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!

Anki Grammar Deck: Participial Adjectives

I’ve created and shared another Anki deck for EFL students. This cloze deck focuses on the grammar concept of participial adjectives (for example, interesting and interested). While these adjectives have an overlap in meaning because they come from the same verb, there is a difference between being bored and being boring! This is a grammar mistake that plagues many beginner and even intermediate English learners, but the good news is that participial adjectives can be mastered with some extra drilling and attention, like the cloze exercises in this deck.

This is not a vocabulary deck; it is for students who already know the vocabulary but have trouble knowing right away which form to use. I used this list from the University of Victoria as a reference: twenty of the most common verbs used as participial adjectives. I used the past and present participle of each verb, so there are 40 cards in all.

To add the deck to your own Anki account:

1. Download the deck to your computer.
2. Open your desktop version of Anki.
3. Select “File -> Import”
4. Browse to the directory where you saved the deck in Step 1.
5. Select the deck.
6. Sync your desktop client to the web. Now the downloaded deck is on your Anki cloud and can be accessed on your desktop client, on the web, or on your phone.

And there you have it! Let me know what you think.

Are there other Anki decks you’d like to see? Don’t have time to make them yourself? Comment or contact me on Twitter (@KobaEnglish) and I’ll see what I can do.

Friday 5: Rest

When did you last need a few days of complete rest and nothing else?

I feel like that every day, to be honest. I had a really gnarly chest cold for most of February that kept me relatively housebound. I’m better now, but the first two weeks were unpleasant, to say the least.

 

How do you keep yourself occupied when you have to be in bed all day and night?

Music; reading; reviewing vocabulary on Anki, Memrise, DuoLingo, and Clozemaster; sleeping.

 

Who do you most want to hear from when you have to withdraw to your bed for a few days of rest?

It depends. Whenever I have to go into self-imposed quarantine, it means I have a lot of time to just think; often, I’ll remember a story or a question I had for someone in particular. But usually I can just send them a message on Gchat or Facebook, so I don’t have to make immediate plans to see them when I’m feeling better.

 

What adverse effects have you experienced while staying in bed for a few days?

I don’t like the deconditioning and loss of stamina/energy I notice when I feel better enough to go running again.

 

When you first notice a few symptoms, are you more likely to shut everything down right away, or try to power through until you don’t have a choice anymore?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I try to take it as easy as possible right from the beginning, including lots of garlic, zinc, and lemon tea.

Anki Pronunciation Deck: “H”

One of my tutees, a native French speaker, has a little trouble with “h” at the beginning of words. To help her (and anyone else with similar issues), I put together an Anki deck of “H” words with their respective pronunciations. This deck is not intended as a vocabulary deck; it is for people who know the vocabulary (or most of it) already but have a hard time pronouncing it.

There are 91 words in total, taken from the top 10,000 or so words in English, according to this list from MIT. To avoid repetition, I didn’t include compound words (so “him” but not “himself”). I also, as a rule, didn’t include an exhaustive list of verb conjugations (so “hate” but not “hated” or “hates”) unless there was a meaningful shift in spelling or pronunciation in the main word (so both “hear” and “heard”).

Some of the words are homophones: words with different spellings and meanings, but identical pronunciation. Those words are marked with an asterisk (*) for your convenience. This is to keep people from straining to hear differences in pronunciation where there are none.

Finally, all of the pronunciations are either from American speakers or sound American to my own ears. This is mostly for pronunciation issues when it comes to vowel sounds, rather than the “H” sound at the beginning. The single exception is the word “herb.” In American English, the preferred pronunciation is with a dropped “h” (/ɜːrb/); British English retains it (/hɜːrb/).

To add the deck to your own Anki account:

1. Download the deck to your computer.
2. Open your desktop version of Anki.
3. Select “File -> Import”
4. Browse to the directory where you saved the deck in Step 1.
5. Select the deck.
6. Sync your desktop client to the web. Now the downloaded deck is on your Anki cloud and can be accessed on your desktop client, on the web, or on your phone.

And there you have it! Let me know what you think.

Are there other Anki decks you’d like to see? Don’t have time to make them yourself? Comment or contact me on Twitter (@KobaEnglish) and I’ll see what I can do.

