Update: due to the release of Glossika AI, which replaces the now-defunct Glossika packages, this review is now outdated.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.
And then the course splits itself into two different pathways, or ways to use the materials. The first is called Glossika Spaced Repetition, or GSR, which is the more advertised one, since it is pre-structured for the user: it consists of 104 audio files, which you listen to one per day by default, though you are free to do more or less. Each file introduces 10 new sentences and reviews the previous sentences according to a spaced repetition algorithm. The other pathway is called Glossika Mass Sentences, or GMS, which is the one I followed. They provide you with 3 types of audio files: A (EN – PL – PL in my case), B (EN – blank – PL) and C (PL). Each file contains a batch of 50 sentences. You are encouraged to devise your own study plan, like Michael does, but the suggested plan is to do (1) read, listen to A files and repeat, (2) dictation, (3) repeat aloud, and (4) translate into the target language using B files. I followed this plan, waiting one day’s time before advancing each batch to the next step. This takes theoretically only 60 days, though even the ‘official’ study planer allows for 2 days of off-time each week, not to mention my month-long trip during the holidays…
Note that the method in its core consists of literally just the sentences; it plunges straight into them without any grammar explanations and whatnot. Therefore, it doesn’t hurt to supplement it with some basic knowledge in the grammar instead of starting from scratch, especially considering it’s basically humanly impossible to be patient enough to wait for the brain to figure things out itself. Expert learners though, like Michael himself, actually can start from scratch – but that’s another story.
Aspects where Glossika helps
If you’ve read my previous post, you should know that I like to break down each aspect of our language skills and analyse and compare each component. So, from my intensive study, what do I think I’ve gained?
As mentioned last time, I agree with Steve Kaufmann that noticing is an essential ability in learning a language. By going through all these sentences, you gradually be more aware of the syntactical (grammatical) features and new sounds in the language, especially if you start out being intentionally aware of these things. The dictation part helps you discover small spelling idiosyncrasies or changes, and rest assured that after going through 3000 sentences in detail, your ears will be at least somewhat well-tuned and sensitive to the new sounds of the language, be they tones or previously unknown consonants.
Michael Campbell is very serious about pronunciation. As a linguist, he’s included all the tools for amateur linguists like me to expedite the process of pronunciation, namely IPA. The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), unlike a ‘normal’ alphabet, is a way of notating pronunciation precisely using a set of (admittedly weird) symbols, and they are included below each and every sentence. If you even a bit of IPA, which I recommend you do through Idahosa Ness’ free introductory course, you can make sure you pronounce everything correctly (or at least you know what you’re trying to pronounce). In the introduction to every ebook, there’s also a pronunciation guide that comes included to remind you of certain peculiarities that you may not be aware of. A qualm with it is that mine came from the perspective of a native Mandarin speaker, because Michael’s original target students are Taiwanese, but nonetheless very helpful.
The next step after knowing what to pronounce is to imitate it. No matter which or what study plan you follow, this is a very audio-heavy course. For example, in the plan I followed, steps (1) and (3) both consist of listening carefully to the native speaker and imitating as closely as possible. It is even highly recommended that you record your own voice in step (3) and compare it to the native speaker, in order to get all the sounds and even the ‘melody’ (intonation, stress and rhythm) right. You can listen to how I practise in the sample below (sssh I’m kind of shy). A bonus is that you train your listening comprehension because you can’t repeat without knowing what’s going on.
3000 sentences are no joke. In the beginning it’s all about weather and stuff, but at the end I was reading about global warming, murders and a certain lone ranger for some reason. The range of vocabulary increases quite a lot and I’ve been trained to decipher Polish sentences that aren’t too complex pretty well. In addition, because I’ve dictated each of them once, I have become quite well-versed in Polish spelling and have got a sense of how to solve the spelling inconsistencies (because unfortunately, certain sounds in Polish correspond to two different letters).
