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Studying Outside
Chalkboard with Different Languages




Duolingo - 6/10

  • best for vocabulary and grammar review on the go

  • good for vocabulary, learn grammar elsewhere

  • lets you type in information

  • uses carefully timed repetition to beat the curve of forgetting

  • lets you test out of specific lessons 

  • good for practicing consistently, consistently testing yourself, consistently checking your vocabulary by subject matter

  • includes speech function for all lessons

  • difficult to learn accent through Duolingo alone (e.g. rolled “r” in Spanish); pair with various content from native speakers

  • defines individual words during lessons with a tap

  • user-friendly


ChineseSkill - 6/10

  • good for review

  • employs minigames which are helpful, always adorably drawn, and especially beneficial for busy polyglots

  • accent of speaker is helpful for new students, but should be paired with other auditory content (such as YouTube or Pimsleur)

  • starts with a “basic” lesson in alphabet, Pinyin, and tones

  • includes “listen” function for all lessons, but periodically omits slow mode

  • allows polyglots to hand-write sentences in lessons 

  • defines individual words during lessons with a tap

  • lessons can drag on unnecessarily long

  • need to study social and cultural nuances of language through media (such as through Viki or Netflix)

  • for faster learning, use in tandem with grammar instruction (as through books, or alternatively a paid online course)

  • user interface is relatively plain; comparatively demands less attention than any other language app on this list. 

  • visually minimalistic and simple 

  • allows you to test yourself for free at any point


LingoDeer - 2/10

  • takes language-learning in baby steps, which is useful for inconsistent learners (though to be clear, inconsistency is the single most barring quality of a new language learner)

  • testing ahead function fails to count each individual section as “completed” after, which can be unsatisfying

  • includes fun videos

  • difficult to learn accent through LingoDeer alone; pair with YouTube videos of native speakers

  • “unlock” each subject matter by completing the subject immediately preceding it, which serves as a barrier to a wealth of subjects early

  • vocabulary provided is not organized into frequency, so the vocab taught first does not match the vocab that speakers need to learn first, in order to communicate
    “handwriting” function (e.g. for Chinese) is strict and unproviding, robotic

  • instructs Chinese learners in stroke order (a helpful habit in handwriting Chinese characters)

  • “tones” testing within lessons is not sustainable for actually learning tones

  • includes spoken examples

  • teaches spelling


Memrise - 8/10

  • teaches the ability to tell the different sounds of another language apart, which is crucial to fluency and rarely directly trained

  • cute feature with captioned videos! perfect for learning grammar, vocab, and social components in a subtle micro-mode of immersion! videos are short and engaging, and frequently funny, enlightening, and/or cute

  • intermediate mode: uses vocabulary native to social environments first (useful, engaging, and fun), then frequent but often monotonous language later (such as numbers and dates); then teaches even less frequent vocabulary after that -- in other words, clever structure to language scholar’s path of learning vocab

  • pleasantly surprising accent accuracy, making voices and speech sound more human and relatable

  • asks scholars to differentiate between different audios--therefore enforcing the skill of understanding language by sound only, which is uncommon (matched perhaps only by FluentForever)

  • pleasing user interface

  • use in combination with YouTube to master pronunciation

  • use in combination with sources of instruction in grammar (best source for this is books) to relate to yourself the maximum comfort in your language-of-chase

  • focuses on vocabulary heavily, which can be deterring and inaccurate to true fluency, which can only be achieved by creating personal experiences for oneself with the language and social components (such as idioms and flattery)

  • teaches spelling


Drops - 9/10 

A personal favorite

  • pleasing and soothing to listen to, watch, and absorb

  • best for visual learners

  • easy to use, rewarding user interface

  • especially immersive, through key images, sounds, and typography

  • the most beautiful language learning app out there

  • intelligently separates learning topics into those which the learner can take step by step, without being discouraged 

  • the same intelligence applies to the foundation they build through the order of their language learning programs

  • teaches spelling, pronunciation by the letter, 

  • user-friendly controls, including user preferences such as learning Korean with or without romanization

  • daily time cap (on Lite) feels like a game--but is limiting to language learners who want to learn endlessly

