Being a writer on the topic of language learning means I get offers to sample language products all the time.
While most of what I see is great quality stuff, I have to say that there isn’t that much originality out there. Too many companies are reinventing the wheel, slapping a new label on the same tired content and methods that already exist in other products. Even though the content may be good, there are few groundbreaking improvements made in the methods being used.
Thankfully I had the opportunity to sample the Glossika GMS Russian Basic 1 package a short while back.
Glossika uses a highly effective, research-grounded method that is, in my opinion, one of the few tools on the market that I would whole-heartedly endorse as value for money.
There is absolutely no focus on tedious grammar explanations (which as many of you know I reject as being an ineffective way to begin learning to speak a foreign language), and both the content and audio are superb. Even if you choose not to follow the recommended learning regime outlined in the accompanying e-book, it’s a treasure trove of high quality dialogue material that you won’t find anywhere else.
There are currently only several language editions available but many more languages are in the pipeline.
I fired off a few questions recently for Mike Campbell, Glossika’s founder, and he sent back some really detailed responses that I want to share with you here today (in fact I was going to write a long post here about it but Mike’s done it for me! :)).
If you’ve tried the Glossika GMS products already then let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
1) Can you sum up the GMS method? Is it based on your own or someone else’s research?
GMS means Glossika Mass Sentences, and I don’t think there’s any mystery about practicing a lot of sentences to learn a foreign language.
I have a lot of experience teaching students for over a decade and refining the method and why sentences are better than anything else. By focusing on language at the sentence level, it makes it easier to learn several things that are not easy to learn by themselves: pronunciation, syntax, vocabulary, and grammar.
Memorizing rules has never let anyone achieve fluency in a foreign language. Only mass amounts of practice has. Let me touch on each of these.
Pronunciation: In languages like English, our words undergo a lot of pronunciation and intonation changes when words get into sentences. These things may be easier for European students, but for Asian students it can be really difficult. Likewise is true with languages like Chinese. The pronunciations and tones we learn from individual words change once they go into a sentence. By following the intonation of a sentence, it’s much easier to sound native rather than trying to say every word with its own tone.
Syntax: Syntax is not an easy subject and there are so many rules that can be written. I find it easiest when I can recognize the parts of speech in a sentence, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and just pay attention to what order native speakers put them in. Some languages like German and Chinese have Subject-Verb-Object word order however are pretty strict about moving that order around in certain circumstances. If you don’t pay attention, or try to create your own sentences with what you think is intuitive, it’ll create bad habits.
Vocabulary: People don’t really understand vocabulary. Vocabulary only really takes on meaning when it is used appropriately in a sentence or paired with other words, known as collocations. And because of this most dictionaries are not that useful. The best dictionaries today are those made from databases and are collocation built dictionaries.
Consider the word ‘have’ in these examples: 1) Have him do it. (causative) 2) I’ll have a coffee. (consume/eat/drink) 3) Have you heard from him? (perfect verb).
None of these uses of ‘have’ actually have the meaning that we associate with ‘have’. So if you directly translate the way you use ‘have’ it makes no sense in another language. After a lifetime in lexicography, Patrick Hanks reached the alarming conclusion that words don’t have meaning.
Grammar: Like I said above, memorizing rules, especially grammar rules does no good for anybody trying to become fluent. Grammar is really only useful for those who have already acquired a language and are looking to improve their communication skills and sound more educated or professional. The only thing we need to be aware of when starting a language is the nature of the language: isolating, fusion, agglutinative, or polysynthetic. Knowing that declensions and conjugations exist is important. We can’t be ignorant to what exists grammatically in a language, but we can at the beginning be ignorant to what all those grammatical details are and just be aware of them as you encounter them.
2) You mentioned an algorithm you use – can you explain that?
That’s Glossika Spaced Repetition, or GSR for short.
Let me tell you a story about this.
I believe that speaking and listening are two of the most difficult aspects of learning a foreign language. Most students can’t get used to not using their eyes, be it looking at a text or wanting to know how to spell a word and we need to train ourselves to become independent of these crutches. Training our eyes is one skill completely different than training our ears.
I’ve had students who have studied English for over ten years and yet still can’t make a sentence in English. They may be very analytical but they can’t create anything that would be considered normal communication. And the amazing thing I’ve found over years of training students who are dependent on their eyes is that once they let go of the written word their pronunciation and fluency really takes off.
In 2007 I corresponded with a famous psychology professor, Alan Baddeley, the man who discovered the working memory in our brain. He himself has done a large number of studies of word recognition and memory. There’s an issue he brought up regarding interference in our young memories, in that if we attempt to memorize a list of words that all begin with the same letter, our failure rate is much higher.
