Regular readers know I’m an “evangelist” for the Supermemo software program. I’ve been using it almost 2 years now for language learning, in anticipation of much international travel in the upcoming months and years. One of these days I’ll post a video of how I personally use it.
In the meantime, maybe this video on the new Supermemo iPhone app will interest you. If you’re not familiar with Supermemo, I recommend reading the other articles I’ve posted on the blog. There’s a link in the right sidebar to my Supermemo articles, but the post I’d recommend reading first is this one, which has a link to the WIRED Magazine article that first got me intrigued.
I’ve written about this software a time or two before, and even have a link there in that right sidebar to the site where you can download it (and eventually purchase, if you are half as pleased with it as I am).
I’ve now been using it for more than a year pretty much every day–it’s the first thing I do after my morning cup of coffee with the newspaper.
It is software employing a “spaced repetition” system for learning, which I have been using to work on language skills in anticipation of upcoming travel (once I can afford to go out my front door again).
As we all know, language learning can be tedious.Â Learning grammar rules is the most boring and tedious element of the process (and almost certainly unnecessary at the beginning).Â “Drilling” on vocabulary is the next most boring element.Â Well, SUPERMEMO makes “drilling” actually fun.Â I can sit sometimes for a solid hour and a half with this program, doing foreign vocabulary drills without getting bored.
Studies show that you pick up the vocabulary several times faster using this “spaced repetition” process.Â The way the software works is that when I’m drilling, I rate myself on how well I know the particular word that comes along–and based on that rating the software optimizes how long it will be before the word shows up again.
Results have been amazing:Â I’ve learned (with 80-90% accuracy) about 3000 new Spanish words in the last year, about 1500 Japanese Kanji (those Chinese hieroglyphic-looking characters), and several hundred vocabulary words for each of the following languages:Â Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, German, Italian, and French (and a thousand or so new English vocabulary words).
SUPERMEMO is used by a lot of medical students (my son in med school uses it) to memorize the terms that they need.
As far as I’m concerned, this is my software “find” of the last several years.
I first read about this software in a recent WIRED Magazine (best magazine in the world) article which you really, really, really should read right here.
It’s about a Polish guy that invented this drilling/memorization (flashcard-like) software that presents word lists to you scientifically optimized to hit you with a review of the material spaced depending on how “strongly” you’ve indicated your current memory for each word is. Having worked with it about a month now, it does seem uncanny in how it “hits me again” just as my memory is starting to fade. HIGHLY recommended (the software is at www.supermemo.com–free demo there)! Lots of languages to download free or cheap and you can input your own lists pretty easily. (I listen to the Pimsleur conversations and then input the actual words from a written source I have found on the Internet. By coming at it from several directions, I seem to be learning much more efficiently).
While mostly useful for memorization-type drills as in foreign language learning, there are also database questions suitable for various scientific studies: medical school, etc., where memorization skills are still an important key to success. Not so much law school, I wouldn’t think.
Anyway, I’ve been using it to brush up on my Spanish and have been making huge strides. Flashcards are boring–this is much more fun and kind of like playing JEOPARDY…
Encouraged, I plan on using it (along with the Pimsleur materials) to work on Japanese this summer–since I may be headed there for a couple of weeks in September.
I haven’t posted for quite some time about one of my major new hobbies (I’ve been devoting about 3 hours per day to this for the last three years)–language learning. I do have a link over in the right sidebar to a much-visited-by-me site called “Learning Languages” (referenced in the article below) and to the Supermemo site (the software I use so much for vocabulary drilling). I have picked up a tiny smattering of Russian (completed the 3 Pimsleur courses), can stumble through a conversation in Spanish, am still working on Japanese (again, I’ve completed all Pimsleur courses–90 lessons–for both Spanish and Japanese), and recently started working on Italian (much easier after learning Spanish).
My methodology has been to listen to the Pimsleur courses, chop up the phrases I don’t know into small MP3’s, and import them into Supermemo for drill. It seems to be working.
So I was pleased to see the topic discussed today at the FREAKONOMICS site:
A few years after I learned German, I got the chance to learn French. That experience gave me lots of ideas for why our teaching of many subjects, especially science and mathematics, is so unsuccessfulâ€”and for how we can improve our learning.
I studied French in school for five years. However, when I went to France after college, I could barely buy a train ticket. The impetus to try again came a few years later, in the summer of 1993. Our whole family was going to spend two months in Lyon while my father took a sabbatical. The rest of us enrolled in a four-week language course at the Alliance FranÃ§aise.
While still in America, to get more benefit from the language course, I started relearning French. On the recommendation of a friend who is a linguist and mathematician, I got the self-study French course made by Assimil entitled Le Nouveau FranÃ§ais sans Peine (New French With Ease). (Many other self-study courses should also work well. I have not tried them, so I do not have the knowledge to draw out lessons for learning other subjects, which is my main interest here. But to learn about language programs, I recommend the excellent â€œHow to learn any languageâ€ site.) [Rest of article]
One of the things I’ve been spending a lot of time on since retiring is language-learning, in anticipation of doing a lot of traveling (once the market goes back up!) Also, language-learning supposedly helps keep one’s aging brain from failing before it should.
Thanks to SuperMemo I’ve made some good strides in several languages, and a couple of months ago I started (slowly) working on ASL (American Sign Language) just for fun. In the course of looking around on the Internet for materials to import into SuperMemo, I came across a number of sites–and found a number of books–discussing the teaching of sign language to non-deaf babies to allow them to communicate earlier. I’m sold! I wished I’d know about this kind of thing when my own kids were young. I think it’s a great idea.
Anyway, here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
I’m on this language-learning kick in anticipation of doing some significant travelling in the upcoming years. I’ve been picking up language books, flashcards, and other learning tools (I wrote earlier of the software SuperMemo that I’m finding extremely helpful), and it has occured to me that eventually it would be nice to be able to watch some foreign tv stations to hear the language spoken natively and in some kind of context. (No problem with Spanish, of course, as every major city has several Spanish language stations).
I came across the WWITV site which has links to hundreds of stations around the world that are streaming their video signal over the Internet. Poor quality, to be sure, but–hey, you can spend all day watching the natives speak and pronounce those words that are otherwise just flashcards to you…
(You will need a triple digit IQ to be up and running. First, you’ll have to figure out which of the many stations listed actually stream–there will be a bandwith number in a box that indicates this–as opposed to a box just listing the word “website”. Clicking on that box will launch a popup or two (always scary), but one of which will allow you to click OK to a download which should open up Windows Media Player or RealPlayer for you. Experiment. (Mac folks, you’re on your own…)
One of my big post-retirement things I’ve been working on is learning new languages–and then it occurred to me (after taking a vocabulary test a few weeks ago), that there might be something to be said for working on my command of the English language, too! Armed with my trusty and invaluable software tool SuperMemo, I have been able to find some good word lists on the Internet that are easy to input into SuperMemo. On to sesquipedalianism!
Not motivated yet? Watch this swell movie–and read more, people: