Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Jonathan Robie
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Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 14th, 2015, 7:53 am

I've been playing with software used to learn modern languages, including Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc. From what I can tell, this kind of software is reasonably effective at teaching the basics of a language, no substitute for actually conversing in the language but a good way to get to the point that you can do that. This software also seems to violate some of the rules that I've heard advocated for language learning.

I would like to use this thread to explore language learning techniques from these programs, and how to apply them to teaching Greek.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 14th, 2015, 8:01 am

One of the rules I've heard is "thou shalt not use any English when teaching Greek". Several of these programs violate that principle - they use English in very small doses, briefly, and then wean people off of the English over time.

For instance, Duolingo uses English - together with a picture - to introduce vocabulary for which they have pictures:
duolingo-01.png
duolingo-01.png (134.64 KiB) Viewed 1775 times
But it also introduces some words without pictures. It also does ask people to translate from the target language into English, and allows you to hover over words to find out what they mean if you don't remember them:
duolingo-02.png
duolingo-02.png (25.35 KiB) Viewed 1775 times
Every single screen involves actively processing language, it does this in small doses, and builds up systematically. New concepts are introduced along the way using little pop-up windows:
duolingo-04.png
duolingo-04.png (26.98 KiB) Viewed 1775 times
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Jonathan Robie
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 14th, 2015, 8:04 am

In the past, I've tried to come up with an adequate set of culturally-appropriate pictures to teach Greek. I still think this is a great idea, but I failed, and did not manage to interest enough people to crowd-source the problem. Pictures are easy for concrete nouns, much harder for some other things. Rosetta Stone has a wonderful database of pictures, I imagine it took enormous effort to get there (though it's a lot easier with today's image search on the Internet).

So one of the things I like about the Duolingo approach is that it's much easier to create lessons. I also like the way they build up more complex sentences by introducing units and combining them. That seems very applicable to New Testament Greek.

All of these programs seem to use a generic authoring framework with a relatively simple presentation and testing framework.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » May 14th, 2015, 12:22 pm

Should be an interesting discussion, Jonathan. I look forward to following it.

I am quite familiar with Duolinguo, Living Languages, Pimsleur, and bits and pieces of others in learning modern Spanish and Greek. I think they all can be effective if used intelligently, and I think that some of the strictures such as not speaking any English at all during a learning session can be overdone. It depends on the specific application, and sometimes on the leader/instructor. TPRS, for example, uses English sparingly and to good effect, while other methods which will not allow any English seem quite strained and unnatural at times.

I have found Randall Buth’s take on this topic to be very helpful - Surprise! Surprise! I have also found two of the references he recommended to be very helpful:
Randall Buth wrote: One of the most prolific and astute writers on Reading is Frank Smith. For example,
Smith, Frank (2004). Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read. 6th ed.

A nice article on the phonological loop and reading that deals with the experimental data is:
"Phonology in Second Language Reading: Not an Optional Extra"
Author(s): Catherine Walter
Source: TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 3, Psycholinguistics for TESOL (Sep., 2008), pp. 455-474 (Available thru JSTOR)
If you think about – and explore – real facility with a language itself, as opposed to competence in the associated meta-language, you begin to gain some appreciation for why Randall talks about such concepts as the 2 second (or less) ‘phonological loop’. Catherine Walter explains the phenomenon itself, but for me Frank Smith really brings it alive when he talks about how people actually learn a language – which is how they learn everything else.

This is not just a lot of techy banter, but it really does inform you concerning how to create the right learning environment – and I choose that wording advisedly. Real language learning – that is, gaining a fluency and facility of use with a language – HAPPENS in the right setting. That setting must include a context of interest – leaning happens when there is a matter of interest before the ‘learner’. For languages, when we are speaking about fluency and facility of use, real learning also happens WHEN THE ENGAGEMENT IS DIRECT, as opposed to analytical. That is, if someone says to me “ Ὄνομα σοι τί ἐστιν;”, real language response is a ‘thoughtless’ “ Ὄνομα μοι Θωμᾶς” – without intervening time, without reflection, without trying to remember which case Θωμᾶς should be in, without reference to another language parallel – without, even, recalling a memorized language piece. Of course, I don’t really mean “thoughtless”, and sometimes there is “reflection” of a different nature, but only to say that a real language response is immediate, and without intervening mental processes – to use a different metaphor.

