Thoughts on TinyCards: The DuoLingo Flashcard App

Students of mine and readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of the flashcard app Anki. It’s powerful and flexible and can be a huge help in memorizing new vocabulary or grammar patterns.

The one drawback to Anki is that it can be a little overwhelming to make your own decks. (This is why I’ve offered a few ready-made ESL ones here: phrasal verbs with “get,” a pronunciation deck with initial “H,” participial adjective practice, and phrasal verbs with “do” and “make.” More soon!) If you’re not the kind of person who’s already comfortable with markup language in other contexts, the card-creation interface might seem overwhelming. Even downloading pre-created decks can be a bit difficult if you don’t have good computer instincts.

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.)

Pictured are three official DuoLingo decks (Swedish, French, and Russian) and a user-created Korean one.

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).

TinyCards deck creation interface
Here are all the ways you can put together flashcards in TinyCards.

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.

I’m doing pretty good in Korean Word Builder 1, but I need to work more on Korean Word Builder 2. And I’ve barely touched Russian.

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.

Verdict

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.

Big Words in English: Sesquipedalian

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.

Language that describes language: it’s turtles all the way down!

Greek and Latin Suffixes: F, I, L, O, and P

This is the third and final installment in the last part of my classical English affixes series. This is basically all of the Greek and Latin suffixes from “F” onward. That’s it! We’re all done!

Here is the previous installment in this list of suffixes:

For prefixes (morphemes that get attached to the beginning of words) and base words, you can refer to the rest of the series using the “affixes” tag.

Prefix Meaning Example
ful full of bountiful, plentiful
icle, cule small icicle, molecule
ify to make beautify
ist one who does scientist
less without tireless
let small booklet
ly in a (adjective) way slowly
ologist studier of, expert in hematologist
ose, ous, eous, ious full of verbose, populous, aqueous, spacious
phobe one who fears arachnophobe
phobia fear of claustrophobia

Board Games and Learning English: DixIt

I was taken by the whimsical art and semi-cooperative game play of Dixit since I saw it reviewed on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop YouTube series. (Video at the link is nearly 30 minutes long; if you’re in a hurry, save it to watch another time!) I put off getting a copy for years—we don’t have room for enough guests for a proper game—but I finally relented and accepted it as a birthday present this year. My reasoning was that it would be a great tutoring supplement, and it turns out I was right!

I mentioned in a review of the graphic novel Light that having a collection of whimsical, kid-friendly imagery would be a huge boon for tutoring young learners. Dixit brings the same kind of advantage, with the wrinkle of completely non-sequential, unrelated images. It’s not better or worse than having a thematic set of images from a story; it’s just different.

Eight sample images from Dixit
Image courtesy Libellud / Marie Cardouat

First of all, students respond really well to the art (from my admittedly small sample size). It’s worth having a deck on hand just for that. Taking a break from staring at words and thinking about words and manipulating words to just drink in some visual art is relaxing, but you can also put that art to good (and fun) language practice.

I’ll admit that some of these cards lend themselves better to some activities than others; I take a specially curated Dixit deck to my lessons, with the images that seem (to me) the most interesting and dramatic, as well as the ones my students really respond to.

Memory

Choose a card from the deck and give the student a few seconds to look at it. Take the card from them and ask them to describe as much as they can from memory. (If they’re lower level or if you’re feeling kind, you can ask them simple questions instead.) Switch up the roles to have students practice asking questions.

Writing Prompts

There’s so much dramatic tension and otherworldliness in so many of the cards that they lend themselves to creative writing practice! Beginners might want to start out just describing  a scene, but more advanced students can tell the story behind an image, or offer a prediction.

Categories

Ideally, you’ll need space to lay out all of the cards, but in a pinch you can allow students to go through the deck in their hands. Name a category (“food” or “winter”), and their job is to go through the cards and find all of the options that fit. You can be as concrete or as abstract as you like (more advanced students can try to convince why an anchor in the middle of the desert might be “empty,” for example).

Sketch Artist

One person has a card, which they describe to another person (who has to draw it).

Two-Player Dixit

The minimum number of people you need for a regular game of Dixit is three, but it’s surprisingly easy to adapt the game for two players. No one holds any cards in their hand; instead, the “storyteller” either goes through the deck or draws three random cards from the top and places them face-up. The storyteller then chooses one of the cards (privately) to be the winning card and gives a hint to the other player. If the other player guesses the winning card right away, they get two points; if they guess it on the second try, each player gets one point. Otherwise, no points. Play can continue until the deck runs out or until a set number of points.