  • innovative spelling element (as if connecting the dots)

  • learners must complete the preceding topic to continue to the topic after it (such as Food, Drinks, Animals)


Brainscape - 7/10

  • use it to memorize 

  • for numbers months, passing phrases, return and receive phrases conversation necessitates

  • doesn’t include grammar whatsoever

  • complete vocabulary in stages

  • organizes vocabulary into labels (for example “numbers”, “dates”, “family”) but not into situations (such as “going out”, “ordering food”, “conversational phrases”)

  • includes “listen” option for all cards, albeit more robotic than Duolingo, Drops, or Busuu


Busuu - 9/10

  • best for auditory learners

  • best for busy language learners

  • accompany with book

  • keeps you on track with reasonable goals (you see a hint of these on Lite from the paid version; this is your choice)

  • lets you download specific lessons

  • helps you absorb grammar through sentence structure (more realistic sentences than Duolingo)

  • helpful and well-organized user interface


Babbel 8/10

A personal second favorite

  • good for visual learners

  • organized and cohesive user interface

  • no option to test out of lessons you are already familiar with

  • teaches grammar through repetition and pop-up messages throughout lessons, taken extremely slowly

  • pictures in lessons help immerse the learner

  • lessons are long, about 7 minutes each

  • limited number of lessons

  • includes an option in which Babbel asks you to practice saying lesson sentences out loud after they are read out to you

  • refer to outside content by native speakers to learn pronunciation (e.g. YouTube, Pimsleur)

  • explains phrases to you (e.g. “This means… You can use it when…”), which is usually a characteristic of grammar books and rarer in language apps
    seamlessly connects sentence structure, new vocabulary, cultural context, conversation, imagery, and auditory stimulation in each lesson

Final Notes:


Each app is efficient in the job that it was meant to do--such as Brainscape, which is an excellent memorization tool. It’s perfect for students who just want to build vocabulary for a two-week stretch in México. But be careful not to confuse the purpose of each app. Apps are learning tools. They aren’t meant to be teachers. If you mean to learn a language for fluency, do your homework. Explore the community of dedicated and diverse people that is Polyglotia, in every city on the planet. Exact advice from the smallest corners of the Internet. Language, being courtesy of people, is different every time you look at it. And have fun! :)



















[Source: @fermatslibrary on Twitter, at]


Because of the way that the human brain is built--humans being social animals; communication being universal in every culture on every continent; intuition being especially present in the early years--immersion is and is generally accepted to be the best way to absorb language as it exists in the cultures in which it exists.




When we are immersed in language, we are subconsciously exposed to the cultural nuances associated with that language. For example, the word “blue”, which to native speakers means a spectrum of blue-like hues, naturally separates into two different “blues” in Russian. This effect has been studied at the collegiate linguistic level--it turns out, Russian speakers observe two different colors for blue, though we, the English, observe only one. They call them голубой (“goluboy”, light blue) and синий (“siniy”, dark blue). In the study, natives of both languages were asked to compare a single blue stimuli to two other blue stimuli, of slightly different hues (pictured below). In the end, when the blue stimuli reflected a clear difference between голубой and синий, Russian speakers categorized and matched blues faster than English speakers. In these instances, Russian speakers displayed an advantage of speed (Winawer, et. al. 2007).



[Source: Fermat’s Library, “Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination”]


In neurology the description of reaction is defined by signals sent between neurons, or the brain’s nerves; signals bounce from nerve to nerve carried on the bodies of each nerve. More interesting, the signals bounce between neurons more quickly when the neurons know the way. 



[Source:, “Neurons”]


There’s a physical reasoning behind reaction time: the body of a brain nerve cell has a long axon part and two head- and tail-like parts on either end; they are the dendrites and synaptic terminals respectively. Every time a signal travels from neuron to neuron as we participate in a reaction, the long axon becomes coated thicker and thicker with a biological material it inherently has. The Myelin sheath literally insulates the body of the cell, speeding up the rate of electric signal transference. Put simply, the more we take in a certain signal or message, the more easy it is for it to happen the next time, and the next time, and the next time, and the next time. That’s why learning a new language is such a process. We have to seek out every connection we make, fight our brain’s hard drive which wants to immediately discard any non-urgent information, and forcefully ingrain in our own brains new meanings and contexts for every experience we’ve ever had.


