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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 did a fair bit of Taiwanese on my free account—I thought it was an appropriate language to test the system with. A primarily audio-based course fits the language quite well, since it’s less frequently written, close to my mother tongue, and light on grammar. Ditching all other forms of study, I focused on making out the sounds. I ended up doing several weeks in a row, every few months. Sooooooooo not a good learner. But a year later, I am surprisingly confident in speaking Taiwanese.
Since I paid for the subscription, I have been learning Icelandic intensively, and a bit of Hebrew and Japanese.
How Glossika AI works
Despite the newer, more accessible format, the core concept is still the same as the old Glossika. You learn in full sentences, and hammer it into your brain using Spaced Repetition. Eventually, your brain notices the nuances in the language’s sounds, and picks up grammatical patterns without learning the rules.
Every day, instead of a 50-sentence regimen, I simply click on ‘Learn New Items’, and the system assigns 5 new sentences per batch. These sentences are supposedly tailored to my ability using an AI, whose inner workings we’ll never learn about.
The system first shows you each sentence: first in the source language (Swedish in my scenario), then the target language (Icelandic). It reads the former once and the latter twice. Assuming you choose ‘full practice’, you start off by typing the sentence once, and then you record yourself saying it. The system then gives you various repeated exercises like dictation and simply reading the sentence with phonetic transcriptions.
If you choose ‘listening only’, it simply shows you the sentences and reads them aloud. Whether or not you include the recording exercise can be set independently of the learning mode. Each sentence is always repeated 5 times in the ‘learning’ phase.
Reviewing old sentences is a similar process. You can choose to start from the most recent sentences, from the weakest ones, or just your favourites. Review mode includes even more kinds of exercises, often chosen based on how recent you learnt a sentence. Again, the sentences you need to review are decided by the system, based on Spaced Repetition algorithms. They can rack up quite quickly, even if you only do 5 a day. Trust me. Thankfully, this owl doesn’t hunt your family down at night and threaten you to practise Spanish.
Compared to the old book-based course, what this system offers is flexibility. Case in point: the ability to customise your learning material. You used to have to learn the same 3000 sentences in any language, one by one. Now you get to pick and choose what you want to learn about, which I think is very important. It’s you learning a language after all. By default, everything is selected, except the ‘language’ category, where only the culture of your target language is selected. I wonder how it would be like to learn Thai culture through Icelandic.
Memory is where you get to scroll down the list of sentences you have learnt, like flipping through a book. The system rates the memory strength by how recently you practised a sentence, but you can also mark a sentence ‘easy’ (which effectively removes it from your learning) or ‘favourite’. You can also compare your recording (from every single time you recorded yourself) to the native speaker here. Which is pretty much the only point of recording yourself.
I will start this section by apologizing that I’ll be comparing this system to the old courses a lot, so I suggest you check out my old review to see my opinion on the core method itself. Now, onto the implementation of the method.
Customizability and flexibility
I’ve already talked about customizing the content you learn, but there is more you can do. First, this computer-based system tests you with its sentences to figure out your level, allowing you to start with preexisting knowledge. Yay to not starting from scratch.
Since you are paying for all the languages in one package, you can switch the source language at any point. (Though I will warn you: changing the source language changes the sentences you are learning. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not.) You can also decide the speed, the time between playing each sentence, whether to see the source language, whether to repeat the target language, or even to skip the source language. In a nutshell: you can recreate all kinds of audio files you’d find in the old courses, and further customise the audio to your heart’s content.
Also, it’s nice to be able to do more or less per day, depending on the time you have. Just be sure to do some every day.
Every time you see a sentence, it’s one rep(etition). The Glossika system keeps tracks of your reps…basically at all times. It’s on the dashboard, it’s in the learning interface. It’s a representation of how far you’ve come, and it’s also handy to keep track of how much you’re doing per day.