 

Greek and Latin Suffixes: C and E

This is the second installment in the last part of my classical English affixes series. Today’s suffixes all start with the letters “C” or “E.” (There aren’t really any that start with “B” or “D,” so I’ve obviously jumped over those letters.)

Here is the previous installment in this list of suffixes:

For prefixes (morphemes that get attached to the beginning of words) and base words, you can refer to the rest of the series using the “affixes” tag.

Prefix Meaning Example
cracy rule by democracy
crat ruler; one who believes in rule by auotcrat
ectomy surgical removal, “cutting out” tonsillectomy
el, il, le small morsel, codicl, scruple
ella ella umbrela
er more bigger, faster
er,or someone who does, something that does teacher, instructor
est most noblest, smartest

Greek and Latin Suffixes: A

This is the last installment in my classical English affixes series: suffixes. Suffixes are morphemes added to the end of a word stems, and rather than changing meaning, changes function. For example: change is a noun, but add the suffix -less and you get changeless, an adjective.

Today’s suffixes all start with the letter “A.”

Prefix Meaning Example
able, ible can or able to be done portable, audible
ance, ancy, ence, ency the state or quality of importance, hesitancy, patience, fluency
ant, ent having the quality of flagrant, potent
arch rule monarch
arium, ary, orium, ory place, room aquarium, library, auditorium, laboratory
(as)tery, (e)tery place monastery, cemetery
ate to make or do equate
ation the result of making or doing incarnation

Greek and Latin Prefixes: T and U

With “T” and “U,” we’re closing out all of the English prefixes derived from Latin and Greek.

Here are the rest of them:

Reminder: prefixes are morphemes that you can attach to word stems. (You can browse that link for previous posts on classically derived word stems.) Generally speaking, prefix changes word meaning, not word function. That happens with suffixes, which I’ll be starting in the next post in this series.

Prefix Meaning Example
tele far; from afar telephone
trans, tra across, change transpose, travesty
tri three trinity
un not unruly
uni, unit one unique, unite

Anki Vocabulary Decks: “Get” Phrasal Verbs

I’ve just shared another Anki vocabulary deck: phrasal verb expressions featuring “get.” “Get” is a high-coverage verb with a lot of uses and collocations; mastering it is an essential part of English fluency. A collocations deck will come later, but for now you can start familiarizing yourself with these assorted phrasal verbs (if you aren’t already)!

This, like my other Anki English vocabulary decks, is a pretty basic deck. I include front and reversed notes for learning the definitions of a given phrasal verb, and then cloze notes to familiarize yourself with their usage. No audio or images are provided, but you are welcome to edit the notes to include whatever you find most helpful. Many learners find it helpful to use images whenever possible; I avoid using images for my publicly shared decks because images work best when you select them for yourself (rather than me selecting them for you).

For information about how to import a shared Anki deck into your own library, you can refer to Anki’s extensive help manual or intro videos. You can also feel free to add any of my other shared Anki ESL decks to your library. Please rate them if you find them useful, and comment or Tweet at me (@KobaEnglish) if you have any suggestions, either for improvements or for future decks!

Greek and Latin Prefixes: R and S

I don’t know why it’s been so long since my last prefix post! Things have been happening here. But let’s continue with our tour of classically derived morphemes!

There aren’t any Greek- or Latin-derived prefixes in English beginning with “Q,” so we’re skipping ahead a bit here (again) to “R” and “S.”

Reminder: prefixes are morphemes that you can attach to word stems. (You can browse that link for previous posts on classically derived word stems.) Generally speaking, prefix changes word meaning, not word function.

Here are previous entries in this series on prefixes:

Prefix Meaning Example
re back, again repel, revise
se aside, apart secession
su(b) below, under, up from under submarine, suffer, suppose
super, sur on top of, over, above supersede, surreal

Anki Vocabulary Decks: “Do” and “Make” Phrasal Verbs

I’ve made it clear that I’m a big fan of Anki, but I’ll be the first to admit that the process of creating new decks can be tedious, especially if you’re a busy person. That’s why I’m here!

Here’s the first volume in my intermittent series of Anki decks for English phrasal verbs: “do” and “make.” Both decks include basic definitions as well as cloze exercises for each given meaning of a phrasal verb to provide an in-context usage example. My earlier decks include a pronunciation deck for initial “h” and a cloze practice deck for English participial adjectives.

All of the above decks are available to anyone who wants them. They are also all monolingual (English-only). Once you add them to your Anki library, feel free to edit or add to them as much as you like: add definitions in your native language, add pictures, add sound files, whatever! If you don’t know how to add shared decks to your personal Anki library, or how to edit cards, there are detailed instructions in a variety of languages here.

More decks are on the way, so keep an eye out! And if my humble decks were of any help to you, consider rating them? Thank you!