Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Vocabulary Trainer: Granule

Because I've been studying Norwegian and Japanese, I've spent a lot of time looking for the ideal vocabulary trainer. This proved to be a daunting task. Most of the 'free programs' on the Internet are 'share ware', which is not an option to me. This has nothing to do with that I don't want to pay anything, because usually the price is pretty low, but more with my hesitation (and often impossibility) of contributing back to a program that everybody has to pay for and can't look into the source code.

However, the biggest problems were no license technicalities. To create a decent vocabulary trainer is not a trivial task. I've been learning words for many years, and have always used computer programs to help me with it. During high school I learned my French and German words using a very simple program I had written myself. It automatically gave me a mark, and it motivated me to see my mark increase each time I went through a certain vocabulary file.

Now the problem is that there are tons of programs out there that implement the same basic features, and most of these programs are very nice (at least at first glance). After all, what can be so difficult about making a good vocabulary trainer? I spent months switching from program to program, some of them I used for weeks and some for just one minute. And most of them are good for the same thing as my program was good for: to memorize a rather short vocabulary list for a rather short time (e.g. the test of tomorrow). The problem with these programs is that they are not suitable for creating and maintaining a large vocabulary over time: They don't scale.

So how do you learn and maintain a list of, say, 5000 words? Obviously you can't just rehearse all words every day (which is what my program would ask you to do). The trick is to separate the words you can easily remember from the words that give you a hard time, and then rehearse the words in the latter category more often. Furthermore research has proven that to remember things we need to reinforce them, but only in increasing intervals of time. The German science popularizer Sebastian Leitner designed an algorithm that is easy to perform and does both these things. It is called the Leitner-method, and learning about its existence was definitely an eye-opener for me.

Half a year ago I finally found a program that made me stay with it. It is called Granule and written by Vladislav Grinchenko. It is a wonderful program, and has all features I could wish for:

  • It is free software (GPL).

  • Granule implements a Leitner based system where you can choose your own parameters.

  • It is ported to GNU/Linux, Windows NT/2000/XP, the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, and the Sharp SL-5500 and the like with GPE image. If you own one of the latter two portable devices you can train your vocabulary in the train, bus, plane etc.

  • Its vocabulary files are encoded in Unicode. This is essential for learning exotic languages (like in my case Japanese), and therefore for the "general purposeness" of the application.

  • If you have a sound dictionary is installed, you can let Granule pronounce the words you are learning.

  • Open Office macro's for printing. You can export your vocabulary to flash cards that you can use on the road.

  • It can automatic schedule for you, keeping you on your toes and preventing you from slacking of.

  • You can easily import vocabulary from Comma-Separated Value files.

  • Vocabulary entries can contain several answers and an example sentence.

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    Friday, December 22, 2006

    Our Tokyo clubbing experience (revisited)

    I meant to post this much sooner, but... Whatever. I should stop starting each blog post with an excuse.

    Milica, a friend of Annett and me who also works in Tsukuba, has written a piece about our clubbing experience. Also check out the action pictures.

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