Greek and Latin Roots: “F” Base Words

Today’s list of classically-derived word bases is another longer one, so buckle up. If you’d like to brush up on previous entries:

Base Meaning Example
fac(t), fect, feit, fic, fit do, make facilities, factory, benefit
fal(l), fals, fail, fault false, mistake, fail fallible, default
fel cat feline
fend, fens strike offend, defense
fer, lat bear (v.), bring, go confer, collate
fess speak confess
fin(it) end, limit, term final, finite
flat air, blow inflate
flect, flex bend deflect, reflex
foc focus focal
for hole, opening, doorway perforated
forc, fort power, strength, strong enforce, fortify
form form, shape formal
fo(u)nd, fus pour, melt foundry, refund, confuse
fum smoke, vapor fumigate
funct perform function

Thoughts on Babadum Flashcard Tool

Say what you will about rote memorization, vocabulary is the foundation upon which language fluency is built. While Anki remains the king of flashcard tools, there are other options. Maybe you don’t have time to learn the interface and make your own decks (you can download other people’s hard work, though!). Maybe you want something in addition to Anki, or maybe you’re just looking for a way to kill some time online. Enter Babadum.

Babadum is a free online flashcard tool that claims to use 5 games to teach you 1500 words. Not bad!

The “games” are nothing revolutionary: just standard flashcard training. To say that there are 5 is also a bit of a misnomer; in reality, there are 4 different activities. You can:

  • Match the spoken/written word to the correct picture (out of 4 given)
  • match the pictures to the correct word (out of 4 given)
  • Match the spoken word to the correct picture (out of 4 given)
  • Spell the word to match the picture

The fifth game is to just go through a mix of those 4 activities.

What makes Babadum stand out, for me, is the design quality. The website itself is attractive and intuitive (a rare find) and the artwork is cute. Every time I switch from this browser window to the one where I’m playing Babadum (for research purposes, you know), I get sucked into answering three or four more questions. The site is just that inviting. The audio is also fantastic: high quality recordings from native speakers in careers like broadcasting and teaching.

You can read more about the history and design of Babadum by the creators themselves. Unfortunately, the one area I’d like them to expound upon at length is the one they skip over: their word list and how the word-selecting algorithm functions. I can only assume that their “1500 words” are taken from frequency dictionaries or other similar sources. What’s clear from the behind-the-scenes-peak is that the 1500 word list is common across all languages. This is important: Babadum is a top-down programYou cannot add your own vocabulary into the corpus. This aspect does limit its usefulness, making it the most effective for beginners and early intermediates. More advanced learners won’t see as many benefits. Unless you’re like me and have some surprising gaps in your knowledge:

Babadum is free to use. There are no ads, and the only feature you unlock by donating is a progress bar. There is no minimum or recommended donation, so you can pay however much or little you like for that option.

Of course, learning whole bunch of words won’t make you fluent. Any site or app that boils down to flashcards can only take you so far. But used in conjunction with other tools (such as Lang-8), or to supplement a course, they can be the difference between knowing the word you want right away and having to scramble for it.

What flashcard apps do you use? What do you think of them? Let me know here or on Twitter (@KobaEnglish)!

An earlier version of this post said that there was an iOS version of  Babadum. This is incorrect; it is only available on the Web. The post has since been corrected.

Greek and Latin Roots: “E” Base Words

We’re chugging right along in our classical tour of English vocabulary. If you’d like to review, or if you’ve just joined us, here are earlier posts:

Today’s list is pretty short. It has just four items.

Base Meaning Example
ec(o) environment, home ecology
elephan elephant elephantine
enni, annu year perennial
erg work ergonomic

Friendly reminder: these are base words, rather than affixes; these are the foundations onto which affixes are attached.

Greek and Latin Roots: “D” Base Words

We’re already at “D” in our journey through classical base words. If you’d like a refresher of posts past, help yourself:

I will absolutely be taking a second look at affixes from Greek and Latin, but for now I’m looking at base words (sometimes called root words). It’s a short list again this week, but useful!

Base Meaning Example
dec(im)(em) ten December, decimate
dei, divin god deity, divinity
dem the people epidemic
dent tooth dentist
derm(at) skin hypodermic, dermatology
dexter, dextr right hand dexterity
dic(t) say, speak, tell predict
dos(e), dot(e) give dosage, antidote
duc, duct lead (verb) induce, deduct
dyam power, strength, strong dynamic

Graphic Novel Suggestions for ELLs

I’m a huge proponent of reading. I think it’s one of the best ways to acquire new vocabulary and to familiarize yourself with new language patterns. But sometimes making the leap from short sentences or paragraphs to full-length novels or even short stories is intimidating. Some students may have have a learning disability that makes it hard to focus on huge walls of text. In these cases, graphic novels can be a good stepping stone towards traditional novels—and they’re also just fun reading in their own right.

GetGraphic.org has an exhaustive list of graphic novels that might appeal to EFL students. They’re sorted alphabetically by title, and grade levels are given along with a brief summary. (Note: Grade 1 in the United States is typically 6–7 years old, and Grade 2 is 7–8, and so on.) Based on that list, and my own reading, I have a few recommendations.

