612 Organic Language Learning

by Foster Douglas on September 3, 2016

I’ve been doing three different methods to prepare for my visit to Italy and my lack of proficiency in the Italian language.

Duolingo was my first choice. While this does a good job of dropping you directly into learning the language, it doesn’t give you a lot of context for the language as a whole. It can also feel a little bit mechanized, and lacks any colloquial phrases or regional information. It’s mostly a glorified vocabulary builder, parading as a full blown language learning tool.

Next, I tried (/trying) the Living Language series of books. These are pretty good, they come with CDs/audio that help a lot. It’s still very much a by-the-books (literally) way to learn a language, which requires a ton of disciple, and in many cases isn’t actually that much fun. I guess nobody said learning a language should be fun, but why can’t it be?! These are slow, require a lot of patience, attention, and discipline, and

Finally, I recently started Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. He’s known for writing the book Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. I haven’t read the book, though I may consider it if I find that I need to learn Italian (or Japanese?) in even more depth. So far, it’s a very intense but comprehensive approach to learning. He first teaches you the sounds of the language, and how to differentiate them from each other and from similar sounds in your native language. Then, it moves on to making sets of personalized flash cards using a well-known tool called Anki. All of this is extremely effective, if still a bit overly academic.

I want a tool that combines all of the good aspects of each of these:

  • An enjoyable progression system (Duolingo)
  • Encouraged repeating/reenforcement of past skills/words (Duolingo)
  • Hearing full sentences/conversations (Living Language)
  • Writing skills using repetition (Living Language)
  • Deep pronunciation focus (Fluent Forever)
  • Personalized/context learning (Fluent Forever)

[That last one is probably the most important, in my opinion (and my brothers’ who teaches English in Japan!).]

Obviously, it’s my inclination to want to bring aspects of gaming into this equation, too. One thing that I’ve found most useful is being immersed in the actual culture. It forces you to learn, and use, and fail with your skills. But, it’s not always possible to learn this way, and it can be scary, intimidating, or difficult to communicate with people like this.

My proposed solution would be a phone app that is extremely customized for a given language, and deeply designed to encourage this organic learning method. Maybe it listens as you explore your city, hearing various phrases that are used often and informing you of what they are. It would use your location data to know which part of a country you’re in and adjust aspects based on that. You could tag words and phrases that you find useful and it will teach you similar things, or other words and phrases that would come up in context of that.

Maybe it essentially has two modes… Exploration and Study. Exploration mode is used when you’re out and about, helping you to simultaneously interact and learn. It allows you to track important things, tag things you want to learn, and focus on community features and conversational aspects. Then, when you’re at home, you can use Study mode. This would use repetition, game design, audio, and other aspects to solidify what you learned that day.

It’s probably insanely ambitious to make all of this work together, but I think it’d be a great way to learn a new language in an organic way.

[ Today I Was Playing: nothing… ]

#educational-game, #language-game