Thoughts on Clozemaster

One of my friends, perpetual Swedish student Henny, brought Clozemaster to my attention. I’ve been using it for a week now—time to share my thoughts on it!

Clozemaster takes the free library of natural language translations available on Tatoeba and turns them into cloze exercises (“fill-in-the-blank” exercises, if you’re not in the ed biz). You can then go through these exercises on the website or the free smartphone app.

The Clozemaster dashboard before logging in.
The Clozemaster website dashboard before logging in.

It also has a nice 8-bit/16-bit aesthetic going on in both looks and sound effects, for anyone nostalgic for old school video games.

You can see that the variety of languages is pretty astounding, though of course some languages have more content than others. Like Tatoeba, you can create an account for free on Clozemaster, and it has no limits on how many languages you can choose to study.

Note: Clozemaster is not for beginners. You need some familiarity with the target language to benefit from the program. Generally, the developer touts Clozemaster as “the next step after DuoLingo.”

Clozemaster dashboard
Clozemaster dashboard

The data is cool, but for me it’s secondary. The important bits are towards the bottom: the section labeled “Fluency Fast Track” and then “Grouped by: Most Common Words.” That’s where you actually do the studying.

The basic difference is that Fluency Fast Track mixes clozes from easy to difficult (and from most common to least common), while the “Most Common Words” group will focus specifically on the 100, 500, 1000, etc. most common words. I like to keep things focused, so I prefer the latter, but either should be fine.

All of the exercises, in the app as well as most browsers, also include text-to-speech audio. It’s not entirely natural, so I wouldn’t use it for phrasing or intonation, but it’s fine for individual words. Also, the web version links every word in the phrase to Forvo (in addition to Google Translate, Wiktionary, and Tatoeba), where you can hear actual humans pronounce the word in question.

The wrinkle that I really appreciate is that you can play a cloze exercise in two modes: multiple choice or text input. The text input option is really important because it forces you to move a word from your passive vocabulary to your active vocabulary. If you want to challenge yourself with the text input option, I’d recommend setting Clozemaster to show you the L1 translation along with the question (rather than after you answer), so you know if it’s “What’s his name?” or “What’s her name?”.

There is also a smartphone app that, like Anki, connects your browser-based account (and all of its progress) with your smartphone:

Clozemaster app dashboard
Clozemaster app dashboard

If you pay for a Clozemaster Pro account, you have the option of downloading the “Fast Track” lessons directly to your phone; otherwise everything is in the cloud, so the app is useless if you can’t connect to the Internet. There are other little bells and whistles you get in the pro account as well: listening comprehension practice, the ability to focus on specific parts of speech, more data, the ability to export into Anki, etc. At $60, it’s not a bad investment at all.

Do you use Clozemaster? Follow me!

Thoughts on Busuu Web Portal

Time for a long-overdue review of the Busuu language-learning portal!

What is busuu?

Busuu is a language-learning website as well as a smartphone app. It offers courses in 12 languages, including English.  You can focus on business, travel, or culture. The lessons typically include flashcard drilling, short dialogues, writing practice (corrected by other site users) and speaking practice (also evaluated by other users). This review will focus exclusively on the web version, though it looks like the web and mobile version are identical in content and presentation.

The main menu on Busuu after you create an account and start learning.

What do I like about busuu?

The site design is crisp and intuitive. It’s easy to find your way around. The lessons themselves are nicely varied, and they provide recordings as well as images for every new word or phrase. Additionally, when the lexical target is just a single word, they provide a sample sentence along with the word, the recording, and the image. Overall, the presentation is fairly thorough.

Unlike its free competitors, busuu is officially partnered with McGraw-Hill, one of the biggest educational companies and textbook publishers in the business. Busuu subscribers have the option to take a certification test from McGraw-Hill that will officially (or at least, in some capacity) grade the user on a particular CEFR level (from A1 to B2). This might be of value to anyone who needs English for a job, though of course you should check with your employer (or whoever) about whether or not they would recognize such a certificate. I’m not aware of any other language-learning portal that has such a partnership.

What don’t I like about busuu?

Busuu leans heavily on the user subscription model. If you look at the menu image again, you’ll note that some of the lesson icons have a small crown icon next to them. That means those lessons aren’t available until I subscribe.