For people who were or are cynical teenagers: Ghost World

The stress of college and an uncertain future lingers over outsider best friends Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer.

For people who love mythology and folklore: Fables

Beloved fairy tale characters have fled their homeland and try to make a new life in modern-day New York City.

For science nerds: Optical Allusions

From Jay Hosler’s own site: “Wrinkles the Wonder Brain has lost his bosses’ eye and now he has to search all of human imagination for it.” Eyes not your thing? Hosler also has graphic novels available on evolution and insects.

For history buffs: Boxers & Saints

This account of the Boxer Rebellion is told from two different fictional perspectives: a young Boxer and a Chinese convert to Catholicism.

For fans of the classics: The Last Knight

Comics giant Will Eisner takes on Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

For people who feel like they don’t belong: Persepolis

The autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi and her youth in 1980s Iran. Volume 2 covers her years in Europe and return to Iran.

Do you have any favorite graphic novels? Share them in the comments or tweet me @KobaEnglish!

 

Greek and Latin Roots: “C” Base Words

“C” is for cookie, that’s good enough for me…

“C” is the next stop on our journey through classical base words. This is our longest list so far, and there are quite a few helpful base words in here; you might want to take some notes. As always, this list is taken from Appendix C in Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary, with some small changes of my own in the “Example” column. You can see the “A” words here and the “B” words here.

Remember, these are base words, or stems: these are the main “chunks” onto which affixes are added, rather than actual affixes.

Base Meaning Example
can dog canine
cap(t), cept, ceive take, seize, get capture, receive, perception
caps case capsule
cardi heart cardiac
ce(e)d, cess go, move, yield recede, proceed, excess
celer swift accelerate
cent one hundred century
cent(e)r center eccentric
chrom color chromatic
chron(o) time chronic
cid, cis cut, kill genocide, excise
clam(at), claim shout proclamation, exclaim
class classic neoclassic
clin lie, lean recline
clud, clus, clos close, shut exclude, inclusion, enclose
col strain, sieve percolate
corn(u) eagle cornucopia
cosm(o) world, order cosmetic
cotta cooked, baked terra cotta
cred(it) believe incredible
cu(m)b lie, lean incubate, incumbent
cur(s), cour(s) run, go concur, cursive, courier, course
cuss hit, strike percussion
cycl(e) wheel bicycle

Thoughts on DuoLingo Mobile

I’ve talked about DuoLingo and its strengths and weaknesses before. But as I’ve finally sorted out how to add international keyboards to the DuoLingo app, I thought it would be appropriate for me to share a few thoughts on the mobile version.

I will preface this (and my previous review of DuoLingo) with the caveat that as of this post, I use DuoLingo for two languages: Russian and Turkish. The lessons for each language are designed by different groups of people and cover different topics; as far as I can tell, DuoLingo doesn’t enforce any kind of strict universality across different languages. Later Russian topics include “History and Fantasy” and “Spirituality,” which Turkish lacks; instead, there’s “Nature” and “Turkey.” So what I see in my trees will not 100% reflect what you see in yours (unless you’re also using English to study Turkish and Russian).

At some point I will have to work my way through the English tree and offer my commentary on the available material, but that’s another post altogether. A study has linked competency in DuoLingo with competency in that gold standard, TOEFL, but it was a study sponsored by DuoLingo so it’s worth taking with a grain of salt (for now). For now, I will repeat my earlier concern with DuoLingo: it’s great for grammar and vocabulary, but lacks in long-form reading and writing practice. Also, returning to the Turkish tree has only reinforced my belief that DuoLingo requires supplementation to truly be effective; relying only on DuoLingo will not get you far. Fortunately, there are free options like Anki and Lang-8 to fill in the gaps.

What are the differences between DuoLingo web and DuoLingo mobile?

First and foremost, I want to say that the DuoLingo app has been really well modified for mobile. It’s really easy and intuitive to use. If you had to do as much typing as you do in the web version, it would be really tedious. Instead, you have the option of drag and dropping words. You can also opt out of the listening exercises without any penalty, which is great when you’re on a noisy commute or waiting room.

As far as structure and guiding principles go, there obviously isn’t much different. You still have all four language areas represented, there’s still a spaced repetition model that guides review, and there’s still a focus on individual words or single sentences instead of longer texts. What’s different is the implementation, though it does seem to depend on the language you’re taking. For example, in Turkish DuoLingo Mobile, one of the exercises on the mobile app is matching word pairs—a useful and effective review exercise that seems completely absent from Russian. Other things are consistent across both languages (and presumably across the entire board). For example, if you choose to review a specific lesson (rather than the catch-all “strengthen” option), right at the beginning DuoLingo mobile will show you the specific words that you’re weakest on (and that will presumably be the focus of the review). It also balances the lowered difficulty of dragging and dropping words with the increased difficulty of no translation hints. The occasions where you do have to write things out, of course, you get your standard mouseover translations.

