Wondering what Glossika is all about or whether it could work for you? Here's a deep dive into our product and methodology.
This guide will cover (click a link to jump to that section):
- Glossika, in a nutshell
- Who Glossika is (and isn't) for
- What a Glossika training session looks like
- The theory (and algorithms) behind Glossika
- How we put our courses together
- Speak Better, Learn Faster: Try Glossika for free
Glossika, in a nutshell
A big part of learning is doing, and learning a language is no different. Having said that, there's a difference between knowledge and performance. Students around the world complain that they know a lot about their target language — the grammar rules, the names of verb tenses, and so forth — but that they still can't really use it. The gap in difficulty between an introductory app/course/textbook and the things people really want to do with a language is just too big.
Glossika specializes in bridging this gap.
We'll guide you through several thousand sentences that gradually get more difficult, but never too difficult. Instead of memorizing conjugation tables, you'll spend about half of your time training your ears (all of our sentences come with audio recordings from native speakers) and about half of your time training your mouth (speaking). We structure our courses like this because we believe that repetition gives birth to confidence and that our brains can figure a surprising amount of stuff out by themselves, given enough exposure.
By the time you finish one of Glossika's courses, you'll be ready to begin reading books, watching television shows, having conversations, or whatever it is you really want to do in your target language. Those things still won't feel effortless — it takes a lot of time doing those things before they become effortless — but they will have become doable.
To get you there, all we have to ask of you is consistency. We've spent a lot of time curating our sentences, and our algorithms will do all of the planning for you, so all you have to do is log into Glossika each day, click learn or review, and then work through whatever the system has prepared for you.
Who Glossika is (and isn't) for
Glossika works great for:
- People learning a language that is similar to their native language
- People who already speak a few languages
- People who have already learned the basics of the language they want to learn, but aren't yet proficient enough to use the language in a real-life situation
- Very independent learners who don't mind stopping to analyze/study sentences on their own
Glossika works for these people because it's a very "concentrated" resource, whereas beginner textbooks are quite "watered down" in that they require a lot of pages to introduce comparatively little information.
Sentences on Glossika are grouped according to difficulty across 12 levels, and then according to structure within each of those levels — negative sentences are here, sentences with directions there, sentences with amounts or quantities way over there. We offer a very efficient and systematic way to expose yourself to the grammatical structures of a new language.
Glossika isn't (yet) so great for:
- People learning a language that is very distant from the language(s) they already know (see "why Glossika works better for some languages than others" below)
- People who can't stand repetitiveness (we don't do bells, whistles, or gamification; our goal is to bring you up to speed in another language as efficiently as possible)
- Total beginners (we don't teach grammar; there are high-quality resources available for most languages, and that's not a wheel we see a need to reinvent)
If you're totally new to language learning, then Glossika probably isn't for you. Yet.
For the time being, find a way to get through the basics. You might work through another mobile app, take an introductory course, work with a tutor, or even skim through a textbook. You don't need to memorize all of the little details, though — so long as you understand how a grammar point works, that's enough for now. You'll see thousands of examples in the future. With time and exposure, a lot of those little grammatical details will work themselves out. (Not all of them will, but you can go back and focus on specifically those things later on. Work smarter, not harder.)
At some point, you're going to feel like you've hit a wall. Your app is taking up a lot of time, but you're not really improving anymore. You're memorizing tons of rules and exceptions, but you don't feel like you're getting any closer to having a conversation or reading a book in your target language. That's when you should give Glossika a try.
With the basics under your belt, you're ready to take advantage of what we offer. We'll teach you several thousand words and dozens of sentence structures. In a similar fashion to training at the gym, your language muscles will grow. Before long, you'll be strong enough to do more interesting things in your target language.
Why Glossika works better for some languages than others
We make a pretty big assumption about language learning: If we find your level, and then proceed to feed you sentences that (a) you can understand and (b) gradually get more difficult, you can acquire quite a bit of a language without having to try that hard. Again: given enough exposure, a surprising amount of your target language will stick — all by itself.
The thing is, this process goes much more smoothly if you can figure out how a given sentence is working upon seeing it. To give a very simplified explanation of why that is, consider the following:
The English and Spanish sentences line up quite nicely, whereas the Japanese and English sentences are basically mirror images of each other. In other words, the similarities between English and Spanish mean that you don't actually start from zero with Spanish, even if you've never studied it before. The languages have a lot of shared infrastructure that you can lean on. Japanese is much less accessible.
