange the order for you.

– A good system will also allow you to choose the level of new cards. For instance you let the system know you are an advanced user and therefore only advanced words are shown to you. Our system will also let you know various statistics about the card, such as when was the last time the card was shown to you and how often in total. Not absolutely necessary but still a nice feature.

– If you want to practice on a train or a bus you can use your mobile phone. Taking a big box of paper flashcards would just not be practical.

– Our electronic flashcards offer related words, compound words and example sentences for the words you are learning. This is a decisive factor if you learn new words. Learning words without context should be avoided.

– If you are a serious language learner you will have to write thousands of paper flashcards. This seems really a lot of work to me. There is also the problem of writing it down incorrectly. On our website where you can enter your own flashcards and I see users getting the spelling and/or the translation is wrong all the time.

– Digital flashcards also allow you to practice the words in various exercises, such as where you have to enter the words, or multiple choice or sound-based exercises. The best way would be to combine all those exercises.

– Another thing I like about digital systems is that you can track your progress. If you see on a line chart how you get better and better it can give you a necessary boost to keep going, and motivation is everything in language learning.

– A electronic flashcard system will also allow you to share you cards easily. This is not possible with physical cards.

– Electronic cards can be shown automatically to you. You can just lean back, iron your shirt, do exercise, etc and words are shown to you every x seconds.

– Last but not least they are more environmentally friendly as it saves paper.

So what are the advantages of paper flashcards:

– First good thing is that you don’t need to buy an expensive computer, you can get started right away with a pen and paper.

– It might be easier to take notes or draw something on the paper flashcards. Even though a good flashcard system will also allow you to take some additional notes. So this is no longer an advantage restricted to paper-based learning.

I think I would only use paper flashcards for children who can’t use computers yet or if you can’t afford a computer. But then again tablet computers have become really cheap these days.

So all in all it’s clear that electronic flashcards have the upper hand. If you haven’t tried digital flashcards yet, why not give it a go today?

My thoughts on how to get motivated to learn a language

In the language learning blogosphere there are plenty of articles about how to get motivated to learn a language.

I’ve actually read an interesting point about motivation. It basically said that motivation is a fickle thing and you shouldn’t rely on it. Instead rely on discipline. In other words just get on with it.

Personally I would say that motivation and discipline are connected. If you are disciplined enough to learn for a few weeks you will see results which in turn will motivate you to keep going. In other words if you are not motivated from the get-go, try discipline first and later you will be motivated enough to keep learning.

Apart from this I’d say have a system in place to track your success objectively. This is why on Antosch & Lin we have progress tests which can be done on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. These multiple choice tests take around 20 to 30 minutes. The final scores are shown on a line chart, so it’s easy to see whether you are improving. And if you see some progress every month it will give you the necessary boost to keep going.

A few days ago I listened to Chris Broholm’s podcast (with Anthony Lauder). The point they made is that progress is so gradual that it seems you are standing still, but you actually are progressing, it just happens so slowly that you don’t realise it.

Another good strategy is to read books about something that interests you. If you like “Lord of the Rings” for instance read it in your language you are learning.

Personally I read a lot of detective and crime books to learn English when I grew up in Germany in the 80s. I especially liked books from the Canadian author Margaret Millar. Her books often have a twist ending. Think “The Sixth Sense”, but in book form. One really good book from her is “How Like an Angel” which I read a few times.

I also learnt English by watching a lot of Hollywood movies with subtitles. In Germany movies are dubbed into German, so it was really hard to get your hands on these films. These days we have the Internet and things are much easier of course.

Italian Basics For Easier Communication

In today’s guest post, Brendon Gleaves explains the basics of Italian.

Italian is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Italy is a country that has a rich history, with the Roman Catholic having its origin in Italy. You might want to visit the country, or maybe you just need to learn the adorable language. There might be times when you could be on a job tour in Italy or you are on a special, short visit there, for that, you will need to learn Italian basics that will keep you on track.

If you need to learn Italian more effectively, you will have to practice more of it. On your trip to Italy, you will have to know some easy to say words and phrases that will help you be understood easily. These words and phrases are the once that are called the Italian basics, which are also easy to learn. It will help if you constantly practice them, for a quicker understanding, before you advance to the next level.

