About this project
This Could Be One Of The Best Language-Learning Apps We've Ever Seen - BusinessInsider.com
Ever wanted to learn a language? This is the easiest way to start.
[Holy crap we funded in only 2 days, 6 hours! Scroll down for our sweet stretch goals!]
Language learning is a memory game, and the first obstacle to playing is pronunciation. If you can't pronounce a word, you're going to have a hard time remembering it.
Up until now, there haven't been any simple, straightforward ways to learn the pronunciation of a language. Standard advice involves "listening to recordings" or "patience," but neither of these tracks reliably produce results.
Fortunately, recent research has demonstrated a new, simple way to train our ears to hear new sounds. If you're trying to learn to hear the difference between two similar sounding words (say, biete and bete in German), you need to:
- Hear one of those words at random
- Guess which one you heard
- Get immediate feedback as to whether you were right
By proceeding through these three steps, you effectively rewire your brain to hear new sounds:
Unfortunately, no one has yet turned this research into a practical tool. But with your help, we can make it happen.
[Make that: With your help, we're GOING to make this happen. Thank you! Now it's time for stretch goals:]
Stretch Goal #1 – $15,000 – Speed up app production via outsourcing [ACCOMPLISHED!]
Designing these apps will take a lot of man hours.
For all 11 languages, I need to find pairs of words that compare and contrast every problematic sound (Some examples from French: homme/âme, vos/vous, notre/nôtre, sous/su/Sue [French-French-English], née/neigh [French-English]). I've finished lists for French and German, and generally, it looks like I need to find around 200-300 of these word pairs. This task has to be painstakingly done by hand, and for the languages I don't speak, it needs to be done with the help of a native speaker. This is the most important part of each app – it's the part that actually trains your ears – and there's no simple way I can speed it up by outsourcing.
However, there's a bunch more work to be done, and if we raise enough funds, I can hire someone else to help me do it. This will get you your apps faster. Some good candidates for outsourcing: finding simple example words for each spelling, getting phonetic transcriptions (fə'nɛtɪk træn'skrɪpʃənz) of every word, finding stock images for example words, audio editing and data entry into Anki. Every hour someone else spends on these tasks is another hour I can spend mucking around in the phonetic system of each language.
So that's Stretch Goal #1. Let's see if we can speed this process up a bit.
Stretch Goal #2 – $20,000 – A pronunciation video series for every language [ACCOMPLISHED!!]
With the help of these apps, you'll be able to train your ears to hear the new sounds of your target language. This will give you all those fancy memory benefits I talked about in the Kickstarter video. Still, just because you can recognize a new sound doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be able to produce it flawlessly. Your newly trained ears will certainly help – in fact,they're necessary to give you a fighting chance at a good accent – but occasionally your tongue just isn't going to cooperate. This is where you can benefit from extra information about what to do with your lips, tongue and throat.
I've already made a basic pronunciation primer – it's become a fairly popular series on YouTube – but I haven't yet made videos explaining the pronunciation challenges you'll find in each language, and that's something that would make every pronunciation trainer substantially more effective. Basically, you'll start the whole process by watching a little video, then you'll play around with the app for a few days, watch another video that covers the next few sounds, play around with the app, and so on.
These will take time to produce, naturally, but if we reach this level of funding, I can outsource video editing and focus on content, which shouldn't take me that long at all, and the improved effectiveness of the app will be more than worth the effort.
Stretch Goal #3 – $25,000 – The Most Awesome Word List You Have Ever Seen [ACCOMPLISHED!!!]
Stretch Goal #4 – $45,000 – Commissioning Illustrations for the 90 Groups in the Word List. [Achieved!!!!]
I'm going to commission original illustrations for each of the 90 thematic groups in the word lists. This will make them significantly more effective. The word lists help you learn faster because each group of words forms a mental picture, a picture that can be fairly vivid in a group like winter - 2nd - February - to walk - cold - north - town - rain - wet - gray. Generally, our memory for images is excellent, and we can use this kind of mental imagery to form associations between the new words we're learning.
