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 program. You 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:
Confession time: I never remember silverware vocab, even though I use it every day. Spoon? Chopsticks? Fork? Doomed to eat monolingually.
— Katherine Koba (@KobaEnglish) August 22, 2016
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.