The vast majority of material in this lesson is only available to subscribers.

Additionally, none of the quizzes or tests are available without a subscription, and learning research has repeatedly demonstrated that testing is one of the most efficient ways to learn new material. Another review has put those assessments on blast, however, so take that for what you will. Moreover, there are numerous complaints about just how difficult it is to cancel a subscription if you decide you no longer want it.

Of course I believe that people deserve to be paid for their work. (I’m a writer and an artist in my other lives–I know how easy it is for work to be devalued!) But I personally prefer the Coursera model: you get the information for free but have to pay for the certification. Especially when you consider the glut of EFL instruction material on the Internet (and the raw amount of English-language content), and the fact that their partnership with McGraw-Hill gives their certificate some serious brand recognition, the Coursera model seems both the most effective and the most fair.

They also like to tout the “22.5 hours of busuu is like a university level course!” all over the place, without giving the full context. The “22.5 hours” number is taken from one study that busuu funded at CUNY and University of South Carolina. I’m not going to go into a discussion of this particular study here; I just want to point out that (1) this was a single study (2) funded by busuu. As far as I know, the data hasn’t been replicated in other independent research. Personally, I’m skeptical about how this claim would hold up in the wild, if only because the material presented is generally limited in scope (especially in the free version), even if the presentation itself is varied and thorough.

Verdict

If it turns out their McGraw-Hill certification will help you land a job or a promotion, then go for it (or don’t), but otherwise? There are better options out there.

Using Memrise on the Web

Another member of the spaced repetition flashcard family, Memrise isn’t quite as versatile as Anki, but it does offer more flexibility than Babadum. Memrise has a web interface and a free smartphone app. The two aren’t really integrated with each other, so I’ll come back to the app another time.

ETA: since I last wrote this, I either figured out how to use Memrise properly or they made some changes, because now my web account and my mobile account seem to be synchronized. More on the mobile version at a later date!

Today I just want to talk about the web-based program and familiarize you with it. Once you get into it, Memrise is pretty straightforward, but it can take a little getting used to. It took me some getting used to, at any rate!

Getting Started

You can sign up for Memrise with Google, Facebook, or email. I dislike using Google and Facebook for everything, so I chose a throwaway email address. When I later decided to try the smartphone app, however, I was unable to log in with my already-created account, which was annoying.

After you create your account, you’ll be greeted with a homepage that looks something like this:

Memrise home page.
Memrise home page.

On the left you can see your account summary, including the points and trophies you’ve earned. There’s also a countdown clock until the end of the day (midnight local time), and an option to sign up for Memrise Pro. It doesn’t look like much to start with until you sign up for a course, at which point the homepage is your portal into daily practice.

Memrise home page after you start a course.
Memrise home page after you start a course.

After you select a course, the Memrise homepage will helpfully show your progress on your homepage as well as give you suggestions for users you can follow—these are people taking the same or similar courses.

You can set Memrise to a limited number of languages in your account settings: English, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, and Chinese. You access this portion by clicking on the blue portrait on the right-hand side of the blue toolbar and selecting “settings.”

Memrise account settings: selecting a language.
Memrise account settings: selecting a language.

The not-entirely-intuitive thing is that changing the language in your settings only has an effect on the site interface, not the content. If you don’t speak any of the above languages, don’t worry: there’s still plenty of content for you!

Courses

The meat and potatoes of Memrise is the courses. These are like decks in Anki. Each course is a list of words or phrases; some courses are put together by Memrise staff, while others are put together by Memrise users. Some users are individuals, some are teachers, and some are other organizations. It’s very common to find Memrise courses based around a particular textbook. If you’re taking an English course, you might want to see if someone’s created a course based on the book you’re using. Saves you the time of creating an Anki deck or a Memrise course yourself!

Memrise will, initially, suggest popular courses for you to take, right on your home page. If you want to see a more detailed list, select the “courses” tab (that’s the one in the middle) in the blue toolbar.

Memrise courses homepage.
Memrise courses homepage for Chinese speakers, including the most popular courses among Chinese speakers.

Once on the “courses” home page, you can select your native language (or preferred study language) on the left, under the “I speak” pull-down menu. As you can see, this list is much more exhaustive than languages available in your profile settings.

