Thoughts on Glossika

I first heard about Glossika from one of my fellow language nerds (who also happens to be a former English teacher). Glossika is the brain child of Mike Campbell, an EFL teacher based out of Taiwan. What started as a personal project to map Chinese dialects has become an online resource for language students in almost any language pair imaginable.

A screenshot of a pull-down menu full of source language options on Glossika.

Note that I haven’t looked at the English content specifically; this is based off of my own Korean studies. That’s where all my screenshots will be coming from.

Glossika’s learning model focuses explicitly on sentence level patterns. The foundation of the course is repeating, out loud, sentences in the target language (with a source language translation so you have a rough idea of what you’re saying).

A screenshot of a typical Glossika study session.

The recordings are native (or fluent) speakers reading the lines at a natural pace. This is a huge improvement over the sometimes-jerky robot voice in DuoLingo, and even slightly outshines the option in Clozemaster. But since Glossika’s philosophy is that language starts with speaking, it’s no surprise that they’d invest the time and money in high-quality audio files.

You can (and should) mark easy sentences with the smiley face in the lower right; you can mark sentences you want to really focus on with the heart in the upper right. The red flag can be used to signal when there’s something wrong with a sentence, and the gear icon opens the settings menu. From there, you can adjust the audio speed, whether or not you hear a recording of the source language as well, how quickly the audio plays, and how much time you have after to repeat the phrase out loud. I turned off the source language recording, kept the target language speed at 100%, and gave myself maximum time afterwards for repeating the target phrase (four times the length of the native speaker recording).

There are other exercises to reinforce what you’ve learned, including a cloze exercise:

Screenshot of a cloze exercise on Glossika

Translation:

Screenshot of a translation activity on Glossika

And dictation:

 

As you can probably infer from the “play” button featured in all of these exercises, audio is an integral part of this supplementary training. Glossika is big on speaking and big on listening.

Both the default sessions and the supplementary exercises drill very heavily, so you’ll hear the same sentences over and over again. This is a necessary evil, but it means that the sessions can sometimes feel a bit dull, or like you’re treading water. You need to find the right balance between losing motivation and marking too many sentences as “easy” for your own good, and that balance is different for everyone.

What’s surprising (and frustrating) is that there seems to be no connection between the sentences that you practice in a regular session and a sentence that you practice in one of the supplementary exercises. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention and got my sentences out of sync, or if this is a deliberate design choice (maybe to keep students from getting bored), but I still found it disorienting. The dictation in particular is rough (especially for a model that’s based on listening and speaking rather than drilling writing) and doesn’t have much margin for error. There seems to be some wiggle room in terms of spacing, but none in terms of spelling, even for obvious typos! It feels unfair to be thrown in the deep end with completely new sentences rather than ones you’ve already familiarized yourself with, and the temptation to dial back the difficulty to something less appropriate just for a better hit/miss ratio is strong.

The other bummer is the cost. Glossika is free for up to 1000 repetitions (or about two hours of study). After that, it’s $30 US a month (or $25 US / month for an annual subscription). On the one hand, it takes time and money to get high-quality translations, and then to record and upload  audio of them, and out of all of the language-study tools out there, Glossika might be the one most worth paying for because of the way it makes you speak. The focus on listening is good, too, but in the Internet age, it’s fairly easy to come by listening practice from native speakers, geared for students or otherwise. Speaking is much more of a minefield, at least for perfectionist introverts like yours truly. Glossika is a good practice space for speaking, where you can get comfortable with the sounds of the language before you start speaking spontaneously with another human being.

On the other hand, $300 US, even spread out over the course of a year, might be a real burden on some students. DuoLingo Plus is around $10 US for an annual subscription, an annual Memrise subscription is around $65 US, and Clozemaster Pro is $8 US a month (which works out to $96 US annually, but they don’t seem to offer a bulk annual rate). Compared to those sorts of prices, $300 is a bitter pill to swallow.

Personally, I’m seriously considering upgrading my Glossika account, because it aligns with my own study goals in Korean. Whether or not it’s right for you is another question entirely. Give the free version a try, at least, and see how it goes!

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