That’s also what makes immersion so perfect. Instead of imagining experiences, we have experiences in that new spicy language of our choice. Every step we take through immersion is not for granted. Even bad feelings are feelings, and feelings indicate that everything we consume right now should stay, should be memorized. And the symphony of sounds that is every language so crisply becomes an inviting forest of information.


And like that, we step into a more nuanced human existence.

Curve of Forgetting:

[Source: eLearning Industry, What is the Forgetting Curve (And How Do You Combat It?)]


The Curve of Forgetting is the mathematical expression of memory retention. It’s based around the idea that information becomes increasingly difficult for us to access as we spend more and more time away from it. It is why it is easier for us to learn information when we hear it constantly over a short period of time, use it often, and engage ourselves in the subject. For the same reason, if we hear something only once, or hear a conversation by a stranger in passing, we likely forget it. We use our ability to read more frequently than we use our ability to play the trombone, so our intuition in reading naturally far surpasses our intuition in the trombone. 


An example:


For example, Mozart lived in Austria. If I covered your eyes now and asked you where Mozart lived, you might say, “Austria.” It might come to you immediately or take you a couple seconds, depending on how deeply you consumed the last two sentences, but you would eventually come up with the answer. Now, assume I never quizzed you, you would probably forget somewhere around your tenth breath from now. Our brains have a way of discarding information that it doesn’t find important. Does Mozart make me joyful? Does Mozart scare me? In that case, it might be “worth” remembering, but not if I saw it only in passing. 

Memorization is a constant mission to convince our brains that everything IS important. Memorization is cheating the system evolution engraved in us. We use patterns, like acrostic poems, or associations, like facial expressions, which play off of things our brains already see as important. 


Applying the curve of forgetting:


The curve of forgetting serves another purpose. If we can mathematically predict when  we’re supposed to forget something, we can remind ourselves before it happens. This small act undoes our forgetting, but more than that, it means that we’re seeing the same message repeatedly. That means it has to be important. Through science, we have built up these memories so that they won’t fight us. 


The graph: 


I’ll explain this graph. This graph defines our retention, on the y-axis, against time, the x-axis. What this means is that as time passes, our retention decreases, at the rate displayed in the graph. Without applying, absorbing, or relearning information, we actually lose information extremely quickly. We may forget 50% of a one-hour lecture (the basis of the original curve of forgetting graph) in a single day; only twenty-four hours. At the half-day mark, at twelve hours after the original one-hour lecture, we have already lost 40% of the information. 

You’ll notice that the graph is not linear. This means that retention does not decrease at the same rate that time increases. In fact, in the same unit of time, as for Day 1 as compared to Day 6, we lose a disproportionate amount of retention--that is to say, on Day 1 from the lecture, we lose 50% of retention, while on Day 6 from Day 5, we lose about 5%. 

This affirms what we intuitively know about memory from experience. The first time we’re told the sun is a star, we forget it quickly. If we are never told that the sun is a star again, our basis of knowledge is already drastically low on Day 5 compared to Day 1. There’s not much to lose. Our basis of knowledge in the fact, “the sun is a star,” is even smaller than the previous day on Day 5.


Battling the curve of forgetting- making sure you learn and retain:


Battling the curve of forgetting: the idea that once-unfamiliar concepts warm to us as we study them. We intuitively know this also, but can mathematically express it through another graph, or series of graphs:



[Source: eLearning Industry, What is the Forgetting Curve (And How Do You Combat It?)]


First, the above graph: once we relearn something, we establish a new curve of forgetting for it. Only this time, it becomes harder to forget. Our brains love patterns, just as they love reinforcement. Reinforcement further roots information within us. This makes sense. On the fourth time we study a set of flashcards, we should be much more confident in the same idea.

The rate at which we retain memory after reinforcing it several times is best expressed in another graph:

By familiarizing ourselves with the information, exposing ourselves to the same senses several times, immersing ourselves in the same fullness of contexts each time, we make it easier to retain.