I have taken his research and a lot more data he’s given me, and I’ve run over a hundred tests with my students that cover the several days of the week. I’ve found that stimulating the hippocampus after each sleep cycle for a total of five times with the same practice routine, in other words practicing the same material over a period of five days actually reinforces these memories into long-term memories. Not only that, but if you’re repeating the data several times over an hour and then doing that again and again five days in a row, and then using that data (for example phrases or vocabulary) and embedding it into new phrases that again will be repeated over a period of five days, you’ve essentially trained the brain into using new language structure quite effortlessly.
I started using this method in the classroom from 2007 onwards and have refined it several times over the years. However this has been extremely taxing on me as a teacher, repeating so many times and fixing the same mistakes, so I thought that recording it all down into a training system would allow me to reach more people without burning out so easily.
That’s essentially when I designed Glossika Spaced Repetition, GSR for short. I’ve adjusted the training so that it focuses on reviewing 40 sentences and introducing 10 new sentences each day, for a total of 180 reps. For short sentences these daily training files can be completed in less than 15 minutes. For longer sentences the files may run between 20 and 30 minutes. But in all fairness, beginners don’t want to get burned out that easily, and if you’re in it for the long haul, then you’ll be able to handle up to a half hour of training per day. Since each of our training modules are 1000 sentences, the GSR comes packaged with 100 MP3s for total training between 25 and 35 hours.
Our Basic series from 1 to 3 essentially have about 100 hours of training and 54,000 reps for less than $30. This far surpasses the training you get in content, length, and spaced repetition from competing products like Pimsleur, Assimil, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Memrise.
3) Is the dialogue content the same in all language products (same sentences and order)?
Yes, the dialogue content is the same in the different languages.
These sentences are indicative of specific syntactic patterns. You’ll find that in Basic 1 they cover most usage of adjectives, nouns, predicates, and most of the active verb tenses we use in English.
However, the sentences are focused on communicating specific ideas and thoughts that tend to fall in these syntactic patterns, so when the learner focuses on communicating these ideas and recognizing the syntactic patterns, combined with the daily GSR training I mentioned above, they are essentially acquiring the language naturally. In Basic 2 we go on to deal with all the nuances of passive vs active, modal verbs (intentions, assumptions). Basic 3 goes into conditionals, subjunctives using that, and phrasal verbs.
Some languages that we offer are licensed from other companies or developed elsewhere, so the content will differ.
4) Any planned future releases or products that you’re working on (perhaps higher level content for existing languages)?
Right now we’re working on releasing Basic 1-3 for the following languages: Korean, Russian, Thai, Icelandic, Swedish, Portuguese, Italian.
We also have some minority languages getting developed at the moment, such as Saisiyat, Atayal, Amis, Bunun.
We’ve worked with translation agencies in the past, for example we paid for full translations of our content into two varieties of colloquial Spanish and a number of other books into Chinese. However, the problem with translation agencies is that they do not have an invested interest in your publications nor do the translators know that their work is getting published in books. I have to say that in spite of paying for two versions of Spanish, out of 5000 sentences, only 10 differed and they were not of a colloquial quality that we wanted as they were way too formal. The agency told us they cannot revise them anymore, so we were stuck with this huge bill for something we couldn’t use. So there’s always going to be a loss of communication working through agencies. So we changed our approach and we offered cooperation agreements with various native language speakers and this has proven to be very successful.
Now we offer an opportunity to work with and grow with Glossika as a publishing house. This means that all our translators and recorders get published as authors and also profit from their publications for years to come.
Most of our collaborators are students or early on in their careers and looking for a way to get established as an author or get some extra income. We also work with organizations. For example, we have several agreements with organizations in South East Asia for developing those languages and for distribution. Here in Taiwan we’re working with the company Enspyre, who is managed and run by a Swedish entrepreneur who has helped us get our Nordic languages.
Currently, our Korean, Portuguese, Italian, and Russian versions are all created by students who just want to be published.
I encourage anybody who speaks a language that is not currently on our list, if you have good command of English, you can also join our organization as an author. We also encourage anybody who has any ideas for publishing a book to contact us as well.
5) Any success stories with students in Taiwan or elsewhere using this method?
As I mentioned above, we have several thousand students in Taiwan who have been using our methods for years. Right now is the time that we’re expanding into new markets. We offer our products at a very low entry price so anybody can try them out and get a feel for how they work.
They will definitely make a supplement to your current studies. We always welcome feedback from our users.
My only minor complaint with Glossika GMS is that I think a new language learner would struggle to understand how to get the most out of it.
Even though there’s an introductory PDF which gives a run-down on the method and a brief lesson on the basics of the language, average learners would probably not see the value in sentence repetition unless shown exactly how it works.
The package would definitely benefit from a video or audio tutorial for the uninitiated.
That being said, as someone who believes in learning languages by repetitious exposure to whole lexical chunks over time rather than entirely unnatural memorization of grammar rules, I believe Glossika is a tremendously valuable resource and I look forward to more language editions becoming available.
To get a detailed breakdown of everything included in the downloadable packages or if you’re interested in purchasing one of the Glossika products, click here.
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