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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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!
Once you start a particular course, the course home page, much like your personal Memrise home page, will tell you how you’re doing.
Within a course you will have a few activities based around vocabulary and phrases, similar to the games in Babadum:
Hear the L2 word and select the L1 translation (multiple choice).
See the L1 word and select the right recording of the L2 translation (multiple choice).
See the L1 word and select the right L2 translation (multiple choice).
See the L1 word and provide the right L2 translation (written).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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 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:
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:
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:
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!
First of all, when I talk about “Lang-8,” I’m talking exclusively about the free version. I don’t have a premium membership—quite frankly, I don’t feel I need one, and I’ll come back to that later—so everything in here refers to the free experience. The two aren’t really substantially different, anyway.
While language study is often broken down into four discrete arenas (speaking, writing, listening, and reading), the truth is that all four interact with each other. Even if your focus is on speaking or listening instead of writing, spending some time on your writing will help strengthen all other areas. And overall, Lang-8 is a great resource for practicing your writing. You can post a journal entry and for free it will show up in front of thousands of eyes. There are nearly 200,000 users who have given Russian as their native language and English as their language of study, for example. I can put up an exercise and get corrections within hours. My journal entries average something around 100 views (each), with corrections from 12 or 13 different people.
I don’t even know 12 native Russian speakers here in Stockholm!
But the biggest strength of Lang-8 for me is also related to its greatest drawback: anyone can join and correct your writing.
I have seen some poor English corrections in my day, and while some of this can be written off due to varying levels of pedantry or different philosophies on which errors are “worth” correcting and the goals of writing (to be grammatically perfect? to be grammatically perfect and natural-sounding? to just be comprehensible?), some of it seems to come down to the fact that native speakers don’t often have a firm grasp of the rules of their own language.
Never mind how often a user has misunderstood the author’s intention and provided a correction that substantially changes the phrase’s intended meaning.
This means that you will sometimes get differing or even conflicting corrections. Sometimes users will comment on their corrections and explain their reasoning, but more often than not they don’t. If you don’t have a guide on hand, it can be impossible to understand which of these corrections is the best one, or is actually counter what you were trying to communicate in the first place.
This is where a good teacher or tutor comes in. They can sit with you in real time to make sure they understand exactly what you wanted to say and show you which corrections can help you say that, and which ones would mean something totally different. They can explain why “go on a walk” and “take a walk” are okay but “take on a walk” isn’t. If you aren’t in a position to take a class or hire a private tutor, then you should supplement your Lang-8 corrections with a good grammar book and a good usage guide. (More on those in a later post.)
Despite this, Lang-8 is a powerful tool for your language acquisition; even more so because it’s available for free. There are premium features available for paying users ($7 US/month or $63 US/year), some of which are quite useful, but the site is most definitely very usable and helpful if you’d rather stick with the free version. These are the three features that would most likely get me to upgrade:
The biggest limit on free users is probably the number of languages you’re allowed to study. For paying users, it’s unlimited; for free users, it’s just two. (I chose Russian and Korean.) Sure, there are other writing exchange networking sites out there, but Lang-8 is huge; it’d be easier to have all of your language learning on one site than cobbling together a patchwork of resources. For the price, I think it’s a good value for the language nerds out there.
2. Another premium option that might be worth paying for is the ability to download entries—weirdly enough, any entry, not just ones you wrote—along with their corrections as PDFs, so that you can study them offline. While we live in a digital age, I’m the first to advocate for dead trees and pencils. Sometimes there’s just no substitute for taking notes and marking things by hand. And the PDFs are surprisingly well formatted and clear to follow, instead of some kind of ugly screen shot.
3. And finally, paying users have the ability to search their own journal. I don’t have enough entries yet that I really need a search function, but if you give yourself a daily or even weekly writing goal, your journal entries are going to start racking up pretty quickly. I can see that being very useful.
Overall, Lang-8 is a powerful free resource for developing your writing in English (or any other language you wish to study). It’s not without drawbacks, but in the absence a language course or tutor, it’s the next best thing for your writing.
Have you tried Lang-8? What do you think? Share your profile here or on Twitter (@KobaEnglish)!
Lang-8 (lang-8.com) is a free, collaborative language-learning resource focused on writing. If you’re studying English outside a formal classroom, this is a great resource to get immediate feedback from native and advanced speakers. If you’re taking a class, Lang-8 is a great supplement. But it has its drawbacks, and it can be a little tricky to get the hang of. In this post, I’ll only go through the basics of using Lang-8. In the next post, I’ll discuss it more generally in terms of pros and cons.
The basic premise of Lang-8 is that you correct other people’s writing and they correct yours. Every time you submit an entry to your journal, it shows up in two streams: the generic “every English (or any other language) post” stream, and the specific “every post from my friends” stream. In your home page, posts from your friends are at the top, with the entire tidal wave from the entire site below.
