I’ve been working on a “secret” project that may help people learn languages. It provides a way to listen to audio while reading along with the corresponding text. As the audio plays, the corresponding section of text is highlighted. You can also click on any section of the text to immediately begin playing the audio from that point.
My dream is that all language learning podcasts will race to make their content available in this way.
Listening and reading are critical components of language learning. But like oil and water, they’re not easy to combine, so each is generally practiced in isolation. Try listening to an audiobook while reading along with the real book. What if you want to hear the last sentence again? It’s a pain to rewind the audio. What if you want jump to another part of the book? What if you just listen for a while, but then need to refer to the book again later? It’s frustrating because the audio and the book are not connected in any way.
But what if you could combine the two?
Peanut-butter jelly time! Here’s an example of a very short Chinese lesson (thanks ChinesePod). Try clicking the play button, or anywhere on the transcript:
I have scaled this up to entire books! Click here to see the full book, Alice in Wonderland, in all it’s English glory:
(text from Project Gutenberg, audio from LibriVox)
- Instantly accessible from any web browser — no special software to download/install.
- You can still listen without reading, or read without listening. When you want to listen to a given part, or read a given part, you don’t have to struggle to find the right place in both the audio and text.
- Since you’re reading along in a web-page, your favorite pop-up dictionary will continue to serve you!
The intent is that anyone can create their own synchronized text/audio to share with the world. The player is just a tool that can play back an audio file with a given transcript. Anyone can host audio and transcripts on their own website, and use the player to present them together. The player can also be embedded in a webpage.
Why would any language learning podcast NOT make their content available in this fashion?
- Connect with other people who are interested in seeing this type of idea come alive.
- Make existing content available in this format (like synchronizing content from LibriVox, Project Gutenberg).
- Gather feedback from users to see what kind of crazy things become possible when you have text and audio aligned (e.g. easily generating flashcards with text and audio).
I welcome your feedback! And feel free to notify your favorite podcast if you’d like to see their content available in this type of format.
Sweet language learning device.
I finally bought an old tablet PC from eBay, a Fujitsu Stylistic LT C-500
, for $116. After a week of playing with it, I highly recommend this form factor for learning to read a foreign language.
I’ve often wanted to spend more time reading Chinese books, but couldn’t bear to read anything on paper, because there were just too many words that I didn’t know. And with Chinese characters, looking up unknown words can be particularly painful.
I tried reading books on the computer, with instant access to pop-up dictionaries, but I would often get overwhelmed by the sheer length of the text.
But with this little tablet PC running Windows 2000, I think I’ve found the solution. After rotating the display, I am able to read text on a screen that is roughly the same size and shape as a paperback novel. It feels just like reading a book, but with the magic of instant dictionary access to explain unfamiliar words and phrases. What other e-book reading device can let you install and enjoy your favorite dictionary software?
There’s a lot of potential here. I think this is a better option for portable reading than something like Pleco. One thing I haven’t tried yet is installing Transcriber and playing a synchronized audio book. I’d like to see a Kindle do that!
I don’t know why nobody ever told me about Transcriber, but since it’s so useful for language learning, I thought I’d share it.
Transcriber can help you with your:
- listening comprehension
- overall fluency
How does it do all of these things? Simply by linking together audio and text, making playback and navigation a cinch.
Here’s a demonstration of simple playback of a ChinesePod lesson. You’ll see how the text has been brought to life, by being aligned with the audio:
You can navigate to any section of the text and instantly hear the audio for that section.
The magic comes when working with materials that you can’t fully understand. You can load an audio, paste in the transcript and start listening, aligning the text as you go. When you encounter a sentence that you don’t fully understand, you can isolate just the word or phrase that gives you trouble and focus your listening on that.
Right now I’m using Transcriber to blast through some ChinesePod dialogues. ChinesePod provides exact transcripts with English translations underneath each paragraph. In Transcriber, I open the dialogue audio, paste in the transcript and process the new material in three passes:
- Listen through, aligning each English sentence to the audio.
- Take another, more careful pass, this time focusing on the Chinese text as I listen to the audio. When I hear new words that I don’t understand, I might segment the audio to listen carefully to those parts of the sentence a few times. Saying the phrases out loud, with the meaning in mind also helps. Then I might listen to the full sentence again, hopefully understanding it better.
- Taking a final pass, I again focus on the Chinese text, ignoring the English. Hopefully I’ll have an easier time understanding the sentences. I may pause a couple times to listen or practice saying some new words, but after that it’s time to move on.
Although Transcriber was not created with language learners in mind, there are many ways it can serve language learners. My little example just scratches the surface. What would a similar piece of software look like if it was designed with language learning in mind? Maybe you could instantly create flashcards with audio for a given sentence, etc.
Transcriber can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OSX or Linux from: here.