I’ve always advocated learning vocabulary purely in contextual sentences instead of from lists, and Glossika is the perfect resource for doing just that: it gives you sentences and sentences only. It also comes with a LOT of repetition. Even within the sentences themselves, i.e. not counting repetition of the sentences, quite some common phrases are heard over and over again until you can’t possibly forget them. Which makes sense, because in daily life, some vocabulary are indeed used quite a lot, as people usually explain using the 80/20 rule. For example, the short phrase “w zeszłym tygodniu” (last week) are so firmly rooted in my head as a combination that they just flow out of my mouth naturally, 3 words in one go. That is what you’ll want. Other words aren’t repeated that much though, such as less important things like kradzież (theft), and if you intend to learn those words well, you’ll have to rely on the repetition of the sentences within your study routine (in my case, 4 times) or perhaps other methods.
A starting point for exploring grammar
Grammar is a vast subject, and going through a list of rules will never suffice to discover all the minor usage practices within the language. By starting with sentences, I see grammar in context and get intrigued when I discover something new, such as a word is spelt differently, or when I realised that numbers decline too – I get that “so this is a thing” moment. Subsequently I google and discover what it is and why it is so, plus some related forms and patterns. When I see a new preposition, I compare it to the similar ones that I’d already seen, in relation to the sentences as a whole.
These sentences work as a ‘pace setter’ for my learning process that I could theoretically combine with other methods like goldlisting. Even though I’ve hardly done anything else outside Glossika, I’m now quite comfortable juxtaposing cases and putting words together in a ‘natural’ order (even though Slavic languages have free word order, there are certain patterns that they normally stick to).
As I said, some essential vocabulary are very well learnt after the course; however, the sentences do come with some words that I’d never consider learning, so they give me a ‘why the **** am I learning this’ moment, but I did anyway because they in there. I’ll take the very last sentence as a random example: ‘lone ranger’ is so romantic and fictional that I’d probably never read, hear or say it in real life, but it was in there anyway. I understand that it is hard to cater to each learner when preparing 3000 sentences for sale to the public and this is a necessary evil – if you want a set of customised sentences, you’d have to resort to sentence mining, the predecessor of Glossika.
A bigger problem is glaring ‘holes’ in the vocabulary offered. I remember going through half of the Russian course without knowing how to say ‘boy’ (I don’t think ‘girl’ ever appears in the course). In order to fill in these holes, I recommend doing something like Duolingo, or just trying to converse in order to find them out.
Even though Glossika is available in a very wide range of source and target languages, it uses the same 3000 sentences throughout, which also gives it the flexibility to create any language combination instantly. But when you go through the course, especially with English as a source or target language, it’s very easy to notice that the sentences are written with the learner of English in mind. In addition to quite a part of the content being based in the American society, sentences are grouped by English grammatical features or homonym, and once in a while there would be a batch of idioms surrounding a certain word. There are a lot of cases where the English sentence is paraphrased (e.g. ‘has’ and ‘has got’, ‘be separated’ and ‘got separated’, just to name a few), but it ends up being an exact duplicate in presumably any other language. The course also includes quite some English idioms that might not translate well to other languages, especially with the goal of learning the foreign language in mind.
But unnecessarily repeating the same sentence in the target language is the least of your problems. Every language has its own features; English in particular, unforunately, lacks many features common to other (European) languages. By using essentially an English course translated into another language, you miss out on things like formality, singular and plural you, and the French ‘si’, which means you’ll have to rely on other sources to get those back.
One more funny thing about my Polish package is units: the original English sentences were nice enough to come with dollars and euros / miles and kilmetres, but for some reason the translator decided to convert the currencies to Polish złoty, which kind of makes sense and kind of doesn’t – it surely makes it much harder when I’m required to ‘translate’ these English sentences into Polish.