Posting an entry is pretty straightforward. The tricky bits come with correcting other people’s writing, as the correcting interface is a little messy. Since everything is web-based—you write and you correct directly in the browser, instead of uploading or downloading documents—there isn’t a great built-in way to track or show changes. You have a WYSIWYG editor, with options for bold, strikeout, gray, red, and blue text. There are no official or even suggested guidelines for how to implement these particular typeface changes, so the corrections any given piece receives will be (relatively) inconsistently formatted. My biggest protip here is to make liberal use of the color options, especially for small mistakes like typos or capitalization. It makes things much easier for the author when they go back to look at the corrections.
Let’s take a closer look at the corrections menu. Many thanks to user Vera Vakhrusheva, whose recent essay on a LGBQT+ demonstration in Russia is featured in my screenshots. It’s kind of hard to show you how the website works if you obscure the entire text, but given that someone could have easily uploaded an exercise with the intent to keep it relatively private, I will only be using one or two extracts and blurring the rest.
If you click on a journal entry on your Lang-8 landing page, regardless of whether it’s from a friend’s journal or somewhere else, this is where you will end up. At the top you’ll see the title, and then the essay in its entirety. On the right are some stats: privacy level, how many people have viewed it, how many comments it has, how many corrections it has, what language it’s written in, etc. Here, we can see that this was a public entry with 7 views, no corrections, and no comments at the time of this screenshot. Sometimes an exercise will be given in the target language and the original language, but not always. This one was given only in English.
You can “like” a journal entry or not at the bottom. Clicking on the big blue button takes you to the text boxes where you’ll be doing your correcting. (You can also just scroll down.)
Here is where it gets a little tricky.
Every journal entry has two fields: the title and the body. The title is optional, and if you don’t have one, it just uses the first however many characters of your entry. The title stands on its own in the corrections interface (and disappears if there isn’t one given), but the body can get quite long: Lang-8 parses text into sentences and gives each sentence its own section. If you want to correct the sentence, you click the blue “Correct” button to open up the WYSIWYG editor. A green “Perfect” button also appears when you mouse over (making it hard to nab in a screen capture); select this if the sentence is fine. This image features the title of the piece and the first sentence of the body, both of which I’ve already begun to correct. As you can see, you don’t edit the text directly on Lang-8; you provide corrected copies.
You can only save your corrections all at once. You do this with the big orange button at the top or bottom of the corrections interface.
Also note that at the bottom of the corrections interface is the option to comment, generally, on the entry itself. (You can also comment on specific corrections after you open the “Correct” menu.) You can comment without making corrections, if you really feel moved to do so, by typing a comment and then hitting “Post corrections,” but considering the fact that people post here for the explicit purpose of receiving grammatical instruction rather than social media style “wow cool!!” comments, corrections are very much appreciated.
If someone else has gotten to an entry before you, you can simply recommend their corrections instead of making the same correction again. Their corrections and comments will appear right under the essay, before the corrections interface.
You can distinguish someone’s corrections from the actual corrections interface by the blue border. Here you can see the original (gray pencil icon), the correction underneath it (green checkmark icon), and the option to vote for a correction as “good” or to quote it (if you wish to discuss someone’s correction in the comments). You can also see in the gray box that this user left a comment explaining one of his corrections.
After you scroll past all of the corrections and comments, you’ll see the familiar corrections interface at the bottom of the page. This time, each section includes the original text and all of the corrections that other users have made. Once again, you have the option to vote for a good one in addition to providing your own. You also still have the option to mouse over for the green “Perfect” button if there’s nothing wrong with the sentence. If none of the corrections are good ones, then you can click the blue “Correct” button and add your corrections.
From the perspective of a Lang-8 user, it’s better to vote for good corrections instead of mindlessly entering in the same one. Things can quickly get cluttered otherwise. At least, I think it’s cluttered.
That about wraps up my guide to Lang-8! Tweet at me or comment if you have questions, confusions, or suggestions. Next time I’ll take a step back and discuss its pros and cons as a language-learning tool. Have a great weekend!
When is a cup not a cup? When is a glass not a glass? Does it depend on what’s inside? What is the balance between literal translation and the adoption of fixed, familiar phrases in the target language?
For example, if a native English speaker were to offer someone tea, there would be a number of different ways to do it. Outlining all of them here would be tedious and beside the point, but I want to focus on which vessel would be named (if named at all). Pop quiz! Fill in the blank:
“Would you like a _____ of tea?”
And let’s put aside partitives like “bit” or “spot”; let’s look specifically at “cup” and “glass.” Is there one you prefer?
For me, and I think for many native speakers, the appropriate semantic unit for tea is a cup. It’s what flows (ha, ha) naturally. And, indeed, we usually have tea in solid, opaque drinking vessels that can’t rightly be said to be made of glass.
So the discussion over on DuoLingo’s Russian partitive lesson about glass and tea is fascinating and (as of this blog post) has over 100 comments!
Russian differentiates between a number of drinking vessels. Стакан is what you call a “glass” in English: typically, a cylindrical vessel made of glass, with no handle.
But when faced with an expression that would literally be translated as “a glass of tea,” should you translate the words literally, or translate the concept of “a vessel of tea” into the most common and most likely English phrase?