The gradient on DuoLingo mobile is more nuanced, which I like. Here is the last leg of the Russian tree as of my progress today, as viewed on the web:

DuoLingoBars2

 

There’s a clear demarcation of five levels, and you can see that “Science,” “Politics,” “Colloquial,” and “Nothing” are all at the same level: 4 out of 5. Here’s how the same lessons look in the mobile app at exactly the same time:

 

DuoLingoBars

At a glance you can see that “Colloquial” and “Nothing” are weaker than “Politics” and much weaker than “Science.” I suspect by tomorrow they’ll both be at 3 out of 5. This is really great if you want to work ahead and target (relatively) weak areas; I wish the web version did this.

And, finally, in the mobile version you have the option to spend your lingots on cute costumes for the little owl mascot. It’s trivial and obviously imparts no new content or skills, but it’s adorable and that’s enough for me.

Which version do I prefer?

While I spend most of my day in front of a computer, making the web-based version of DuoLingo more or less a habit by now, I have to say I actually prefer the mobile version. Thanks to matching word pairs and cut-up sentences, there is a greater variety of activities on the mobile version than on the web. In terms of both usability and challenge, it’s probably a little easier on mobile than web, which means that on tough days I’m more likely to keep up my practice on my phone than at my computer. Challenge is important, but so is repetition. Whatever gets you to keep at it and keep training is good.

Hey, what about the Windows version?

I don’t use Windows myself, so I can’t really comment on it. But feel free to comment or Tweet at me (@KobaEnglish) with your thoughts—that’s something I would love a guest post about!

Greek and Latin Roots: “B” Base Words

Our next stop through classical root words is “B.” It’s a short list this time around! Again, these are all taken from Appendix C in Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary, with some small changes of my own in the “Example” column. You can see the “A” words here.

Remember, these are base words, or stems: these are the main “chunks” onto which affixes are added, rather than actual affixes.

Base Meaning Example
barbar savage; savagery barbarian
bell(i), bellum war belligerent, antebellum
bi(o) live, life biography, biology
bibli(o) book bibliography
bol throw symbol
bon, bene good, well bonanza, benefit
bov cow bovine
brev short abbreviation
bys bottom abyss

Book Review: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Genre: Literary fiction

My GoodReads rating: 2 stars

Language scaling: Advanced (C1+)

Plot summary: In Victorian England, Charles Smithson and Ernestina Freeman are engaged to be married. While visiting Ernestina in the town of Lyme Regis, Charles meets and eventually falls in love with the tragic Sarah Woodruff, known around the village as “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

Recommended audience: Hardcore English literature fans

In-depth thoughts: The French Lieutenant’s Woman is the first book I’m discussing here to be part of my larger goal of conquering TIME magazine’s list of the Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. I’m almost done, but it’s taken quite a while. There have been a lot of snags and pauses along the way; The French Lieutenant’s Woman is my first foray into the list after a lengthy dry spell.

I knew nothing about the book going into it. Considering that John Fowles is listed among Great Britain’s top 50 writers, that makes me maybe one of the worst English majors ever, but so it is. That’s exactly why I decided to tackle the TIME Top 100 Novels list: to fill in the gaps of my literary education. (English literature, at any rate.)

Image courtesy Jonathan Cape/Random House

Where to start with this book? Well, the writing is complex and dense. This is not a complaint; it’s good to stretch the little gray cells once in a while, and once you accustom yourself to the faux-Victorian style of the novel things continue at a relatively snappy pace. But it’s still work, and for so much work one expects some kind of reward.

By “reward,” I don’t mean a good or at least satisfying ending, plot-wise; I mean the entire reading experience. Contrast The French Lieutenant’s Woman with a book it inspired: A. S. Byatt’s Possession. On the surface, the plot isn’t too terribly exciting. What’s commendable about Possession is Byatt’s thorough commitment to her fictional poets and her parallel narrative structure. All told, Possession includes: a modern-day narrative; a Victorian narrative; considerable personal correspondence from a variety of fictional Victorians; journal entries from a Victorian-era French teenager; and a small corpus of highly formalized poetry for the two aforementioned fictional poets. That is some dedication to the craft.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman lacks any such dedication, particularly in the variety of viewpoints. The narrative chugs along in a consistent third person that is sometimes quite close and other times quite distant, with only a few winks and nods at the fourth wall to make it feel at all modern. We spend exactly zero time with Sarah Woodruff, the titular character. Instead, we spend most of the time with Charles. Sometimes we leave Charles to get to know other male characters, such as the Irish doctor or Charles’s servant, Sam, but most of the time we’re with Charles. Women are treated even more distantly, and no woman is treated more distantly than Sarah. Because of this, everything else falls apart. Without the privilege of an interior monologue, Sarah remains nothing more than the tired trope of “hysterical attention whore” and the entire novel feels much staler and older than its 1969 publication date.

The bell cannot be unrung; the book cannot be unread. Fowles’s The Magus sounds like it might be more my cup of tea, but other than that I won’t be coming back to this author anytime soon. Not even Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons can save this one for me.