We need a better tool for learning languages

I find learning languages as exciting and interesting. They let us reach out and communicate with more people, discover new cultures, and can affect our lives in many positive ways.

Learning a new language

A few years ago I set out on a journey to learn a new language, Japanese. Why? Well, I actually don’t know why I started to actively learn it, but since I was watching loads of Japanese series my mind was filled with vocabulary. I’m guessing I thought to myself: “Well, why not?” Quite soon after realising my excitement, I found that the Japanese language is stunningly beautiful, both in written and spoken format.

To learn this beautiful language I’ve used, and keep using, a number of resources. The first thing I started learning was the alphabet. Yes, I know, it’s technically not an alphabet, but for the sake of keeping it simple I will refer to it as an alphabet. In fact, I had to learn more than that. Japanese uses two phonetical alphabets, used in expressions and grammar purposes as well as loan words, and one non-phonetical alphabet for vocabulary. So I used an app on my phone to learn the sounds and strokes of each character in the phonetical alphabets. This took me about three days to learn, and it was easy to use the app whenever and wherever I needed it.

Next up was grammar. Since I had been watching a lot of anime series most of the grammar was already partially rooted into my mind, and was therefore quite easy to learn. I only knew the basics however, and therefore needed help. To expand my knowledge and understanding, as well as learning more advanced grammar, I use another app (originally available on this website).

With the basic knowledge of reading and writing (the phonetic alphabets), as well as having a fair idea of the grammar, the next natural step is to learn Kanji and some proper vocabulary. Vocabulary is the key to a language, and is therefore crucial to learn. I found an amazing website that uses an SRS system to efficiently learn Japanese. You begin small, and then go bigger, creating a logical structure to each character. First off you learn Radicals, the basic building blocks of every Kanji there is. Kanji is the third alphabet that I briefly mentioned earlier. It is borrowed from Chinese and is used for the vast majority of vocabulary. Step by step you learn the structure and logic of the Japanese language, and learn efficiently using easy-to-remember mnemonics.

So far so good, right? I’m using at least three different resources for one language. Now, what’s missing? Example sentences and conversations.

The problem

Here’s comes the problem. Sure, there are loads of good podcasts, videos, and websites throughout the internet that gives you practical sentences used in everyday life. In some podcasts, there are even example conversations for you to learn and mimic. But, the big problem is, all of these are crafted. What do I mean by crafted?

The people behind the podcast, or whatever resource it is, sat down and thought about what sentences and material that is useful in everyday life.

  • “Hello, my name is Daniel. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”
  • “Good morning. How are you?”
  • “Do you know the directions to Shibuya Station? My train departs in ten minutes!”

All of these sentences are good to know, and I’m sure you agree. As you’re listening to podcasts or videos you can clearly hear how staged they are. The conversations don’t feel natural, they don’t occur this strictly in real life. I saw a need for a solution and came up with something that might be a step in the right direction.

A possible solution

I’ve only seen one thing that does something similar to what I’ve thought of. My solution to this would be an app that lets you record everyday conversations that you have during the day anyways, and then let you share it to the world. All of this content would be accessible via the app and its corresponding website; sortable to your personal preference. This way people would learn how the language they are learning is actually used natively in various situations in life. Everyone can share, and everyone can learn.

What are your thoughts on this? Does this sound like a good idea? I’d be happy to hear what you think.

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