One of the things that I’ve become increasingly more fascinated with (and have been fascinated with since as long as I can remember) is the question of how fastest (and most efficiently) to learn a language to a basic level. By basic level I mean well enough so that your next step would be to study intermediate language learning material in that language: you’ve mastered the alphabet, the phonemes (but not all of the conversation speed phonetic change “rules”), all but infrequently used (or especially formal) syntactic patterns, and a vocabulary of at least 500-1000 of the most common words. You should be able to pick up a newspaper article in that language and say what it’s about (and not be too far off). You should be able to complete simple everyday tasks that require speaking and listening in that language.
When I was fresh out of grad school (mid ’90s), I remember discovering a company that specialized in quick language learning through reading. They had a neat program that had translated mouse-overs for words, and ways to save vocabulary lists — something that we take for granted now, but was quite revolutionary back then. The other day I was wondering if they were still around.
The company is called Transparent Language, and when I looked up their website I found that they have quite a lot more languages than they did before. A few years after I bought some of their software, they contacted me and said that since I was one of their very early customers, they wanted to offer me some new material at a big discount. I declined only because I was mainly interested in Japanese then, but they didn’t have that yet (they were working on encoding issues).
But now they have all kinds of languages!
I’m bringing this to your attention because I see they have something new — free Byki language software for more than 70 languages. This is flashcard software with audio pronunciations. The free flashcard decks that you get are pretty basic (which of course is great for getting a quick introduction to a new language), and also there are user-made decks available. The interface is simple and very utilitarian.
I usually use Anki for all of my language flashcard needs. However, I’m impressed enough with Byki that I can certainly see myself using it here and there on my laptop. Anki requires a fairly high level of computer literacy; whenever I’ve had students use it, I’ve always had to set it up for them. Byki is much more user-friendly. You will see on their website that if you want to pay for more, you can get quizzes and assessments and more decks if you like.
Anyway, I’m very glad to see that this company has survived and developed into something cool. They even have a nerdy soft spot for endangered languages!