Much like meditation a few years ago, enough disparate pieces that I’ve read have talked about the benefits of memorizing poetry that I’ve decided to give it a shot. Because I don’t have enough to do in my life!
Most of my experience with memorization has been with music. I took piano lessons for ten years, and during those ten years I had a piano recital every six months where I’d be expected to perform at least one, and usually two or three, pieces from memory. I also did a three-year stint in marching band, which involved memorizing music alongside drills.
Memorizing poetry? Not so much. It was part of an assignment for freshman year poetry class, and I can’t remember any of the poems I chose to memorize and recite in front of the class. (Except the William Carlos Williams one about the red wheelbarrow and the chickens. Everyone padded out their line count with that poem. The professor was real sick of it by the end of the semester.) The only other time was when I had to recite a short extract from Eugene Onegin for an intercollegiate Russian competition. I did poorly in the competition, but it stuck a little longer with me than the freshman year poetry. Years after my working knowledge of Russian all but vanished, it was still satisfying to be able to repeat the first two lines to myself. Vesna, vesna, pora lyubvi…
As it turns out, memorizing anything is just good brain practice. There’s no doubt a value in it for EFL and foreign language students as well: new vocabulary, examples of complex or confusing grammar points you can call to mind immediately, and engagement with the language culture on a more meaningful level. Wolf also nods to slightly more drastic reasoning in Proust and The Squid:
On almost any occasion, [my children’s eighty-six-year-old Jewish grandmother, Lotte Noam] can supply an appropriate three-stanza poem from Rilke, a passage from Goethe, or a bawdy limerick—to the infinite delight of her grandsons. Once, in a burst of envy, I asked Lotte how she could ever memorize so many poems and jokes. She answered simply, “I always wanted to have something no one could take away if I was ever put into a concentration camp.”
So after reading about memorization, and specifically poetry memorization, I decided to make a point of committing a few poems to memory. Because I’m a classics nerd, I started with a handful of the Orphic Hymns. It went surprisingly well; the next challenge will probably be in a language besides English. Karin Boye? Goethe? Brushing up on my Pushkin?
Part of the trick is finding poetry I like, and that’s a pretty tall order.
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.
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).
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:
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!
Any good app will be consistently updated, if not necessarily often. Bugs are fixed, security flaws are fixed, improvements are made, among other things. But DuoLingo recently made a fairly substantial change to their model in a relatively recent update.
Earlier, the visual cue for “mastery” of a lesson was the icon appearing in gold rather than full color.
This has been replaced with a “crowns” level in a given lesson.
Whether this is a better or worse model than the “golden” badges probably comes down to personal psychology. Some people will find it more motivating than the old model, and vice versa. What I personally find annoying is that there seems to be no way to test out of the crown levels (the same way you can test out of the initial levels). Really, DuoLingo, I promise that I’ve mastered reading and writing Cyrillic and Hangul. I shouldn’t need to sit through redundant, tedious review just to prove to the algorithm that “no really, I got this.” This was also true in the old model; you periodically had to refresh your levels even in the very, very basics. But it’s more marked here, I think. Maybe if you get to level 5 in a lesson, DuoLingo considers it “mastered” and you never have to review it again? I haven’t had enough initiative to find out, yet.
My big issue, though, is less with this change and more, after years of using DuoLingo in a variety of languages, that the SRS system underlying the app is surprisingly primitive. It’s static and top-down rather than genuinely responsive.
DuoLingo doesn’t atomize based on individual lexical units, but rather simply on its own lessons. While a given lesson will repeat a question you got wrong (and not let you complete the lesson until you get it right), the system as a whole seems to have no memory of what you’ve messed up over the long term, because it’s only keeping track of the last time you reviewed a particular lesson, not which words or phrases you consistent mess up.