Review as deeply or shallowly as you like, but remember: consistency is one thousandfold better than huge swaths to retain that your brain? Won’t know how to do with.



[Source: University of Waterloo, Curve of Forgetting]


Final Notes:

In summary, pacing is key. The Internet blesses us language learners with curve of forgetting planners, timing exactly when we need to relearn. Organize your flashcards by when you have to review them again, or mark in your calendar days to restudy. Using these small increments is a lifesaver. It’s a small miracle and ubiquitous superpower. With memory, little things add up to more than the sum of their parts.


Next steps to fluency:



  • Graduate yourself from the pocket edition to the full edition. Make sure to buy unabridged! Dictionaries are cheap from consignment and thrift stores and are often useful even being a few years out of date. Consider that you will use dictionaries more often now that you’re an intermediate learner, because the foundation you’ve built has allowed you to carry yourself through conversations to these words in particular.

  • These words you don’t know, use a single dictionary as a base of knowledge and then study a plethora of sentence examples for connotation.

  • Then continue to consume speech tirelessly, because these formerly foreign words you will notice in films and shows, peeking like colors through white, and you will need to understand the subtexts here, too.

  • Make the full use of your dictionaries; relentlessly annotate them. coat them in sticky notes and decorate every page with notes in their margins. Let your knowledge settle between its spine so that you have a resource that does not forget, as people shall.


Grammar books

  • Take advantage of the curve of forgetting to review only when is most prudent. Then use that headstart through study to study more information in less time.

  • Use a printable monthly calendar or the fridge to keep track of your subjects for the day, week, and month. Take grammar one heading at a time. Take it easy on yourself. Remember that grammar rules are only rules, and once we understand the rules of language, it’s putty to us. 

  • Go at your own pace. Annotate as you like; buy books from consignment stores and barter shops. 

  • You don’t have to use the curve of forgetting if it seems overwhelming. Just take a little bit of language with you, wherever you are. 

  • Take breaks as you need. Grammar is the homework before we play with language. Although it can serve as a necessary foundation, it can also be constraining and befuddling. Remind yourself that language is millions of pieces that you are assembling by hand. Be proud of yourself for everything you learn, because every day, you are further becoming a better speaker.

  • Decide your pace. Language is a fifth dimension of the world.

  • However you learn best, articulate that. Play on your strengths.



  • Read… everywhere

  • Some slices of life you can change to your language-of-chase:

    • The news

    • Your phone’s settings

    • Your computer’s settings

    • Poetry (the mode)

    • Bilingual poetry (the genre)

    • Annotate fairy tales in other languages, one line at a time

    • Download an app that sends you daily quotes in the language of your choice

  • If you live in a city, visit a store or restaurant where you know you’ll find materials in that language (like the shops in Chinatown or Eden Center’s Vietnamese strip mall where the air alights with unconditionality)

  • Wherever you live, make an effort to venture outside your comfort zone. Find how cultures manifest themselves in your community. At my high school, being first-generation American was just as common as being the direct descendant of someone on the Mayflower. We had such a mix of culture there that I often wish our school counselor let me take three or four languages. In the spring seasons, our school hosted International Night, representing every country that signed up in Mr. Noga’s French classroom. I manned Vietnam, and it was powerful. But our communities are like that even when we’re not looking. We’re steeped in un-English things we don’t even notice. 

  • If you are a musician, read music in the language you pursue. Perform it for your Snapchat private story, for your room, for the dog.



  • Listen to:

    • Podcasts

    • Music

    • Newscasts

    • Film and TV

      • Turn subtitles on or off

      • Listen as you fall asleep; familiarize yourself with the cadence, syllables, phonetics, and song of the language 

      • Get invested in it (Chinese TV shows, Korean dramas, Bollywood)

  • Study to Korean indie music or Chinese dramas (use Viki, YouTube, Hulu, AsianCrush, CrunchyRoll, Kocowa, and/or Netflix)


The social media sphere

  • Join the Tumblr communities of #langblr and #learning [x]; become immersed in this world made by circuits and code

  • Follow celebs on Twitter, read their Tweets and puzzle out which words in that language connect to the words the translation is giving me

  • Once you stumble on a hashtag, public figure, sound on TikTok, follow the trail. Find as many voices as you can. Make that miracle happen.