- If you can follow what's going on in a sentence, your brain will pick up on its patterns without conscious effort
- It's easier to make sense of sentences in languages that are more similar to your own
What a Glossika training session looks like
Here's a three-minute overview of what training on Glossika looks like:
First, you'll decide if you want to learn new items or review old items:
- Learn New Items: You'll be presented with five new level-appropriate sentences and will be asked to practice each one five times, for a total of 25 reps
- Review Old Items: Glossika will ask you to review the items you've learned—depending on how many items are in your review queue and which review mode you've selected, your session might be shorter or longer
We give you quite a bit of control over this process:
- Placement Test: We determine an appropriate level for you — if you disagree, you can manually change it later
- Learning Modes: You can choose to have a more intense/active learning session or a hands-free learning session
- Session Settings: You can tweak the speed at which our recordings play, add more or less of a gap between recordings, remove the text of your base language, and all sorts of stuff
The theory (and algorithms) behind Glossika
Our mission with Glossika is to figure out how we can help people break through to fluency as efficiently as possible. In particular, we've spent a lot of time thinking about four things:
- What goes wrong with "traditional" approaches to language learning?
- How do people actually make progress in a language?
- How do you know what to learn next?
- When, and how often, should you review old content?
Glossika's major advantage over the classroom
Traditionally, a tutor, teacher or professor would assess the progress of their class and consider the above questions while planning their lessons. They require years of training/experience to do so effectively, and even the best teachers face an important problem: each class is different. Each student is different. Their base levels of knowledge differ, their levels of motivation differ, their goals differ, and what's going on in their lives differ. Teachers must constantly consider the needs of their class as a whole and then try to offer the best for the most.
There are a number of other problems that come with classroom-style education:
- Your personal progress is tied to the speed at which the class progresses (which is bad for those who wish to progress faster and those who wish to progress slower)
- Students may develop anxiety over making mistakes / spend time studying to the test instead of generally exploring the world in their language
- High student:teacher ratios means that students get very little time to actually practice their language in a given class period
- You'll be hearing a lot of other learners speaking the language — instead of getting natural input, you're taking in incorrect accents and grammar mistakes
Whereas teachers must offer the best for everyone, we can offer the best for you. Each of our courses gets tailored to the interests, commitment, and performance of each individual user.
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How do people actually make progress in a language?
Many people find themselves in an awkward situation: they know a bit of a language (maybe they've taken a course or worked through a basic educational app), but they don't know enough of the language to do the things they really want to do. How do you get from here to there?
Well, there are many ways to learn a language. Glossika is a way, but not the way. If you were to ask a a bunch of bilingual people what steps they took on the road to fluency, you'd probably get a bunch of different answers. In fact, that question is the topic of one of the most popular TedTalks.
That should make sense, if you think about it. There are just so many factors to consider:
- Did they have family members who spoke the language? Their partner or spouse?
- Do they live in a country where their target language is spoken?
- Did they study formally in a classroom, or all on their own?
- Do they use their target language primarily for work? For personal reasons?
- As a hobby, did/do they regularly consume a lot of content in the language?
- Are they extroverted or introverted?
- Are they an independent learner, or do they prefer following a guide?
- Was this something they wanted to do, or something they had to do?
- Could they afford tutoring services, travel, and so forth?
Simply put, the same combination of things won't (can't) work for everybody.
To give just one example of what we mean by that, here's a few of seminal case studies on the "total immersion" approach to language acquisition, which basically refers to living in another country: Ioup, G., Boustagoui, E., Tigi, M., & Moselle, M. (1994); Schmidt, R. (1983); Schumann, J. (1976). We encourage you to skim through them. In overly simplistic terms, Julie made excellent progress while living in a country where her target language was spoken, but Wes and Alberto did not. Apparently, learning a language isn't as simple as just moving to another country — or, indeed, doing any one thing. You'll need to employ a mix of tools and approaches that push you in the direction you want to go, wherever that is. It's kind of like Swiss cheese: Each individual slice has holes, but if you stack enough slices on top of each other, you end up covering all the holes.