In this day and age, we tend to type more than write longhand. Even more so in languages you’re learning, when so much of our exposure to a foreign language is online. Especially during a pandemic. In some sense, learning to type in a foreign language (e.g. getting used to the special characters, or using a Japanese/Chinese input method) could be even more useful than learning to write. The system—although it can be both too strict and too lenient for some reason—checks your spelling and helps you discover interesting patterns.
Yes, I put the same thing in both Good and Bad categories. Why? As a former supporter of the Goldlist Method (I was going to write about it, but didn’t), I do believe in the power of writing longhand. Somehow, feeling every curve and line on paper improves focus, and etches the memory deeper into your brain. (Don’t quote me, I’m not a neuroscientist.) Typing exercises also don’t exist in languages like Taiwanese Hokkien.
I also find the recording function a little bit pointless, unless you are very motivated to hear yourself speak. Since listening to my recordings is not mandatory during the practice sessions, I end up rarely ever doing so. Admittedly, my perception might be tinted, since I initially expected the system to compare my recording with the original. Perhaps too futuristic. Nevertheless, it’s a good chance to force myself to say the sentences without the clutch of following the native speaker.
I’ve got to say…this thing is littered with mistakes. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m learning obscure languages, but I’ve heard other users have similar problems.
Because the system presumably uses the same sentences for all courses, sometimes the exact same sentence appears twice. I guess that they were designed to illustrate different ways to say the same thing in English. Sometimes, if your source language isn’t English, the source and target languages have slightly different meanings.
For example, when a sentence says ‘younger brother’ in Mandarin, it always gets translated to ‘brother’ in Taiwanese. Again, it’s presumably because it was translated through English.
Most of the time the sentences have names in them that are practically unpronounceable in the language you’re learning (ahem looking at you, Korean names).
Worse still, I frequently encounter problems with the audio. I’m not counting inaudible words as an error, since I assume that’s how native speakers speak. But I’ve seen entire words missing from the audio, which may or may not mean the same thing as intended. I’ve heard obviously mispronounced words or phonetic transcriptions that don’t match the audio at all (in Hebrew).
Funny story: there was an Arabic name that the Icelander couldn’t pronounce, so he literally said the name twice in a row to get it right, and it ended up in the course.
I basically have to report a sentence every other day. And don’t even get me started on the software bugs. Overall, it’s like I’m paying for a beta.
Should I use Glossika?
All in all, I have mixed feelings about this revamp. It’s definitely more attractive and better at retaining my attention. Taking that gamification aspect from Duolingo or Drops, and dropping the dry repetition in the old courses. I’m gaining more control over my learning, but also ceding some control to the system, when it comes to the way I learn and practise each sentence.
I still think highly of the method itself. It goes with my philosophy of ‘getting used to’ a language, rather than ‘studying’ it. After being exposed to a langauge pattern enough times, you start to gain the ability to tinker with it and express new meanings. In some cases, such as complex word endings, you can’t just memorise a grammar table and be able to use it; this helps you acquire the capability to apply those rules. Listening to my own recordings, I notice my pronunciation getting closer to the native speaker as well.
Of course, it has holes in its vocabulary; perhaps even more so than language textbooks, because the content comes in sentences and not words. I would suggest you use Glossika as a supplement to a more comprehensive course, and of course, a teacher. If you already have a good idea of how a language works, you might want to read up on the grammar too, and then discover it in action. (I have frequent ‘aha’ moments.) But even if you just use this course intensively, you might find yourself saying sentences fluently quite soon, or even making new ones without much thought.
Verdict: Glossika AI Language Learning Platform
Is it worth $30 a month? For me, it’s a bit steep without the student pricing. But it all comes down to your current level, your general familiarity with foreign langauges, and how you enjoy learning languages. I wouldn’t recommend it to absolute beginners, unless they know a related language. But to the rest of you: do give the free trial a go, and decide if you like the method after 1000 reps.
Overall, it’s still a great method, with an arguably improved implementation. But there are still lots of kinks to be ironed out, both in the content and the software.