Let’s say that I have a comfortable mastery of 60% of the words in a given lesson, struggle a bit with 30%, and then struggle a lot with the last 10%. A productive review session would focus on that 40% I struggle with and sprinkle the ones I’ve mastered throughout, both to maintain them and also for motivational purposes. That kind of data would be trivial to track: which words do I get right every time; which ones do I almost get, or forget somewhat frequently; which ones do I only get after repeated attempts or provide totally wrong answers for. It would, presumably, also be trivial to come up with an algorithm to prioritize future lessons based on that data. That’s exactly what Anki does when you choose “incorrect” or “hard” rather than “good” or “easy,” after all.
But a DuoLingo review session will simply be 60% “needless” review and 40% productive review (depending exactly on how your own mastery of a lesson breaks down). It’s a wasted to chance to review what actually needs reviewing, and it possibly borders on over-reviewing (which can actually be counterproductive!). The “weak words” that will be tested in the next review aren’t the ones you’ve gotten wrong in the past; it’s all of the material from whatever lesson in the unit has gone the longest without review. It doesn’t matter if half the words in that lesson are ones you actually know well.
The other problem is that simple review (that blue barbell in the corner) doesn’t seem to count towards any crown levels. The XP you earn at least counts towards your daily goal, so you can maintain your streak (a powerful motivator for many Anki users), but it seems silly to not connect those reviews to crown levels as well. But maybe this is simply a bug that will be addressed in a new update.
It’s Friday the 13th, so time for another sesquipedalian paraskevidekatriaphobia word post! Despite the date on the post, I actually finished this early, on the nudiustertian morning.
When it comes to single-word expressions, English conceives of time and the relative positions of days in just three categories: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Other languages have single words for what are in English slightly more complex phrases; Korean has 모레 (rhymes with “moray” in “Moray eel”) and even 글피 (“geul-pi”) for “the day after tomorrow” and “two days after tomorrow,” respectively, and Russian and Swedish have позавчера (pozavchera) and i förrgår for “the day before yesterday.”*
The equivalents in English, on the other hand, are largely forgotten, including this obscure adjective dating back to the 1600s: nudiustertian.
The eagle-eyed among you, knowing that we’re talking about days, might wonder if the “diu” in the middle comes from the same word as “diurnal,” an adjective to describe daytime activities. (Some people tend to keep pretty nocturnal hours, but most humans are by default diurnal.) And you’d be correct! The base form of this word is actually dies, which you might remember from English teachers telling you to carpe diem, or from your requiem masses as Dies Irae.
There are two other bits of Latin in there: nu is from nunc, meaning “now,” though not seen often in English (and not to be confused with nuntiare in Old French, which relates to many speaking verbs: announce, denounce, pronounce, etc.). Ter, on the other hand, turns up in “tertiary” (after primary and secondary comes tertiary) and isn’t too far from the tri- morpheme for three-related words (triple, triangle, triune).
So we can see how the word has the most important bits of the original Latin phrase: nunc dies tertius est, or “now it is the third day.” As in, if the event happened on the first day, then the second day would be yesterday and the third day would be today, so “now it is the third day.”
It’s not hard to imagine why, when English already had the purely Germanic ereyesterday to do the same job. Why use a convoluted Latin mishmash instead of the much more intuitive Germanic option that’s already in use? It’s visually much cleaner and (to my mind) involves a less complicated numerical concept. (If the day before yesterday was two days ago, how can today be the third day?) What’s more puzzling is why ereyesterday hasn’t stuck around, either. Is “the day before yesterday” that much easier to say?
*I want to say that I’ve heard häromdagen much more often than i förrgår, but while the former is more like “the other day,” i förrgår refers specifically to “the day before yesterday.”
Lucky for the student of English (or, indeed, a lot of other languages), Skype sessions with native and fluent speakers are one of the most popular options available. If you feel that you need a tutor’s input to take your language study to the next level and haven’t had any luck with any other language exchange site, you can find someone on Simbi. Likewise, since the vast majority of Simbi’s user base is anglophone, this is a golden opportunity for native speakers of languages besides English to provide an in-demand service in their native language, whether it’s video lessons, writing correction, or translation. In this case, I’d recommend joining the group Language Learners to find other language students to exchange with right away.