With actual illustrations, these associations will be substantially stronger, which will speed up your learning. It'll also make the word lists a real pleasure to use. With every new page, you'll find new artistic interpretations of the next word groups.
Who's going to draw this stuff? I've spent all weekend writing emails to web comic authors and assorted artists online, and so far, I've gotten responses from a bunch of amazing people. I get illustrations from all of them. I'm still in early negotiations, but here's a tentative list of the artists, with links to their work:
- Sandra Salsbury – known on Reddit as illustratingreddit – will be the primary illustrator on the project. Then we have some guest spots:
- Zach Weiner, creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.
- Michelle Czajkowski, creator of Ava's Demon.
- Christopher Hastings, creator of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.
- Katie Tiedrich, creator of Awkward Zombie
- Chris Jones, the artist of Captain Excelsior and Snowflakes
- Andrea Tsurumi, artist of a wide array of awesome comics and books
- Jess Fink, creator of Chester 5000 XYV.
The list may grow and change, so I'll keep it updated as I continue chatting with artists. It's an amazing crew.
Stretch Goal #5 – $60,000 – Bonuses for everyone! [Achieved!!!!!]
We're in the home stretch, and we're careening towards upwards of $60k. So I'm just going to throw in a bunch of wish-list projects and bonuses for you wonderful folks. If we hit $60k, here's what happens:
- The pronunciation trainers currently have 200 example words with pictures and recordings. I was going to take a bunch of those words from the Most Awesome List, but if our list is going to be illustrated and wonderful, I'd rather that you have the pleasure of using it all the way through, without skipping over a bunch of words that you already learned while dealing with pronunciation. So I'm going to make an extra list of 200 words for the pronunciation trainers that don't overlap with the 625 list. I'll make sure they're mostly practical words to learn, though I may slip in an Aardvark or two if I need an example of a particularly weird spelling.
Bonus Word Lists for backers at the $60+ level!
If you're backing at the $60 level, you'll get 2 Most Awesome Word Lists. At $90, you'll get 3 Most Awesome Lists, and at $600 or higher, you'll get word lists in all 4 of your languages.
- I'm commissioning recordings for all 625 words in the Most Awesome Lists. You'll get a big stack of mp3s that you can use in Anki, and you won't need to look them up at Forvo.com.
- I'm splitting "Spanish" into "Spanish (Latin America)" and "Spanish (Spain)." Because duh.
- I'm adding a 13th language, based upon whatever you all decide. I've heard requests for Cantonese, Dutch, Swedish, Icelandic, Danish, Paraguayan, and Yoruba so far. I'm sure there are others you'd like to see. So I'm going to ask all of you what language you'd like to see added, and I'll add it to the list. We can talk about how best to do the voting in the comments. I'll also add a Most Awesome Word List and pronunciation video series in that language.
- I'm adding a "General English" trainer, for folks who want to improve their accent in English, but don't speak one of the 11-13 languages we end up doing. It won't be quite as effective – you're missing out on all the cool bilingual comparisons like "sous" (French) vs "sue" (English) vs "su" (French) – but it will help a much wider range of folks, so I'm doing it anyways. I'll offer it in two versions: General American English and Received Pronunciation
Stretch Goal #6 – $80,000 – An Exclusive Webinar for Backers [Achieved!!!!!!]
If we hit $80k, I'm going to offer an exclusive live webinar for all backers at the $30 level and above. It'll be around 2.5 hours. I'll teach you everything you need to know about the theory and science of memory as it applies to language learning. We'll have around 45 minutes of Q&A. And I'll show you some of my favorite tricks for making vocabulary stick, internalizing grammar, and generally reaching your fluency goals as efficiently as possible. We'll hold it in March, and for those of you who you can't attend live, we'll record the video feed, so that you can watch it at your leisure. This is basically a modified version of the first two hours of my 2-day workshops, and you're all going to get access for free if we can reach this last funding goal.