Glossika is produced by a small team of translators and editors, and as a result, in my Polish course I’ve encountered quite a number of spelling errors, unmatching audio and text, etc. (There’s even one sentence that’s erroneously replaced by a duplicate of the previous one.) Besides, the IPA transcription is presumably auto-generated, and does not always match the audio, or worse, has quite some errors, such as in loan words like email (it tells me to pronounce it eh-ma-il). When I tried using Swedish as my source language, I found it using many outdated pronouns and pronunciations. I am not sure how it’s like in other languages, but just to be safe, stay critical when using the book, and when you think something isn’t right, google it.
As a sidenote, in languages like Slavic ones where genders matter a lot, the sentences’ grammar will be tailored to the voice reading them. That’s why I recommend having some fundamental grammatical knowledge so that you don’t end up speaking like the opposite gender.
As mentioned above, GSR is the other part included in the course that prearranges all sentences in a spaced-repetition format. I didn’t touch a single GSR file in Polish, but I went through almost half of the Russian course last summer just for fun, so I feel like I can write just a bit about it here.
The GSR method is the more advertised one, since it takes only 15-20 a day if you follow the default pace, with which you’ll finish the course in around 300 days. If it feels like too slow, you are free to go through 2, 3 or more files a day (I did something insane like 5) to drastically shorten the number of days needed. And since this is the ‘relaxed’ method / for busy people, to make the most out of your time, the primary goal is to get you to speak, i.e. get the words to flow out of your mouth, without any emphasis on literacy. As I said in the introduction, each file introduces 10 new sentences and reviews 40 old ones. How it does it is simply playing the English sentence (or whichever ‘source’ language you chose), then the target language, without any pause between them nor before the next pair. You are discouraged from pausing manually – just keep on going if you miss one, or repeat the entire file if necessary. This rapid-fire approach theoretically forces you to memorise and recall the entire sentences, again relating back to the ‘let the brain figure it out’ approach instead of letting you put sentences together using your grammatitcal knowledge. What I personally think is important is that you get a feel for which words go together and how, instead of learning and recalling rules.
When I think it doesn’t work is when the sentences are simply too long: some even consist of two or more compound sentences or paraphrasing. It’d be too hard to recall those in one go. Nevertheless, I’m sure with enough repetition (see the theme here?) they’ll get in just fine.
Another note: GSR does not require you to read the ebooks at all, even though it’s obviously better to go through them as well, either in one go before getting started or following along with the progress. When I did my Russian I even mix-and-matched it with GMS A files and did some dictation – as I said, it’s very flexible.
Should I buy Glossika?
The answer always depends on your needs, but to beginners and false beginners, the short answer is yes. Perhaps even for intermediate learners, but you’ll have to decide where in the course to start. For the price of US$100, you get a lot of materials to work with, all the way up to a reasonable level. In fact I started taking italki lessons around halfway through the 3rd level, and I was surprised at my ability to form sentences, even if a bit slow (GSR would’ve helped with speed). I’ll definitely use the method again for my next language, if it’s available by then.
One last advantage is that the purchasing options are just as flexible as the course itself: because they use the same 3000 sentences for every language, the available source-target language combinations are amazingly varied. There is even an options called triangulation, which allows you to basically pick any pair (or, with a higher price, up to 4 target languages) out of 40+ languages in their catalogue, with more to come. You can also get a fancy paperback with free shipping for an extra $20, though I reckon the ebook suffices.
You can also get an audio-package (mostly for GSR) to save $60, but I do not recommend it. Update: audio-only packages are no longer available. Get your course now!
- If you want the materials to get firmly rooted in your mind, go for either GSR, or GMS supplemented by other methods like spaced repetition or goldlisting.
- They occasionally run sales at 20~30% off, such as for Black Friday and New Year, but if you want to start now, I recommend you not hold off.
- Be patient. 3000 sounds very daunting, and indeed it’s quite a long journey. Just be sure to build a routine and make it a habit.
- Always combine with ‘output’ practice, around halfway through (or as soon as possible). But more on that in another post.
P.S.: some links in the article are affiliate links, which means I get a little reward for your purchase – just to fund my learning and maintenance of this blog!