Duolingo is probably the most well-known language learning website out there.
It’s fun, it’s stress-free (most of the time), and it helps build a regular habit. Oh, and it’s free.
But as we mentioned on the podcast, Duolingo’s quality can vary greatly from course to course. While the gamified learning system is based on the same principles and exercises, the course design, lesson content, types of exercises, audio, etc., totally depend on each course’s creators.
For example, the ‘biggest’ languages have gained crazy hi-tech features like AI chatbots and learning from stories, while smaller languages…aren’t as lucky.
I’ll assume you know how Duolingo basically works: you slowly make your way through a tree of skills, do lessons with translation exercises, and it sends daily notifications to threaten you into practise. If you want to know my thought on the site as a whole, come join my livestream! In this review, I’m focusing on the design of the Modern Hebrew course.
I used to install a new software keyboard on my computer for each new language I learn, because I wanted to type like a native. I even insisted to get a UK laptop, so that I would get the same number of keys as German or Swedish keyboards. But eventually, they added up, and it got tiring to switch between them—especially since I mostly switched between Chinese and English keyboards.
I noticed that a lot of people know how to type accented characters easily on their phones—by simply switching the software keyboard—but have problems once it comes to computers.
On Windows, some people copy and paste characters from sites or ‘online keyboards’, while others resort to the ancient Alt+numbers trick (which doesn’t even work on notebook computers without keypads).
And then I discovered the Compose key, and since then, computer keyboards have never been a hurdle in my language ambitions ever again.
Inject Jyutping is a new Chrome extension that simply does what it says: it adds Jyutping romanisation onto Cantonese texts you see on the internet. This comes in the form of Ruby characters, i.e. small pronunciation guides on top of characters, which are common in all languages that use Chinese characters except Cantonese—until now.
This extension is so simple that you can already see the result in the image above, so this will be more of a recommendation than a review. I love it so much because it does one simple thing so well, but can be immensely helpful towards learners. It’s exactly what I aim to do for the transcriptions in our upcoming Cantonese podcast for intermediate-advanced learners.
Since it’s a Chrome extension, don’t forget that the new Microsoft Edge can use it as well.
How it works
It’s just one button. Literally. Click it, and you get jyutping plastered all over whatever Chinese text that happens to be on your screen.
Surprisingly, my review of Glossika was the most viewed page on my blog. Sadly, my favourite language learning resource was retired a while ago and replaced with an online version that I was initially doubtful about. Some part of me clung to the older version out of nostalgia…and the other part refused to pay for something I’d already paid for. (I was, and still am, a broke student above all things.) I intended to write this review after playing with the system for a bit. However, I thought it wouldn’t be appropriate, since I was using the free version, without full access to its features. Thanks to the global pandemic, I snagged myself a year of Glossika during a big sale for an unbeatable student price. So here we are.
First things first, money matters: the one-off payment for the old book-based courses is no more. Glossika’s website (also called Glossika AI), like everything else in existence, is a subscription-based service. You can get access to all languages for $30/mo, or $25/mo if you buy a full year. Students can get it for $13.5, or $11.25 if you pay for a year. Is it worth the intimidating price (and the sheer fact that it’s a subscription)? I’ll try to tell you my experience so far.
What I used Glossika for
I used Glossika AI for at least a year (I think) before I paid up. Glossika offers a 7-day free trial. Thankfully, the man behind Glossika, Michael Campbell, is keen on preserving minority languages. Therefore, you get unlimited access to certain languages like Catalan, Welsh, Taiwanese, and Kurdish, for free; the only limitation is that some features, like recording your voice, are out of reach.
I’ve been hearing a lot about this new app Drops lately. It sounded a lot like Memrise with a different business model, but my podcaster friends seemed excited about it, so I decided to check it out. After all, its premise is to spend just 5 minutes a day (hence the name), so what’s the harm?
When I first opened up the app, I noticed how beautiful it looks. I don’t judge book by their cover, but I do appreciate the importance of visual design—it helps encourage users to open them.
The basic premise of the app is its laser-sharp focus on vocabulary and nothing else. It divides all the words (which is a LOT) into 13 general categories like “food and drinks” and “travel and vehicles”, which are further broken down into finer topics.
For beginners, you have to start each general category with the first topic under it. Intermediate users have access to more topics right from the get go.
For this review, I’ve been using the app to learn Polish vocabulary. I have a good foundation in the language, so I skipped into the intermediate level (which is an option that thankfully the app has). A few of my comments will be specific to Polish, but I believe the features are identical for other languages. I can safely assume that the vocabulary is the same across languages too: I noticed this from certain duplicate words in Polish, not unlike years ago in Glossika.
Update: due to the release of Glossika AI, which replaces the now-defunct Glossika packages, this review is now outdated. A review of the new system has just been published.
Well I was preparing to begin writing in my new section on Chinese, but an important incident changed my mind: I’ve just completed the entire Glossika GMS course in Polish, all 3000 of the sentences! So, in addition to sharing my sense of achievement and joy on my blog, I’ve decided to also write a brief review on what I thought about and what I got out of this course, seeing as it isn’t one of the most well-known method out there, and there aren’t that many reviews from people having completed it either. So let’s delve in – and allow me to start by introducing the method, in case you haven’t heard of it.
What is Glossika?
Even though you can get a comprehensive introduction to the product on their site, I’ll briefly summarise it from what I know. Glossika, founded by the amazing polyglot and linguist (read more if you don’t know the difference) Michael Campbell, is based on input – a lot of it. The basic idea is to drill a set of 3000 sentences into your mind, in 3 ‘fluency levels’ from simple to complex, each containing 1000 sentences, and the brain will gradually figure out the language.
I said it’s the ‘basic’ idea because the method does not demand you to follow any strict pathway. On the contrary, it’s probably among the most flexible learning materials out there! When you buy it, you get a ton of files. First is a PDF for each level, complete with translation, romanisation (etc, depending on the language), phonetic transcription (more on that later), a complete index and some additional professional advice. These sentences form the basis of the entire course. I got the English to Polish package, so each sentence comes with the English version, the Polish translation, simplified spelling (to ease certain learners into the scary-looking Polish spelling, I suppose) and IPA, as in the sample below.
Sample sentence from Glossika English-Polish, Fluency 3.