Here's what you'll get for pledging $30:
[NEW STRETCH GOAL ADDITIONS: The Most Awesome Word List You Have Ever Seen with MP3 recordings, Pronunciation Videos]
A quick-start guide to learning any language: In this PDF primer, I'll show you my favorite tools for language learning and how they fit into a plan that can take you from zero to fluent in any language. This is an updated and greatly expanded version of an article of mine that became one of Lifehacker.com's most popular articles of 2012, I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here's How.
A Fluent-Forever Pronunciation Trainer: These trainers are a series of digital flashcards with pictures and professionally recorded sound clips. They're designed to train your ears, connect what you hear to the spelling system of of your target language, and teach you 200 example words in a multimedia, immersive environment.
I'm building these flashcards in Anki, one of the best, free (and open-source) flashcard applications on the market, which runs on iPhone and Android smartphones, as well as on Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.
I'm planning to start with 11 language pairs: English <--> Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Then I'll expand to other languages as time, funding and interest permit!
Fluent Forever, the book: A comprehensive guide to learning any language. You'll get a copy as soon as it comes out in August. (Check out the early reviews on Amazon!)
Early book excerpts: My publisher is letting me offer my Kickstarter backers exclusive, early excerpts from my book, so you won't have to wait until August to start reading!
[New!] The Most Awesome Word List You Have Ever Seen in your language of choice: This is a list of 625 words arranged in 90 groups. These words will be substantially easier to memorize than a typical word list, because of the way it's organized, and because of the types of words chosen. It's the perfect way to continue your studies after you've learned pronunciation. You can get all the details over here. Since we've succeeded at Stretch Goal #5, these word lists will also come with mp3 recordings of every single word.
[New!] Pronunciation videos: The trainers are designed to improve your ability to hear a language's sounds. This is an essential first step, and will give you a huge boost to your ability to memorize words and pronounce them correctly. Still, if you want to sport a really great accent, you could use a bit more information about where to point your tongue and what to do with your lips when you're saying some strange new word. That's where videos come in. I'll produce detailed pronunciation videos for every language in the set, and release them for free on Youtube. You'll use them in conjunction with your newly trained ears to refine your accent, right from the start.
[New!] Exclusive Webinar Access: Over the course of 2.5 hours, I'll teach you everything you need to know about the theory and science of memory as it applies to language learning. We'll have around 45 minutes of Q&A. And I'll show you some of my favorite tricks for making vocabulary stick, internalizing grammar, and generally reaching your fluency goals as efficiently as possible. We'll hold it in March, and for those of you who you can't attend live, we'll record the video feed and give you a download link, so that you can watch it at your leisure. This is basically a modified version of the first two hours of my 2-day workshops, and you're going to get access for free.
And here's a summary of the other backer levels (key bits in italics):
$90: The Quick-Start Guide, Pronunciation Trainers in 4 languages, Most Awesome Word Lists in 3 languages, 2 signed copies of Fluent Forever (in paperback, if you want signatures), early book excerpts, pronunciation videos, exclusive webinar access:
$600: The Quick-Start Guide, Pronunciation Trainers in 4 languages, Most Awesome Word Lists in 4 languages, 2 signed copies of Fluent Forever (in paperback, if you want signatures), early book excerpts, pronunciation videos, exclusive webinar access, 4 hours of private Skype language coaching, your name in the Acknowledgements of my book:
$2100: The Quick-Start Guide, Pronunciation Trainers in 4 languages, 2 signed copies of Fluent Forever (in paperback, if you want signatures), early book excerpts, pronunciation videos, exclusive webinar access, 4 hours of private Skype language coaching, your name in the Acknowledgements of my book, a pronunciation trainer in a *new* language of your choice:
$3600: The Quick-Start Guide, Pronunciation Trainers in 4 languages, 2 signed copies of Fluent Forever (in paperback, if you want signatures), early book excerpts, pronunciation videos, exclusive webinar access, 4 hours of private Skype language coaching, your name in the Acknowledgements of my book, a private 2-day workshop for 1-15 people in your home town, complete with pronunciation trainers and books for all participants.
