Recently, I lost a bet.
I bet my friend that I would be able to achieve fluency in French in just 6 months. Lured by the plethora of "language hacking" courses out there, I was convinced that I could get fluent in half the amount of time.
I had a good setup:
Duolingo + Lingvist + Language Exchanges + Tutoring
Duolingo is one of the most popular and best marketed language learning sites. It's completely free, and quite good at learning the grammar of a language without consulting textbooks.
Lingvist is a spaced repetition platform similar to Memrise and Anki. I think plenty of choices are good here, but this system was here so that I could learn vocabulary quickly.
I found a bunch of french-speaking friends at the workplace and started a language exchange, because none of the options above were adequate for teaching me how to speak.
Finally, I found myself an awesome coach on iTalki, who gave me the basics of french pronunciation principles with the Silent Way method. It's a fantastic method, and I recommend reading up on it, but it's not the focus of the article.
So what happened?
What Worked and What Didn't
First of all, I wasn't the average language learner with self-study. Although I wasn't living in France, I was devoting most of my free time to learning French. About 4-5 hours a day, and maybe double that on weekends.
To give a sense of exactly how fast I was going, I completed the entire Duolingo tree in French in about 2 and a half weeks.
I was able to hold a simple conversation in just a week and half. My pronunciation was awful, but it was steadily improving because I was drilling every day and taking lessons.
I was learning vocabulary through Lingvist, but was already starting to get into the tail-end of words on the platform. What I needed wasn't to understand more and more complex words (which were often cognates anyways), but rather to master basic constructions.
However, I just wan't improving my speaking nearly a quickly enough. And the key parts of achieving fluency is speaking, which is actually fairly difficult to practice:
- Software is pretty bad at practicing pronunciation.
- Finding the right language buddy or even coach who is willing to correct 5 bad sentences in a row without feeling bad is challenging.
Here's a rundown of the online-only resources for practicing pronunciation.
Instead of going on with the bet, I threw in the towel, and started my next venture. In one month, I already had hundreds of active users that absolutely loved the service. In two months, I had a fully-fledged platform on iOS and Android.
What exactly is it?
Speechling: Dedicated Speaking Practice
The concept is quite simple. Let's make a website focused on helping language learners learn to speak.
There wasn't a pure software solution to integrating mass-learning tools like Duolingo and Lingvist with pronunciation. Most language learning sites are dedicated to teaching words and grammar. To date, the quality of recordings on sites are either text-to-voice or poorly transcribed audio based on user-submitted content.
That led to the formation of the initial Speechling White Paper.
Then it became the final product. So, what exactly is it?
Speechling is everything I wish I had before I made the language learning bet. If I had it, I would have had a much better chance at becoming fluent in a short period of time.
The process is simple:
- Log in with either the iOS or Android apps
- Listen to 1000s of sentences with real vocal talent of either gender.
- Record yourself within the website or app.
- Get feedback the next day on your pronunciation from someone real.
- (For the ones you don't get right, re-record again and again until it's right.)
Here's some screenshots of the App and Web Platform in action:
Both the website and mobile app are localized and translated into English, Spanish, French, or Chinese. The mobile screenshot was in Chinese, and the desktop was in English.
Some more features:
- There is a skill tree with categorized statements.
- Flashcard mode where you can hide translations
- Unlimited language use. You can go from Spanish to French, to English, and to Chinese. And get 4 different coaches correct your pronunciation.
Why Speechling Falls Right After Duolingo
As someone who has worked my whole life in the pursuit of 4 different languages, I have had my fair share of strugges when learning a new langauge.
Duolingo is undoubtedly one of the best resources out there for getting off the ground in a new language. In the beginning, I highly recommend getting a coach to focus on the principles of Speaking a language.
Then, in order to practice the feedback given by the coach, it's time for practicing the principles on thousands of sentences.
- For French, you won't get a hang of liaisons until you are exposed to thousands of sentences, make tons of mistakes, and correct them. Only then will you develop a feel for how it works.
- For Chinese, tones will be a pain. Instead of making mistakes in conversation, drilling them until individual sounds are right takes hours of practice.
- For Spanish, pronunciation is much simpler. However, developing bad habits by pronouncing words like their English counterparts will lead to bad habits. Correcting them early on is crucial towards developing good habits.
Speechling provides a platform to do that. It focuses on speaking, and should be a core part of anyone's language learning journey.