18 March 2012

Words are like delicate plants, they need to be nurtured

Memrise screenshot

Here is a new website (new to me anyway) that I have been playing with for a couple of weeks. It is called Memrise and it makes vocabulary memorising into a game. You are presented with a garden for each language and invited to plant 5 seedlings (words) that you then have to water (practice) at intervals until they are ready to harvest. The program suggests mnemonics that are sometimes helpful in remembering new words. If you forget to water your seedlings you get an email reminder that they are wilting (shades of Tamigotchi). You can plant new seedlings in groups of 5 whenever you want, it depends how much time you want to spend on it. Above is a screenshot showing some seedlings ready to water.

You sign up for free and select what language/s you want to study. I chose Spanish, French and Hungarian (don’t ask). Here is my dashboard showing my current status.

Memrise dashboard

It is a type of spaced repetition drill but the graphics and the garden game make it fun and keep you coming back for more. Each time you water your plants you get points for correct answers and the total is added to your profile. It was encouraging for me to go from a ranking of 12,050 to 6,800 (in the world) in about half an hour.

The graphics are simple and quite engaging. When you click on a word you are supposed to hear it: this doesn’t always work. Sometimes the pages are slow to refresh. Apart from that no gripes, its free and it makes studying fun. Give it a try and tell me what you think of it …

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Bill Ferguson
Bill Ferguson

Spanish Teaching Resources

Getting good quality teaching and resources

The information I am going to share is an honest account of what I have tried over the past year and my opinions are just that, opinions. I will share my likes and dislikes, what works for me and what doesn't. This is a personal experience, I am not an expert but if you share my ambition of learning to communicate in a third, foreign language, then maybe we can help each other along the way.

According to Friedrich Nietzsche: "One who speaks a foreign language just a little takes more pleasure in it than one who speaks it well. Enjoyment belongs to those who know things halfway."

I think he is right. Its hard to define halfway but I think the fun starts when you know enough of a language to be able to make yourself understood, given sufficient time to think. At this stage you are not merely tolerated but treated as an honoured guest in a foreign country. People see you bravely struggling to speak and understand, and give you credit for trying. They are nearly always kind and supportive.

Go beyond this to fluency and its like a toddler growing up, you are no longer cute and vulnerable. You are competing for resources, in the adolescence of language acquisition unless you have a definite role you are treated with suspicion. Maybe that is the stage to consider moving on to another new language ...

Getting good quality teaching and resources is vital to success: encouraged by an influential book by Harry Ferber I now view language acquisition as a military campaign, I need to use my resources efficiently to overcome all resistance, I need to capture vocabulary and not let it escape. I need to wear down the opposition by attacking daily and not allowing it time to regroup. I need to learn the predictable tricks that the new language will play on me and be ready for them (this means learning grammar). Like any military campaign good quality intelligence is vital.

Learning a Third Language

My current ambition is to be able to communicate comfortably in English, French and Spanish. I began to study Spanish in 2008. I have been a student of French, on and off, for about 30 years and up to last year ....read more

Strategic Planning

When I started to think about taking on a third language I realised I had two main worries: firstly I didn't want to lose my second language ...read more

Fear of Losing French

As I see it there is a simple choice ....read more