Frequently Asked Questions:
In what format will I receive the book? Fluent Forever is coming out on August 5, 2014. If you back this project at the $30 level, you'll get it in eBook format (Kindle or Nook). On the release date, you'll get an email with a redemption code and instructions on how to immediately download your copy to your favorite e-reader. If you back the project at the $60 level or higher, you can choose to get an eBook (Kindle/Nook, delivered on August 5) or a Trade Paperback (shipped on August 5).
What if I want a trade paperback copy of Fluent Forever but I only need a pronunciation trainer in one language? If you fall into this category, you have two options:
• Option 1: You can throw down an extra $30 for THE POLYGLOT PACK, which comes with a paperback book and pronunciation trainers in 4 languages, and share your extra 3 pronunciation trainers with friends.
• Option 2: If you'd like to save some money, do this: Back the project for $20 and on your own, preorder the paperback book on Amazon. Once the Kickstarter is over, send me a copy of your Amazon order confirmation and I'll send you back a pronunciation trainer in your language of choice, the quick start guide to learning any language, and the early excerpts of Fluent Forever.
You said you're developing these trainers in Anki. Is Anki free?
Anki is free in all circumstances except one: if you want to study these flashcards on an iPhone AND you want to be able to do it without an internet connection, then you'll need to buy the AnkiMobile app off of the iTunes store (link). I think it's a great app, but it's not necessary to use these pronunciation trainers; the free options are all excellent as well: Anki has a wonderful web app called AnkiWeb that runs on anything with a web browser. And for those of you that prefer to study offline, you can use Anki's desktop application and/or Android app at no cost whatsoever.
Risks and challenges
Is this an app? A plugin? Are you qualified to program this?
- This project is being built inside of the flashcard platform Anki, so most of the programming legwork is already done. Anki's creator, Damien Elmes, has explicitly stated that anyone can create and sell premium content for Anki, in much the same way that Wordpress has allowed programmers to create and sell premium plugins for that platform. I have a lot of experience creating premium Anki decks, having created, sold, and distributed Anki decks to more than 600 happy customers on my website, www.towerofbabelfish.com. I'm choosing to build these in Anki in order to cut down on programming costs, get these trainers out to people faster, and produce a better product. Anki is already a wonderful platform; why try to re-program something that works well and runs on every operating system already?
- Every language comes in a variety of dialects, and accents can even vary from person to person within small geographic regions. One of the challenges in this project is to choose voice actors that do a good job of representing a "standard" accent, even where there's no official standard accent (Italian, for instance, has a wide variety of accents. Will these trainers teach you a Southern Italian accent? Central Italian?). I'm going to do a great deal of research to determine which accents are most comprehensible to the widest group of people. For Italian, I'll be aiming for a Florentine accent. For French, Parisian. I have extensive accent training (I'm an opera singer) and I'll be auditioning each voice actor until I find a good fit for each language. I'll also be using multiple voice actors per language, which should help train your ears to recognize general characteristics in each language, rather than the peculiarities of a single voice actor.
Who are these voice actors, and where will you find them?
- I'm looking for bilinguals with pristine accents in both English and another language. They can be tricky to find (even someone raised in France to American parents can have a slight accent in one of their languages), but they do exist. I've had great luck finding candidates on Craigslist, of all places! I put up ads for bilinguals and got them to send me short speaking samples. Even after a short, 2 week test period, I already found great candidates for at least half of the languages, so I'm confident I can get the voice actors I need to make quality recordings for all 11 languages (and I'll be spending time in Los Angeles, New York, and Vienna over the next 8 months, so I have access to a *huge* number of people).
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