Of course, the point of DuoLingo is to teach you vocabulary and grammar, not to teach you how to translate longer pieces of writing in context. To that end, it sacrifices a natural-sounding English answer to drive home the difference (in Russian) between a “glass” and a “cup.”
But for many users (myself included) it just feels…wrong. This question has a few simultaneous discussions of essentially this issue; this one is the most typical and the most informative.
Things also segued into how tea is consumed globally, with users from other parts of the world (north Africa and Turkey, among others) pointing out that having tea in a glass—the “cylindrical vessel made of glass, with no handle” described by DuoLingo—is commonplace where they live.
So if DuoLingo is insisting on a subtlety that sounds unnatural to many English speakers because of the customs of our particular countries (to have tea in one kind of vessel but not other), how about in translation? If I’m reading a story where the character in the original Russian has a стакан of tea, has something of the nuance or subtlety been lost if the translator chose “cup of tea” instead of “glass of tea”? Is the purpose of a translation to remain as literally faithful as possible to an original (to translate), or to take a story and convey its concepts in the most natural way possible in a target language (to localize)?
There is also the question, again, of who an English translation is really for. Considering the prevalence of English worldwide (and the fact that non-native speakers vastly outnumber the native speakers), I don’t think we can rightly claim that an English translation is first and foremost for native speakers. Should native ear qualms over a glass of tea, or larger issues of “awkwardness” or clunkiness, really matter?
In my private life, I follow a lot of book bloggers. Sometime last year, at least one of them brought The Room to my attention. No, not Tommy Wiseau’s “masterpiece.” This The Room is a novel by the Swedish Jonas Karlsson. The premise sounded interesting and I looked high and low for the original Swedish edition, only to turn up empty-handed. I shrugged and moved on to other things.
One of those other things was NetGalley. I finally bit the bullet and signed up a few months ago. I could rationalize that decision with “it’s important to stay abreast of literary trends when you’re an editor” but really I just wanted free ebooks. (When you live outside the US and Canada, you don’t get the free physical copies.)
Last week I noticed a new title in the Literary Fiction section: The Invoice, by Jonas Karlsson. I recognized his name immediately and requested the book as a way to give him a test run. I was also curious about how the translation was handled, as my luck with English translation of contemporary Swedish books (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) has been much worse than with English translations of Swedish classics (Doctor Glass). Where would The Invoice fall in this spectrum?
The answer: somewhere in the middle.
In the case of The Invoice, there was something clunky and choppy about the writing. I noticed it, frowned, and continued reading, because at least it didn’t use any archaic or awkward turns of phrases I had seen elsewhere, and by elsewhere I mean in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (No one uses “anon” anymore; at least, not to mean “soon.”) I eventually stopped noticing the choppiness, but only because something bothered me even more: an uncomfortable mix of American and British English.
I’m all in favor of standardizing English; it would make my job (both as a tutor and as an editor) that much easier. But we haven’t accomplished that standardization yet, and while usage may dictate rules, I don’t think individual publishers deciding on their own “blends” will successfully further the International English cause. When it comes to The Invoice, this blend was:
So we had a character walking into a gray granite building, taking a lift up to the eleventh floor, and talking to a Mr. Something-or-other.
This is a minor quibble on my part, I realize. Once I figured out was going on, I was able to put my discomfort in a box and read the story for the sake of the story. It certainly didn’t hamper my understanding in any way. But I think it’s a point worth discussing: when translating into English, how much should consistency and localization matter?
After all, I had no trouble understanding the writing. The differences between British and American English have been thoroughly documented, to the point where any adult English-speaking reader (usually) knows there are differences and can (usually) switch between the two without difficulty. And how many people, exactly, really notice those differences? Literature translated into English isn’t done for the exclusive sake of native speakers. There is a huge market for non-native speakers as well; readers who might not be attuned to the differences, or who might prefer “color” and “analyze” but also “lorry” and “dustbin.” Does that make the distinction between conventions nothing more than a shibboleth on par with “rules” about ending sentences in prepositions?
For me, not quite, though I couldn’t give you a satisfactory answer as to why. I just like consistency! (Hobgoblin of a little mind it may be.) If I had been working on this project, I would have favored American terminology and made the appropriate changes, with a comment explaining why.
I asked other editors (informally) and the majority response seemed to be that this was an inconsistency, and one that “should” be rectified, validating my own thought on the issue. A not-insignificant portion replied that they had been instructed to mix conventions in similar ways, or had heard of that happening to other editors. I was surprised to learn that this is something that deliberately happens, but if that’s how a publisher or author wants to roll, that’s what they’re allowed to do.
But something that bothers word nerds might not bother the general public, so I put this question out to you, Internet: how do you feel about mixing different English conventions?
Legal “CYA” moment: in case context didn’t make it clear, I received a free preview copy of The Invoice in exchange for honest feedback and review. The translation issue I described here (in as much as it’s an “issue”) may be addressed by the time the book goes to print.