Memrise course language selection.
Memrise course language selection. Here you can see the English courses available for Korean speakers. The top three are courses created by Memrise, while the bottom three are courses created by the users (left to right) Mr.Kimchi, EasyAcademy, and newgosto.

When you find a course you want to take, just click it. You’ll be taken to the course’s homepage, which has an outline of the different lessons as well as a scoreboard. If it looks like something you want to study, just click the big green “start learning” button!

Diving In

Once you start a particular course, the course home page, much like your personal Memrise home page, will tell you how you’re doing.

Lesson progress in a Korean course on Memrise.
Lesson progress in a Korean course on Memrise. You can see that I’m in the middle of Lesson 4, and that I’ve looked at 54 out of 1568 words so far. Only 30 of those words are in long-term memory.

Within a course you will have a few activities based around vocabulary and phrases, similar to the games in Babadum:

  1. Hear the L2 word and select the L1 translation (multiple choice).
  2. See the L1 word and select the right recording of the L2 translation (multiple choice).
  3. See the L1 word and select the right L2 translation (multiple choice).
  4. See the L1 word and provide the right L2 translation (written).
  5. Hear the L2 word and write what you hear (dictation).

I’ve noticed that different courses will have different activities. The French 1 course for English speakers includes videos of native speakers, which is lacking in the above Korean course, for example. But all of the activities are taken from this pool of five.

Unlike Babadum, you’ll periodically have “cards” that involve no challenge or activity; they exist simply to introduce the new vocabulary.

memrise7
New French vocabulary in Memrise.

If you find yourself struggling with a particular word, you can elect to choose or create a “mem,” an image to help you remember the word, by selecting “Help me remember this” at the bottom. The lightning bolt is a premium option (allows you to mark a word as “difficult”), while the “no” button next to it tells Memrise to ignore this word because you already know it or don’t want to learn it. As you correctly answer questions about the word or phrase, the image in the circle will transform from a hand planting a seed, to a plant stem, to a flower. Seeds are new words, while flowers are words you know quite well.

You can set daily goals for a particular course: point amounts that are equivalent to 5, 15, or 45 minutes a day. Note that you can earn points either by learning new words or by reviewing the words you’ve already learned.

On Review

Memrise is based on the spaced repetition philosophy. If you delve into any particular lesson in a course, you’ll see a countdown with each word. This is a countdown to when you need to review the word to help maximize retention.

Detailed information about a lesson in a Korean Memrise course.
Detailed information about a lesson in a Korean Memrise course.

Here you can see that I’ll need to review most of this vocabulary in around 23 days, though I have two words that I should review right now.

Note that Memrise will not automatically remind you of the words you need to review; you choose between reviewing and learning new words at your own pace. To review words, select the blue “review” button. The review button will always have how many words you have left to review. It’s my preference to move on to new words when I don’t have any words left to review, but your mileage may vary.

Social

Memrise has a few limited social features: you can follow people, but following seems limited to seeing their scores on your homepage. There are also groups, but these are private and invite-only. Like following someone, being a member of a group allows you to compete with other group members in terms of scores, and that’s about it.

Courses once had their own forums; now all interaction between members seems to happen on a separate community page. I wish I could tell you more about the forums, but at this moment in time I’m unable to log in. They certainly look lively and robust. Note, however, that the forums center around Memrise and Memrise courses, rather than language exchange.

Premium

Memrise has a few features that are only available to paying members. You can purchase membership in bundles of 1 month, 3 months, or a year. Obviously, the larger the bundle, the better the unit price. A year-long membership is a little less than $5 US per month. Do I think it’s worth it? Hard to say. The ability to focus on difficult words is definitely a plus; while other people are enthusiastic about your learning patterns stats, I don’t know how important those actually are when it comes to improving your language acquisition.

That wraps up the basics of using Memrise! I’ll be back with a later post on how to get the most out of Memrise in your language studies, but until then feel free to ask any questions or share any tips/corrections here or on Twitter.

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.

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!