It all becomes much clearer when one chats with a five year old, who knows very little of the meta-language, but who will respond without any hesitation to a very broad range of language stimulus. He or she is an ‘expert’ language learner! I know L2 acquisition is different, but much of the underlying basics still apply. It is a direct, immediate, and learner-initiated activity. It cares not one whit for the complexities of grammatical logic, nor does it care about other-language parallels.

This informs one how one must LEARN the language if fluency and facility of use are the goal. I see a picture – I hear a word. I follow a simple narrative while I watch a depiction of the narrative in pictures, cartoons, video, play acting, etc. I make a connection without intervening analysis. That connection is now mine, and mine in an ongoing fashion if I go on to EXPRESS this language in a meaningful way. This is very different than the way meta-language is learned, and very different than the way translation proper is learned. This is what you are after if fluency is what you want.This is also a rather humbling experience for those who are proficient in the meta-language but who are less than babes in real language fluency.

The shortcoming I see with what you’ve posted from Duolingua is the strong bias towards “translation” as opposed to a direct and immediate connection with the thing itself. A picture of a boy combined with target language narrative (“ὁ παίς”) allows me to make direct connection between ὁ παίς and the visual/audio representation rather than connecting ὁ παίς with the English parrallel “boy”. This is where I think use of English definitely IS a distraction to the actual learning process. Having made the direct connection between the sound and a visual depiction, ὁ παίς is now a mental entity (one struggles to find language!) associated with the audio "ὁ παίς", and later on with the written "ὁ παίς". It is there! It is mine! Given the right stimulus, it is immediately available without need for 'reflection' or 'analysis'.

Of course, once one begins to attain some fluency, the context of the language itself more and more instructs one about new entities, as opposed to having to depend on arranged representations with pictures etc.


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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » May 14th, 2015, 1:14 pm

ὁ παῖς, that is. "... cares not one whit ...", indeed! :)
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 14th, 2015, 5:47 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:This informs one how one must LEARN the language if fluency and facility of use are the goal. I see a picture – I hear a word. I follow a simple narrative while I watch a depiction of the narrative in pictures, cartoons, video, play acting, etc. I make a connection without intervening analysis. That connection is now mine, and mine in an ongoing fashion if I go on to EXPRESS this language in a meaningful way. This is very different than the way meta-language is learned, and very different than the way translation proper is learned. This is what you are after if fluency is what you want.This is also a rather humbling experience for those who are proficient in the meta-language but who are less than babes in real language fluency.
Several of these programs do use the L1 language, but they definitely use audio to reinforce the target language frequently, and almost always give learners a series of tasks that can be done quickly without much reflection.
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:The shortcoming I see with what you’ve posted from Duolingua is the strong bias towards “translation” as opposed to a direct and immediate connection with the thing itself. A picture of a boy combined with target language narrative (“ὁ παίς”) allows me to make direct connection between ὁ παίς and the visual/audio representation rather than connecting ὁ παίς with the English parrallel “boy”. This is where I think use of English definitely IS a distraction to the actual learning process. Having made the direct connection between the sound and a visual depiction, ὁ παίς is now a mental entity (one struggles to find language!) associated with the audio "ὁ παίς", and later on with the written "ὁ παίς". It is there! It is mine! Given the right stimulus, it is immediately available without need for 'reflection' or 'analysis'.
Duolingo does have the audio, which is helpful. Some of the activities, such as matching, use the L1 language much more than you would prefer, but the audio is always for the target language, the text is always biggest for the target language, there's a definite attempt to keep the target language and its phonology front and center.

One of my goals right now is to identify language learning activities that can be created with reasonable effort - especially if we can crowdsource creation of such language learning activities. Another is to identify objective comparisons of language learning software and activities that might tell me what works best.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 14th, 2015, 5:48 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:I have found Randall Buth’s take on this topic to be very helpful - Surprise! Surprise! I have also found two of the references he recommended to be very helpful:
Randall Buth wrote: One of the most prolific and astute writers on Reading is Frank Smith. For example,
Smith, Frank (2004). Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read. 6th ed.