Having said that, we think it's safe to say two things:
- People who have successfully acquired a language spent a lot of time actually using that language — reading books, talking to people, ordering coffee, sending work emails, and so forth
- In order to "use" a language, a certain skill floor is required — a beginner can't just sit down and have a conversation or watch a standup comedy skit on YouTube
Glossika excels at getting people over this "skill floor" hurdle.
We believe that if you are given enough comprehensible input — stuff that is a little challenging, but still doable — you will inevitably make progress. Because language is vast, we reduce it to a series of individual sentences. Even if you know nothing about a language, when you're dealing with just a single sentence, there is an end in sight. Fluency is illusive, but individual sentences are tangible. Concrete. Eventually, you reach a point where you can move beyond isolated sentences and begin consuming a language in mass — just as you did with your native language.
Our goal is to enable you to do that. Nothing more, nothing less. (Though we do have plans in the works!) You'll come to Glossika, develop your language foundation, then graduate into the real world — content aimed at native speakers. From there, by doing a lot of the things you find enjoyable and meaningful, you'll work torwards fluency — whatever that means to you.
(Further reading: How many words do you need to know to speak another language?)
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How do you know what to learn next?
A problem inherent to learning anything is that there are many things we don't know that we don't know. A good teacher understands roughly where you're at, the hurdles you'll need to get over in order to move to the next level, and how you can get over those hurdles given your current ability. In a sense, teachers are guides. By pointing out the way, a good teacher makes learning easier; by helping you avoid mistakes, they make learning less frustrating.
To do that, a teacher must understand a concept called zones of proximal development:
- Some things we are capable of figuring out on our own
- Some things we could figure out with the help of a teacher
- Some things we can't figure out right now, even with the help of a teacher
In other words, there's a sweet spot when it comes to learning. There exists a "desirable" difficulty, so to speak — a difficulty level that is challenging, but doable, and rewarding. Where exactly this threshold is located will change as you improve, but, ideally, every "next" step you take will be close to this threshold.
Experienced teachers have a honed sense of intuition that enables them to estimate a given student's level in addition to a broad subject knowledge that enables them to identify the logical next steps a particular student should take.
Glossika has curated a database of thousands of sentences that gradually get more complex. (We'll talk about how we went about doing this in the next section, entitled how we put our courses together.) As you train on Glossika, you're also training our algorithms: we learn what you know well, and also what you don't. Wherever you're at, there's an ideal next sentence: one that contains something new — something you can learn — but that's nevertheless familiar enough so as to be easily understandable.
This is what we've built Glossika to do.
Whatever your level, Glossika will serve you up comprehensible sentence after comprehensible sentence, each one in your personal sweet spot of "desirable" difficulty. As you work through thousands of these sentences, you will improve in your target language. Eventually you'll be ready to move beyond isolated sentences and begin exploring the world in your target language.
Glossika is a form of training — it takes effort, we must admit — but we think that visible progress is more motivating than any sort of gamification.
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When, and how often, should you review old content?
Forgetting is a natural part of learning — you will forget things no matter how smart you are, how seriously you're taking your learning, how hard you're focusing during training sessions, or how motivated you are. Indeed, we begin forgetting almost immediately after we first learn something.
Furthermore, unless we review, we will forget virtually everything we've learned. (Thankfully, as we review more, expand our knowledge, and generally experience life in the language, our memories become more firmly entrenched.)
In the classroom, teachers rely on expertise (what they find students generally struggle with) and feedback (homework, tests, in-class acivities, etc) to determine when content should be reviewed. While well-informed, this approach to review can never be optimal: different students struggle with different things. Teachers must make economical use of class time, focusing on the things that will bring the most benefit to the most students.
Glossika, again, does not have that limitation.
We have a whole article about how review on Glossika works, but there a few key things you should know:
- We make estimates of how well you know something based on your individual performance over time
- We make estimates about how much your memory of a particular item has decayed based on factors like when you first and last saw that item
- We adjust the difficulty weighting of sentences for each language pair based on global performance — stuff that English speakers learning Spanish tend to get correct on Glossika will have an easier default learning curve, stuff that they tend to get wrong will have a harder default learning curve, and those weightings won't be the same for (say) French speakers learning Spanish or English speakers learning Ukrainian
We use this information to automatically schedule everything you learn for future review, at a point in time just before you're about to forget it.