Less the case in Sweden (where I might be the only member?!), Simbi also actively encourages members to meet and exchange goods and items in real life, fostering local communities and bringing neighbors back in touch with each other. (These events are called “Simbi Swaps.”) Students, visitors, and new arrivals to English-speaking countries might find it helpful in meeting new people who self-select to be open, sociable, and curious.
(And, of course, Simbi has a “currency” called the simbi, so if you can’t barter directly with another user, you can still pay them for their time and effort!)
The downside is that to get much use out of Simbi for studying English, you’ll need to be at an A2/B1 level of English already; there isn’t a native version of the site in any other language. And since Simbi is a general service- and goods-exchanging platform and not strictly an educational platform, caveat emptor. Check someone’s profile to get a feel for how professional and knowledgeable they seem, including any outgoing links they provide.
Writers will also get a lot out of Simbi. If you want editing or proofreading for your manuscript but don’t have much of a budget, critique and editing is another one of the most popular services available. Again, joining a group like Writer’s Club will make it easier to find like-minded members who are more likely to be able to help you out.
I start every lesson with my younger and beginner-to-intermediate students with a brief journaling activity, depending on student level:
Little ones who are still learning how to read and write circle a sight word related to feelings, and then draw a picture of themselves.
Slightly older ones who have mastered reading and writing but are still low level in English write about one thing they did and one thing they want to do, complete with picture.
Older students, or ones who are already at a more advanced level, have four brief prompts without pictures: what they did last week, one thing they wish they could change, what they hope will happen, and what will probably happen
They’re basically a formalized version of the little ceremonial warm-up chat that I have with my more advanced students. By making that small talk part of the lesson in a more official way, it makes the lesson more about them. It can be a great shortcut around any resentment younger students might have since they’re often (but not always) engaged in lessons at the behest of their parents. Journals don’t really feel like work, and it lets students write or talk about themselves, which is everyone’s favorite topic!
The luxury of private instruction is that I’m not crunched for time or beholden to a particular schedule, so I can spend as long on journals as works. I think this is especially important within the context of private lessons, since they’re taking precious free time away. I’m not a proponent of the idea that teachers need to be clowns or entertainers; rather that the value of language in terms of self expression needs to be emphasized in certain contexts. Rather than declaring X amount of minutes for journals, the same amount every time, I let it go as long as it needs. Sometimes a student had a really exciting week at school and they have a lot to talk about; sometimes there’s not much to say at all.
While they’re writing (or talking), I make a deliberate effort to ask as many questions as I can think of to elicit more details. I also make a note to ask follow-up questions in the next lesson, such as inquiring about how a test, project, or sports game went. I seem to have a natural memory for these things, but if you don’t, you can keep a little daybook of students and their activities, where you can make notes about their plans right after lessons and what you can refer to right before a lesson for a refresher. This is important not only for generating more material to “exploit” (to use a piece of jargon), but for more altruistic reasons. Over the long term, it’s much easier to connect to a teacher who demonstrably cares about you than one who’s only interested in what you accomplish during your hour or two of instruction every week. Likewise, when you get to know students, you become even more invested in their success, in language and in everything else.
This can also apply to self-study. It might not always be possible to find someone to talk to (native speaker or otherwise), but whether or not you can carve out the time for a little journaling is fairly easy to control. And now with the Internet, it’s trivial to find someone who can correct your work and provide feedback, whether it’s for free (on something like Lang-8) or for minimal cost (on something like Ediket). The first step in being able to talk about anything else is always being able to talk about yourself. So get journaling!
This course is offered on another MOOC website, FutureLearn. Like Coursera, FutureLearn offers courses for free but provides the ability to “upgrade” your participation, which includes a certificate of completion. Unlike Coursera, standard FutureLearn MOOCs aren’t available after their time runs out, even if you successfully complete them; for that, you need to purchase the upgrade. So a FutureLearn course is a little more time-sensitive than a Coursera course.