Tatoeba Tips

Tatoeba began as the brain child of Trang, inspired by the English–Japanese website alc.co.jp. The name “Tatoeba” even comes from the Japanese word for “for example.” You can read more about the history of Tatoeba.org on Trang’s blog, but the long and short of it is: Tatoeba is a collection of open source, community-generated sentences in multiple languages—something like a huge, global phrasebook. These sentences can be a great resource in your language study. But Tatoeba can also be overwhelming at first, so here are some tips to get you started.

1. You should probably register.

The nature of Tatoeba is such that everyone can browse it and look up sentences; registering allows you to contribute translations, add your own sentences, and (eventually, if you decide to ask for such privileges) tag and link sentences. If you’re just curious about a word now and then, you probably don’t need to sign up. But if you want to dig deeper, you’ll need a proper account. (It’s free!)

Note that Tatoeba, unlike Lang-8, doesn’t make a clear distinction between your native language and the languages you’re studying; rather, you list any languages you can speak, and then rate your fluency in them, from “almost no knowledge” to “native level.” So go ahead and add everything you’re interested in and know about. Here are mine, for example:

tatoeba

There is no limit to how many languages you can have in your account, and there’s no fluency requirement, so add as many as you like. My Korean, for example, is in absolute shambles, but since I at least know how to read Hangul, I listed it (and then put it at level 0: “almost no knowledge”).

2. Learn to use the search function.

Tatoeba uses Sphinx Search to account for all of the complexities of language. It’s mostly intuitive, but there are some wrinkles to be aware of. You can learn more at the Tatoeba Wiki.

Sphinx Search relates to the search bar at the top of the page. This search focuses just on the content of sentences, looking for actual, literal words. If you’re interested in a particular category of words, such as sports or politics or weather, you can search the tags instead. This search function is much less complex and does not use the same operators as Sphinx Search.

3. Add sentences.

If you want to improve Tatoeba (and of course you do, right?) and you have the time, you can also add sentences of your own. There are two ways to do that.

First, you can simply add a sentence directly to the corpus. Tatoeba even helpfully suggests vocabulary that hasn’t yet been featured on the site, so you can maximize your helpfulness by focusing specifically on those words.

The other way you can add sentences is by translating sentences already in the corpus.

When you’re looking at sentences on Tatoeba, you’ll see a little symbol in the upper left corner of every sentence, like this:

tatoeba2

This is the option to translate. It’s not necessary (and even, arguably, flat-out unhelpful) to give a translation that’s identical to what’s already on the site. (Alas, there’s also no upvoting/approval system like there is on Lang-8, so there’s no good way to tell if a given translation is good or bad.) But if you look at sentence and see that it doesn’t have a translation in a language you know well, or the other translations are awkward or inadequate, then you can feel free to add one! When you click that symbol, a little box comes up:

tatoeba3
I’m not actually brave enough to try to translate this into English. Yet.

Tatoeba also uses indirect (from L1 to L3 by way of L2) translations. It distinguishes between direct and indirect translations with blue arrows (indicating direct translations) and gray arrows (indirect translations). But you have to be careful: if you decide to translate something indirectly, make sure you click the translation you’re working from first. This will take you to a new page where that L2 translation is the “main sentence,” rather than just a translation. That way, your L3 translation is appropriately marked on the original L1 sentence as an indirect translation, and the code stays neat and tidy. (You can read more about Trang’s philosophy here.)

The principle of translating on Tatoeba is sentences and meaning, rather than word-for-word correspondence. “I’m 25 years old” is not, technically, a word-for-word translation of French (“I have 25 years.”) or Russian (“To me there are 25 years.”), but it’s how native speakers would express the idea of being 25 years old, so it’s the best (and only) possible choice.

4. Submit high-quality work.

Tatoeba is not a playground, or an opportunity for feedback/error correction. When you submit a translation or a sentence, you are submitting study material for other learners to use. This is why Tatoeba stresses that you only add translations and sentences only in languages in which you have fairly high levels of competency. Anything else—grammar or vocabulary practice, writing practice, proofreading—is better saved for elsewhere, such as Lang-8.

That’s Tatoeba in a nutshell! I’d like to shout out to my friend Yousef, who was the first to alert me to the existence of Tatoeba. It’s a great project but a little overwhelming, so if you need help (or if I missed anything), comment below or let me know on Twitter!