This practice is called spaced repetition, and our algorithms excel at it.
(Note: We offer 5 different review modes. Some are algorithm supported, some are manual. This means that you can also cram or do spot reviews of specific content, if you feel the need to do so.)
How Glossika courses are put together
Lists of words and sentences aren't difficult to find on the internet. With just a few clicks around Google you can find such lists for virtually any language. Many people have put their own lists together and made them publicly available. There are even other tools that bring the power of spaced repetition to these word lists and flash cards. Our massive-sentence approach is nothing revolutionary.
Glossika isn't unique, but we are in a league of our own.
What separates us from similar programs is the rigor that goes into the creation and curation of our database.
Every single sentence that you'll encounter on Glossika has gone through a three-stage process:
- Pre-processing (trimming and tagging)
- Translation & recording by a native speaker
- Post-processing (transcription and sorting)
English sentences are sourced and then filtered: as many as 50% get deleted. The vast majority of remaining sentences get tweaked so that they're a little clearer; a little more interesting. These sentences come from a wide variety of contexts. If something is lacking, we will write our own. We want to prepare you for everything.
After a batch of sentences has been polished, each one goes through three tagging processes, each of which is done or reviewed by hand:
- Level tagging: Each word/phrase in a sentence is assigned a difficulty level (from 1–12), loosely based on the frequency with which that word appears in real-world contexts
- Semantic tagging: Each word/phrase in a sentence is assigned one of over 400 semantic tags — stuff like characteristic or social relation or French culture
- Syntactic tagging: Each word/phrase in a sentence is tagged with one of nearly 150 syntactic tags which specifcy the exact function that word is playing in a given sentence — stuff like agent or comitative case or semelfactive
Put together, these tags give our algorithms an "objective" way to measure how difficult a particular sentence is. We sort accordingly.
Translation and recording
In the past we worked with native speakers from around the world to translate our core sentences into other languages and get a voice recording of each one. To date, we've accumulated nearly 400,000 translated sentenced across 65 languages.
With Viva, we'll modernize that approach:
- Cash incentives will be offered to fund the creation of new Glossika courses
- Native speakers will help us source local sentences for each language
- Multiple voice recordings will be obtained for each of our sentences
As our database of sentences grow, we'll become able to further smooth out the learning curve and offer increasingly personalized paths through Glossika. Someone studying Japanese to do a robotics degree in Tokyo might take one route through Japanese, while somebody who just wants to watch anime would take another. These people have different needs for Japanese, and they'll find different words and sentences more immediately useful to their goals.
After all of that initial legwork is done, our sentences get sorted into one of twelve difficulty levels. Within each of those levels, every sentence gets placed into one of 14 sub-levels, which we call skills.
This sorting process helps you in two main ways:
- All of the sentences in a particular section of our course will be of similar difficulty, and they'll get harder as you go
- When you're working through a particular skill (say amounts and quantities), you'll see a bunch of sentences that have to do with that skill — even if the first sentence doesn't click, you'll have lots of opportunities to master a particular sentence structure before moving on
Before finally making it into Glossika, all of our sentences also get transcribed in two ways:
- Romanization: We provide a loose gloss of the sentence using the Latin alphabet (the one you're reading right now), which helps you get by until you master the script of your target language
- Phonetic transcription: We provide a tight IPA transcription that tells you exactly what sounds are being uttered in each recording, which those who wish to improve their accent will find especially useful
This is time (and effort) intensive, but we're really happy with the results. We're able to offer a high-quality, plug-and-playable route through any language.
Speak Better, Learn Faster: Try Glossika for free
If you're still not sure what to think, we encourage you to go ahead and try Glossika out. It's free for seven days, and signing up for the trial only requires your email. No credit card necessary.
For a more practical glimpse into how Glossika works:
- Step 0: Glossika's placement test: What it is, and how to take it
- Step 1: Setting up your first course on Glossika
- Step 2: Personalizing your Glossika experience
- Step 3: How the "Learn New" and "learn Review" buttons work
- Step 4: The most effective way to train on Glossika
- Step 5: A peek behind the scenes (and three more features)