The Basic Words
The most common words that you would expect to say, nearly every time you meet or leave someone are the following; Some words or phrases have their pronunciation included, for the sake of avoiding, the wrong pronunciation.
• Buongiorno, pronounced, Bohn- jyouhr-no, or the informal, Ciao, meaning Hello
• Come sta, pronounced, ko-me-sta, means How are you?
• To say fine, thank you, you will reply, Bene, grazie, which is said be-ne, grat-zi.
• What’s your name – Come si chiama, said, ki-a-ma.
• My name is… Mi chiamo – ki-a-mo
• Pleasure meeting you – Piacere di conoscerla, it sounds, pya-che-re di ko-no-shayrla.
• Please – Per favore, said, peyr fa-vo-re.
• Thank you – Grazie.
• You are welcome – Prego
• Yes – Si
• No – no
• Excuse me – Mi scusi, this is said, mi sku-zi
• I’m sorry – Mi scusi
• Goodbye – Arrivederci, pronounced, ari-ve-der-chi.
• Good morning – Buonamattina
• Good afternoon – Buongiorno, this is pronounced, bon-jyior-no.
• Good evening – Bounasera
• Good night – Bounanotte

Basic Phrases
You might be in dire need of accessing or knowing anything when in a store or the bus, for that, these phrases would help you to communicate in a more understandable way.
• I don’t speak Italian – Non parlo Italiano
• Do you speak English? – Parla Inglese, this sounds like, ing-leze.
• Does anyone speak English here? Qualcuno parla Inglese?
• Help! – Aiuto, pronounced, ai-yu-to.
• I don’t understand – Non capisco
• Where is the toilet? – Dov’ è il bagno, said ban-yo.
• I speak a little Italian – So soltanto un po’ di Italiano
• This is…. (When introducing a person) – Le presento…
• What did you say? – Che cosa hadetto?
• Could you talk slowly? – Può parlare lentamente?
• Yes, I understand very well. – Si, capiscco benissmo
• Enjoy your day, or have a great day – Buoba giornata.

There are some Italian letter C that will sound -ch-, but other uses of C will sound -kah-, but you will learn more as you advance in the language. These phrases will help you to get along with people that you might meet on the way, or at a social gathering. They might also help you to know if there is an English speaking person around, who might translate more to you, or help you learn even more. Always try to pronounce them the right way, in order to avoid confusion. Nevertheless, you should know the phrases and the words, which will give the native speaker a clue of what you might need. If you attend a reputable school that has competent teachers, learning Italian is not difficult. Within a short time, you will become familiar with the basic of this language and be in a positron to communicate.

Brendon Gleaves runs LanguageHelper.net  where he discusses his best language learning techniques. Visit his website for more information.

Readlang – a language resource for advanced users

In today’s guest post Steve Ridout tells us how he started Readlang, a site suited for more advanced language learners.

I’m Steve and I create and maintain Readlang, a language learning web-application which allows you to consume media in your target language. Designed mainly for reading novels and other long form texts, but it’s also used to read websites, watch YouTube videos, and listen to songs. The great thing about it it’s simple inline translations which allow you to quickly understand unknown words and phrases, and that it tracks your progress to provide you with tailor made flashcards based on the books and texts you love to read.

Readlang

The idea came after I’d been living in Madrid for 6 months, and wasn’t happy with my progress in learning Spanish. This was largely because I wasn’t using it on a daily basis. I would almost always talk in English at home, and I was working remotely with English speaking people. The times I would try to socialise in Spanish were difficult and stressful because I just couldn’t understand most conversations. I was falling into the typical ex-pat trap and needed to make a change.

I decided to immerse myself in the Spanish language, and chose reading as my primary habit to do this. Reading is great because it exposes you to lots of new vocabulary and isn’t stressful like talking can be, at least for an introvert like myself. And from this the site was born.

I’ve been very pleased with the response. Nearly 10,000 people have signed up so far and a lot of have told me that Readlang is exactly the app they’ve wanted for years, which is incredibly encouraging and rewarding. And some are willing to pay a small subscription to use the site very heavily. On the other hand, it’s still not providing me enough to live on, so I’m currently contracting as a software developer for a few months to stock up my savings and will return to working on Readlang full time soon.

I still use it regularly, it’s especially useful now that I’m back in the UK to have a little exposure to Spanish every day. If you’re learning a language, and are ready to start tackling simple native texts, give it try. I think you’ll like it.

The story behind Japanese learning website Renshuu.org

This guest post is from Michael Hominick who talks about his Japanese learning website Renshuu.org:

renshuu.org started out as a tiny personal project to fight the most deadly of foes: laziness. At the time, I was a university student studying Japanese, and it was an almost daily battle to create and keep track of hundreds of paper flashcards that were going to keep me alive while I was learning Japanese.

While I did and still do enjoy studying, I have never had any love for the ‘secretarial’ side of studying: making flashcards, keeping them organized, and trying to rewrite the bad data in my head when I would realize weeks later that I had miswritten part of a kanji character on one of my cards.

I was majoring in computer science at the time, so it was a natural fit for me to make a site that would help automate all the busywork of language studying so I could focus on the actual learning. The only thing I would change if I could jump back to this point in time is that I would have build it from scratch as a tool for anyone to use, instead of creating it as a personal site and slowly growing it out from that point.