Inside IELTS is a well-organized, easy-to-digest look at the IELTS Academic test, one of the premiere international ESL tests. Many universities and employers use an IELTS score as part of their evaluation. (If you’re studying English to get into a university, this probably isn’t news to you!) Inside IELTS is a five-week program featuring video interviews, lectures, reading, and practice question. The material includes an explanation of the different assessment criteria and bands that the test evaluators will use as well as going through the test structure itself. The actual lessons break down into:
Putting It All Together
Inside IELTS is presented only in English; the course organizers recommend an English level of B1 or so to be able to understand the bulk of the material. However, all the videos are subtitled, and transcripts are also provided. The target audience is obviously EFL students, but instructors might also find it useful to go through to familiarize themselves with the IELTS test structure and format (if they aren’t already). Inside IELTS also goes over some test-taking tips that can be applied generally to any English test, rather than just the IELTS.
There are quizzes throughout, but they are low-stakes and aren’t tied to your completion of the course. You’ll also have the opportunity to evaluate sample responses yourself to get a feel for what the standards are.
Inside IELTS is five weeks long and, including the practice assignments, consists of three hours of work per week for a total of fifteen hours of instruction. The first week is already up, but it shouldn’t take long to catch up! Otherwise FutureLearn will send you an email when the course is ready to repeat itself.
It’s been a while but I’m happy to bring out another pronunciation deck for Anki! This is a minimal pair deck that focuses on short “I” and long “E.” If you’d prefer IPA notation, that’s /ɪ/ and /iː/. (The difference between “hit” and “heat.”)
I originally put this deck together for a Spanish-speaking student, but I’m sure this will be of interest to a number of English students. These two vowel sounds can be tricky for many English students.
If you already have Anki installed on your desktop, simply download the file and open it on your desktop (not on your phone!). Once you’ve opened it with desktop Anki, hit the “synch” button to add the downloaded deck to your cloud. Now you can practice it on your phone as well as on your computer.
I used the terminology “short ‘i'” and “long ‘e'” instead of the phonetic symbols because it was easier to type something like “short ‘i'” in a standard keyboard layout instead of futzing around with special characters, and also because not everyone is familiar with IPA. I’m very much in favor of English students learning IPA and I think it’s genuinely helpful, but I also recognize that its use among teachers is hardly universal or standardized. This is also not a vocabulary deck, so the words come without pictures or definitions.
The minimal pair examples are taken from a list at EnglishClub.com, with some modification on my part. The sound files are all from Forvo, and I used American English speakers whenever possible (since I’m American and obviously use/teach American English with my students). I used Gabriel Wyner’s “pronunciation” note format for this deck, specifically the “minimal pair” category.
You might also be interested in this initial “H” pronunciation deck, while you’re knocking around my shared decks on pronunciation. I plan to share more in the future. Hopefully they help you with your studies!
The team behind DuoLingo has filled in that niche and set up TinyCards, which originally launched in iOS-only form in 2016. An Android version came out in April 2017 of this year, and I finally got around to trying it this week.
What is TinyCards?
TinyCards is a flashcard app from the same team behind DuoLingo. It’s available for iOS, Android, and in a web-based version. DuoLingo has released official flashcard decks for many (but not all) language trees on DuoLingo. (Availability might be tied to whether or not a particular tree is out of Beta.) You can also create your own decks, either for private use or to share with others. If you opt to share the deck you created with others, they’ll be able to see that you made it because your name and a small portrait of your user picture will turn up next to the deck when they search. (The official DuoLingo decks will have a picture of their mascot, Duo.)
What do I like about it?
It’s very easy to create relatively flexible and information-dense cards. On one side you can include a word or picture; on the other side you include the target word and, optionally, extra information (referred to as “facts” in the creation tool).
You can upload your own images, or you can search (in multiple languages!) a vast library that comes ready-made with TinyCards. I’m not sure what the source is: images uploaded by other users? Getty Images? whatever DuoLingo already has? An unexpected but very thoughtful feature is that within the card creation tool, you have the option to crop an image. That’s perfect if you don’t want to clog up your loading time with huge high-resolution pictures but also don’t want to manually resize images before you upload them.
It’s also easy to browse other decks and add them to (or remove them from) your own library as you like.