  • Open your Instagram to content from every country. Translate that caption. Follow hashtags like #mtl (Montréal) and #parismaville (Paris, my city)

  • Do it on main. Where you’ll see it. Don’t cheat yourself out by plunging headfirst and never accessing it again. Flood yourself with that access. Drown in it.







What is a Spaced Repetition System (SRS)?


A spaced repetition system (SRS) is a system of memorization that takes advantage of the curve of forgetting (Link to Curve of Forgetting) so that we memorize and retain information for the longest period of time possible, over a mathematically and psychologically derived timeline. This means that, for the same amount of time, and with less effort, we retain more information. 

The Spaced Repetition System is what apps (Link to 9 apps) like Babbel, Memrise, Duolingo, Busuu, Drops, and Brainscape use in deciding which information to present to you, the user. 

The theory is simple: the more frequently you review information, the more you’ll remember about it. At the same time, the more times you’ve learned the same content, the less frequently you will need to review it. Therefore, the best way to study is to strike the perfect balance between the amount of time you’ve studied the same information and the amount of times you master the same content.

There’s one more secret ingredient to effective memorization--the idea that, as when a timely test, the harder a topic is to learn, the harder it will be to forget it. This is because of our brain’s organization of memory: most vital first, least necessary later. By creating an emotional tie to our subject matter, and also by putting it to the test (and thus creating a small stress stimuli) we are demanding our brain to remember this subject matter in particular. 

One way to make a topic harder to learn is, ironically, to go a long time without relearning it. Seems contrary, right? But this is actually where it gets interesting. You know that feeling when you haven’t learned something in a while and a friend asks about it? Maybe a favorite celebrity, a TV show you’re obsessed with, or a book you read in sixth grade. You can swear you know it, that it’s on the tip of your tongue. It’s right there. Your friend laughs at you. “I’ll just Google it,” they say. “No!” You say. You know it. It’ll just take a second.

Like a lightbulb turning on, the information dislodges from the depths of your memory. Like a shipwreck. Like a lightning bolt. It’s gratifying; it’s grounding. You remember the information and you snap your fingers, turning to your friend, who is shaking their head. “February 9th,” you say. “Tom Hiddleston’s birthday.” 

That’s the same feeling that we want to cultivate for every grammar point you learn in language. “Oh!” you’ll say. “Comí.”

Scientifically, this solidifies its retention. Psychologically, it forges a bond between you and the information. How long before you forget February 9th is Tom Hiddleston’s birthday? Well, we can test you on it immediately before that date.

That’s the magic of the Spaced Repetition System. It combines the best of all worlds. Now, you’ll have memory emphasized by timely association. Second, you will prevent yourself from forgetting it by studying at exactly the right times. Third, you will save yourself from additional time and trouble by having to review at predisposed times and dates (predisposed by science).


Using SRS


There’s something special about testing. You wouldn’t know it from school standardized testing, but testing is a gift for memory. When used in a productive way, and not to fill young adults and children with immeasurable pressure, unrealistic expectations, and persevering test anxiety, quizzing the self can be a stimulus for productive study. It forces us to pull information from unexpected cranial places, and puts us under the productive stress that invigorates us with executive activity.

Used with purpose, it vitalizes us. Imagine you’re learning to strike a fire in a physics classroom. You don’t really know how to use a fire, you’ll probably never have the materials, and going to fourth period in a couple minutes won’t really call for any survival-level adrenaline.

Now, imagine your plane just crashed. You’d do anything to remember yesterday, third period. Behind you, entire families are shivering and holding each other tight. You shove your hands in your pockets and mentally kick yourself that you didn’t memorize everything. In your right pocket, you brush your hand against a crumpled piece of paper. Desperately, you tear it open. But it’s only half of your page of thermodynamics notes. 

This is a test. Not just a quiz, or a ruler. A test. You could save lives with it, your own life with it. So you will remember.

What our teachers in school don’t tell us that tests trigger the fight or flight response in our brain. Our brains, for the better or worse, don’t know the difference between us being tested in the classroom or in the wild. To some degree, tests trigger the primal instinct in us to remember. So by testing ourselves, we create a stress response for ourselves.

