Monday, April 03, 2006

An Idea for a Web Application to Learn a Language by Reading

Since I moved here I started to learn Norwegian more seriously, and I've been reading a lot of Norwegian lately. When I came across an online chapter of a book, in which footnotes are added to words, with a translation of these words in the margin, I got the following idea.

Wouldn't it be nice, if there was a web application that takes a text from, say, Project Gutenberg or Wikipedia, and then creates such a margin automatically? For this one needs to know for each word `how difficult it is', and a measure for this could be a list of words together with its frequency, how often the word appears. These lists exist. One could then also specify the difficulty, by setting a threshold parameter called `minimal frequency'. A next step would be to include sayings and the like, but this is of course much more difficult. I guess it is just a day of work.

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At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Wicher said...

Now THAT sounds like a really good idea! I have been studying on word frequencies a bit (automatic summarization of documents), but I guess the minimal frequency idea alone will not be sufficient. Word knowledge is heavily biased towards a reader's background. This will cause many redundant words to be present. Hmm, got to think about that. :)
Sayings can be borrowed from Google or any other freely available online source (if reliable).

I might just steal your idea. Hope you wouldn't mind. :P

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Georg Muntingh said...

Don't mind? I would love it!

Maybe one could implement a feedback system. For instance, if I don't know a word whose translation does not appear in the margin, then I could double click on it to make it appear in the margin. This information for this word, could then be added in a database, giving it a higher chance to appear in the margin the next time. Similarly one can click on a word in the margin if one already knows it. This database should then be a personal database, and the general difficulty of a word could be determined by all these databases together.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger gmlk said...

Make it wiki like?

With some fancy ajax one could select a word and not only see the definition/translation but also edit it? Given enough people this would improve the quality really fast. Then the system you describe only needs to be used to seed the pages.


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