When you’re actually reviewing and using the decks, you have the option of selecting the “I was right” option to use if you get a technically incorrect answer, or of skipping a card you already know. The official DuoLingo decks also include the sound files from the DuoLingo course, so you get listening as well as reading. You also get hints if you struggle with a particular word (though who knows if that’s helpful or not). You also have the ability to report a card if it’s incorrect or inflammatory.
Since TinyCards is an offshoot of DuoLingo, it’s based on the same spaced repetition model, so it will visually signal to you how well you know a deck so you can decide when to review.
That also means that TinyCards is free to use!
What don’t I like about it?
If you’re making your own deck, your only options are images and words. You can’t upload any of your own sound files (yet?), so if you want to study something outside one of the supported DuoLingo decks, you won’t be able to include audio. This is probably my biggest criticism. I find it immensely helpful to hear new vocabulary alongside seeing it.
To a lesser extent, if you want to use a deck that isn’t an official DuoLingo deck, you’re relying on the other user to actually know what they’re doing. It seems like an obvious statement, but it bears repeating. While you can easily report cards or even entire decks, I’m not sure what the protocol is on addressing reported cards or decks, especially since there’s no option for specific feedback or corrections. You can’t report decks on Anki at all, but shared decks can be reviewed and rated, so you can find out if a particular deck is broken or comes with mistakes.
The graphic for the spaced repetition review and learning new vocabulary (pictured above) is also ambiguous. I’ve studied all of the cards in Korean Word Builder 1; the yellow bar is telling me that I need to review. I haven’t studied all of the words in Korean Word Builder 2; the yellow bar is a progress bar. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to have those two metrics combined into one graphic like that. Memrise, for example, will show you how well you know each lexical unit in a lesson, whether on the web or on mobile. TinyCards only addresses the “lesson” level, and each lesson can include multiple lexical units.
One of the most important features of Anki is that you can deliberately set how easy or a hard a vocabulary word was, which affects when it turns up again in the spaced repetition queue. The more difficult something is, the sooner you see it again. There’s no equivalent option in TinyCards: you either get it right or wrong. If you get something wrong a lot, you’ll repeat it in a practice session (and maybe even get hints), but I haven’t noticed words that I fail a lot repeating more often over the long-term. If there’s a secret sauce for bringing up the more difficult vocabulary more often, then it’s not working too well.
For people who are too busy for Anki’s steep card-creation learning curve, TinyCards is an acceptable substitute. The simple, intuitive GUI makes it easy to create your own decks or to add other people’s decks to your own library, so you can get started right away. For people studying through DuoLingo, the official DuoLingo decks will feature the vocabulary from the lessons and help you retain the vocabulary that DuoLingo tends to brush over too quickly. But if you’re not using DuoLingo, or you’re already comfortable with Anki, TinyCards doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.
In honor of paraskevidekatriaphobia, I like to talk about long words every Friday the 13th. This Friday’s word is sesquipedalian.
It’s perhaps an especially appropriate word to discuss in a recurring segment on long words, as that’s exactly what sesquipedalian refers to. “Paraskevidekatriaphobia,” for example, is a sesquipedalian word: a unusually long word. You can even make sesquipedalian a little longer by turning it into a plural noun: sesquipedalianisms.
The emphasis is on the fourth syllable: ses/qui/pe/DAL/i/an. And there’s something fun about saying it, isn’t there? Maybe it’s that “qui” sound in the middle (“qui” like “queen” or “quite,” not like aqui). Or maybe it’s the hypnotic, lilting rhythm of the stress pattern.
You might have noticed ped/pedal in there, and recognized it from the classical stem word for “foot.” You’d be right; the sesqui– prefix is a combination of “semi” (familiar, hopefully, as meaning “half”) and “que” (“in addition”). Together, sesqui means “a half more again.” Together, something sesquipedalian is “one and a half feet long.” Its use in Latin dates back to Horace, who complained of sesquipedalia verba: words that were one and a half feet long. (Too long, in other words.) And while it can literally refer to anything that’s a foot and a half long, it’s mostly used to describe long words (perhaps thanks to that initial usage by Horace.) It can also refer to an overly and needlessly verbose writing style, rather than a particular word.