That sounds terrifying, but I promise we can make it work in our favor. We test ourselves in language so that we sort memories better. Where our memories were before, dormant, we indicate that they are necessary.

Testing makes concepts immediate to us. This is why we periodically test ourselves.


What does SRS look like?


SRS is the algorithm--it’s the blueprint for intelligent review, it’s the craft of language learning. We can consider SRS the locomotive of language learning. You will want to understand SRS because it is more effective if you build the train, and then you can fix it at any point. Remember, you are learning hundreds and hundreds of words in your language learning journey. Every word is this complex creature; it has one or several meanings, it belongs in this context, sometimes it will be applicable and sometimes it will not. You are building the wheels, and you are building the gel that cleans the wheels, and you are building the polish and brush that accompanies the wheel so that it is in peak condition. In order to learn language, you have the flexibility of building anywhere from the wooden toy train to the New York Metropolitan Transport System; the choice is yours.

What I mean by building the train is you can define the words yourself, attach pictures to them, and create sample sentences for them. The more time you spend building your train, the more complex your language basis is, because you have more context for every word that you take in and use. Even when we study for the SAT, we want every word to be as natural to us as the numbers. We have such a headstart with the numbers that we have to manufacture experiences of our own with these new words that we are just learning exist.

Build as many experiences as you can with these new vocabulary words that you are learning through language: pictures, sentences, and definitions. Everyone will see them differently; that’s OK. Language is an adventure. 


In study, a complete, traveling, SRS is an app like Memrise:


[Source: UBISources, Memrise]


Memrise will remind you exactly when it is time to review content. The curve of forgetting algorithm is built into the system.


You can also use Anki:


[Source: LO4D, Anki]


Anki allows you to build a spaced repetition system by yourself. You can attach content as thoroughly as you want, and it will tell you how long you should wait until you review the topic again.


Final Notes:


We covered a lot today. Let’s look at it one more time:

The Curve of Forgetting (Link to Curve of Forgetting) is the principle that our memory retention decreases as time stretches on.

Testing helps us retain information.

Relearning information too early can reset the curve of forgetting, which requires more studying.

Testing ourselves on information just before we forget it helps us enhance the memory to sustain longer and retain more fully.

An SRS uses the curve of forgetting to determine when the ideal time to review information is, sustaining memory retention.

The more we interact with the content we want to remember, the better we’ll be able to remember it later because our sense of association with it will be so much stronger.

Apps (Link to 9 Apps) use SRS.


French artists for the bopping linguist




Classics (50s-80s)

Edith Piaf

Georges Brassens

Jacques Brel

Jeanne Moreau

Serge Gainsbourg

Charles Tenet


Classics (60s-90s)

Charles Aznavour

France Gall


Jeanne Moreau

Mireille Mathieu

Véronique Sanson

Claude François

Daniel Belavoine

Charles Tenet


Classics (70s-00s)

Jeanne Moreau

Charles Aznavour


Mireille Mathieu

Véronique Sanson

Daniel Belavoine

Jean-Jacques Goldman


Popular artists (80s-10s)

Céline Dion

Enrico Macias


Popular artists (90s-20s)


Hélène Ségara 





Recent history (90s-00s)

Las Ketchup

Lou Bega

Star Academy






Trending in France (00s-10s)

Moussier Tombola

M & Vanessa Paradis

Kev Adams

Black M






Bigflo & Oli

Renan Luce


Trending in France recently (20s)








Bosh, Branco




Right now: Top 100 tracks currently in France | Spotify Playlist

From August 30, 2020

  1. Macarena - Damso

  2. Shape of You - Ed Sheeran

  3. Despacito - Remix - Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber

  4. A. Nwaar Is The New Black - Damso

  5. Mosaïque solitair - Damso

  6. Mask Off - Future

  7. E. Signaler - Damso

  8. I’m the One (ft. Justin Bieber) - DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Quavo

  9. B. #QuedusaalVie - Damso

  10. Mon p’tit loup - Sofiane 

. . . 

Colors in English
Smiling Student in Lecture
Sign Language Course



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