It has been about 13 years since renshuu.org was made and has been helping me (and many others) enjoy learning Japanese without spending unnecessary time fiddling around with my study materials. It has always been a second job next to my (hopefully) lifelong profession of teaching: I am currently designing and teaching a new curriculum for the language wing of a private high school in Japan. Fortunately, I have had two more people join me (we all work on renshuu as a second/side job) in building the completely rewritten renshuu 3.0, which is in beta at the time of writing this.

Although renshuu has grown in size and scope so that I could not possibly detail all the cool features built in, I am happiest with the level at which the site is able to customize itself to match any user’s Japanese knowledge level. No two students are alike – even a class using the same textbook will create learners of different knowledge levels as people supplement their Japanese with new words and expressions from books, anime, games, etc.

renshuu’s system keeps track of everything you learn on the site (with both broad and fine-toothed options for specifying kanji/vocab that you already knew before joining the site) and will, per your preferences, display all vocabulary, grammar explanations, and example sentences to match your personal knowledge level.

What does this mean? renshuu’s system will allow you to easily:
– rewrite any vocabulary term to show only kanji that you know (or show furigana above unknown kanji)
– automatically sort sentences in the dictionary/quizzes to best fit your vocabulary knowledge (not too many words you’re unfamiliar with)
– instantly populate words throughout the site with a kanji character as soon as you study it
– generate personalized quiz questions that help reinforce the material by never showing you incorrect answers that are easy to spot because they are words you’ve never studied before.
– grammar examples and explanations in the grammar library are automatically rewritten as well to match your kanji knowledge

While many study sites do a good job of keeping track of which ‘flashcards’ you know and don’t know, renshuu’s system leaps past that and makes ALL the content in the site aware of your knowledge level so it can react and provide you with a personalized study environment.

We’re a very tiny group and we like to keep in touch with our users, so if you join us and have any questions at all, you can post anywhere in the site asking for Michael and I’ll be there to help!

Introducing Judith Meyer’s LearnYu system

In today’s guest post Judith Meyer, a well known member of the polyglot community, introduces her new system LearnYu. Enjoy!

By the time I was 18, I was already conversational in 8 human languages and 5 computer ones. I loved learning languages and I loved programming. I was despairing over having to choose between them for my profession, but then my history teacher told me about the wondrous new study field called Computational Linguistics, which is the science that teaches computers how to manipulate language – essential for applications like machine translators, text-to-speech apps for blind people, dictation software, spellcheckers and much more.

So I studied Computational Linguistics. During and after my studies I worked as a language teacher, a language course designer (for GermanPod101, GreekPod101, Myngle.com and other sites), a web developer and a computational linguist, always looking to combine my passion for languages with my passion for programming. I got quite good at designing language courses as well, something for which there is no formal training. At one point, I was even hired to train teachers in the art of lesson writing.

I guess it was no surprise that when I saw Khan Academy and Duolingo, I was fascinated by the implications of using machine intelligence to create language courses custom-tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. I wrote to Duolingo offering to drop all projects and work for them, but couldn’t get a foot in. Now Duolingo is not perfect – I studied several languages to completion on their system and noticed a lot of issues, for example the machine voices that are quite awful for some languages, the lack of basic conversational content like “Where are you from? – I am from Germany”, the complete lack of questions outside the one lesson they dedicate to questions, the ridiculously useless phrases (“The duck eats a strawberry”).

So I decided to built a better system and using a language Duolingo isn’t going to offer for a while: Chinese, which also happens to be my favourite language. I call my site LearnYu. Here’s a graph showing you what LearnYu does better than other kinds of courses.

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I started to develop LearnYu in summer 2013, so about a year ago, and I have been spending most of my time on it since then, except for when I was organizing the Polyglot Gathering (www.polyglotberlin.com/2014), which gobbled up more of my days than I had expected.

I did a lot of the LearnYu development myself and used my own funds to hire Chinese native speakers to develop content and make audio recordings, to get a good design for the site, to have the server set up and all that. All in all, there are four people regularly involved in the project right now. It’s in beta and access is by invite only – considering that there are currently probably a million people waiting to study Chinese through Duolingo, we’re afraid of our server getting overloaded if a significant share of them decided to test our system all at once, so we’re using a waiting list [www.learnyu.com] to gradually scale up the project.

We also still have to fix some bugs and add more content before the site is ready for the big launch. At the moment, we’re running a crowdfunding campaign in which you can get language-learning materials, lifetime premium access to LearnYu, language coaching and similar rewards in exchange for supporting our project. Check it out at http://igg.me/at/chinese