A nice article on the phonological loop and reading that deals with the experimental data is:
"Phonology in Second Language Reading: Not an Optional Extra"
Author(s): Catherine Walter
Source: TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 3, Psycholinguistics for TESOL (Sep., 2008), pp. 455-474 (Available thru JSTOR)
That second article is available online for free, I'm looking at it now. Thanks for the reminder.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » May 14th, 2015, 7:42 pm

Jonathan wrote:One of my goals right now is to identify language learning activities that can be created with reasonable effort - especially if we can crowdsource creation of such language learning activities. Another is to identify objective comparisons of language learning software and activities that might tell me what works best.
One thing I would pay much attention to in considering the development of language learning materials is the whole matter of "interest" and the strong human interest in a narrative. Smith has much to say about this in his book, and I have noticed the central role narrative plays in the best materials. You cannot learn what you are not interested in learning - not really.

We are all part of a story - or rather of many stories. We are intensely interested in stories - both our own and those of others. Thus, you can begin with a string of pictures that identify nouns: ἄρτος with a picture of bread, γυνή of a woman, ὕδωρ of water, and ἀνήρ of a man, etc., but you will not be able to hold real interest very long with this approach. Programs certainly attempt to teach this way, but real language learning is greatly impeded in such a setting. To hold interest, as every kid knows, you need a story - a narrative. And if you do not hold interest, then whatever else you are doing, you are not providing a learning environment. Thus, even within his initial ten basic lessons, Buth has a series of small narratives which are quite delightful, and quite memorable. You remember ὁ παῖς τύπτει τὸν ὄφιν; you remember ἡ βοῦς ἔρχεται ἐπὶ τὸν νεκρόν ὄφιν - and then, with very dilated pupils and dust flying - αὐτὴ φεύγει - silly cow - ἡ βοῦς οὐκ οἶδεν ὅτι ὁ ὄφις νεκρός ἐστιν.

Without interest real learning will not take place, and real interest usually involves a narrative. Within the narrative you can do all sorts of wonderful things with new vocab, different word orders, new idioms etc. I always remember a theatre full of 6 to 12 year old kids at a live performance of Peter and the Wolf. Peter may not have seen the wolf yet, but 600 screaming kids were standing on their seats and doing their level best to warn him! You could teach a lot of language in that setting.
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » May 16th, 2015, 1:14 pm

--- So, rather than just a shotgun approach, where you are teaching language in the abstract, I wonder whether it wouldn't be much more useful in the long run to associate the learning aids to a specific text/context, somewhat along the lines of Athenaze (but with interactive images and sound tracks). You could take, for example a chapter of John, like chapter 9, and use images and sound tracks to teach key language elements from the passage without paying attention to the underlying meta-language.

You could also expand out from the actual text to include words and phrases that arise from, or explain, the text. This is not so simple as just assembling Greek terms and glosses and connecting them with sounds and images, but in the long run I think you would accomplish more by providing a real context, and by involving a real narrative.
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Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 16th, 2015, 6:38 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:--- So, rather than just a shotgun approach, where you are teaching language in the abstract, I wonder whether it wouldn't be much more useful in the long run to associate the learning aids to a specific text/context, somewhat along the lines of Athenaze (but with interactive images and sound tracks). You could take, for example a chapter of John, like chapter 9, and use images and sound tracks to teach key language elements from the passage without paying attention to the underlying meta-language.

You could also expand out from the actual text to include words and phrases that arise from, or explain, the text. This is not so simple as just assembling Greek terms and glosses and connecting them with sounds and images, but in the long run I think you would accomplish more by providing a real context, and by involving a real narrative.
That's certainly one reasonable approach. In this thread, I'm looking at the kinds of learning activities that we see in software used to learn modern languages. Can you point to software that tkaes that approach?

I imagine that a framework could be written to be generic enough to allow many approaches to curriculum development. But I think the status quo is that there's a lot of software for modern languages that may not be perfect, but can be used to learn these languages effectively. We don't have that for biblical Greek. One of the advantages of looking at existing programs is that they exist - someone was able to put these programs together, and we have evidence that they work.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

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