A Review of Glossika!

ENZHZS-F1-EBK It has been quite a while since updating the mainlymagyar blog.  Unfortunately, life has been getting in the way of blogwriting and language study. Nevertheless, I would like to share a new language learning program that I have stumbled upon and how I’m using it for my next challenge. The company Glossika was founded a few years ago by fellow polyglot Mike Campbell.  I remember Mike, who went under the username “Glossika”,  from several old posts he wrote on the How To Learn Any Language forums.  He is a big proponent of learning vocabulary through complete sentences instead of learning isolated words. I believe this is one of the key methods he used to become fluent in Mandarin (and many, many other languages). He then adapted this method to create his Glossika courses which are now available in 20 or so languages (with several more on the way!)  http://www.glossika.com 10489986_10152545403315199_4952585432665820608_nMike’s method is intended to be used as an aid in increasing one’s abilities in comprehension of foreign language conversational speech and establishing fluency in complete sentence production.  Each course contains over 3000 (!) sentences. The sentences are broken down into manageable units. Glossika calls these units GMS (Glossika Mass Sentence) files or GSR (Glossika Spaced Repetition) files. The GMS files are meant for more comprehensive study with phonetic and IPA transcriptions and, in some languages, literal word for word translations. The GSR files are meant for review, or abbreviated “on the go” study.  They are the equivalent of an audio Anki deck or an audio flashcard deck of all of the sentences.  Each day for study is numbered in sequence and prior sentences are reintroduced in subsequent lessons according to the principles of spaced repetition.  Thus, over several days the learner gradually “absorbs” the sentences to the point where they can be understood and reproduced effortlessly. The Glossika courses are not meant to be used in isolation or used by pure beginners as there is no language “instruction” per se.  I thought about trying Glossika for Thai, a language in which I have very little knowledge. I soon discovered after sampling the trial lessons available on iTunes that it was much too advanced for me as an absolute beginner and I was in way over my head!    I noticed that there was a Glossika course for Mandarin Chinese and figured that it has been two years since I had studied any Mandarin.  Why not challenge myself to work through the Glossika Mandarin course and see what I’m able to accomplish? Since my free time is very limited I will mainly be using the GSR files in the car on my way to and from work.  Conveniently, the GSR lessons average about 15 minutes apiece which also happens to be the length of my commute!  I have found it helpful to review the GMS files when I do have free time.  Specifically I have found it useful to stay about a week ahead of the GSR lessons with the GMS files.  This seems to help me familiarize myself with the sentences so they are easier to reproduce when they emerge on the GSR lessons. Finnish Glossika So far I have completed about twenty days of the Glossika Mandarin course and these are some of my initial impressions:

  • The sound quality is excellent on both the English and Mandarin sides
  • The sentences are recorded in Colloquial Dialects (both Beijing and Taipei for Mandarin) and are in common, NOT FORMAL speech,  as is the norm in most language programs
  • The spaced repetition really does appear to work.  I was completely lost for the first few days since I hadn’t studied any Mandarin for two years. Now, three weeks into it,  sentences like  “What’s you favorite color?” and “What are the children doing?, They’re watching TV.” flow effortlessly.
  • The sentences in the first level are at an appropriate difficulty level for an advanced beginner such as myself.  They are challenging but not too challenging.  Again, this wasn’t the case with Thai.  I would not recommend this method unless you have completed at least a beginner level course.
  • The written files are very well done.  I find the phonetic and the “GLOSS word for word” transcriptions very useful since I can’t yet read Chinese characters.
  • There is a wealth of vocabulary to be obtained from each level.  Level one alone teaches at least 2000 Mandarin words. I imagine this would total close to 6000 words with all three levels. (someday I’ll count all three levels!)  Compare this to three levels of Pimsleur which teaches a paltry 450 words.
  • The sentences seem to come from high frequency, “small talk” sorts of conversations which I could see myself actually using.  Ten lessons aren’t spent learning how to invite a member of the opposite sex over to “your place” like in the Pimsleur courses.
  • The price is very reasonable. Most of the courses are priced between $69 and $85 USD.  This is an incredible bargain compared to Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone which are upwards of $500 USD!
  • Each language course is uniform which linguists believe aids learning subsequent languages.

My only complaint with Glossika so far is that I’ve become really impatient waiting for them to release other languages such as Japanese, Turkish, Khmer and Tamil! ( a minor complaint no less) In summary, I highly recommend Glossika for advanced beginners and up. It’s like the Pimsleur courses on steroids!! Stay tuned for my results!

Reflections upon my 1st week of Georgian study…

I have gotten one week of Georgian study under my belt.  It is pretty clear this language is not going to be a walk in the park (…not that I expected it to be after all!).  Take for example that in Georgian, the word for father is mama, the word for mother is deda and the word for boy is bitchi!

These first few weeks are arguably my favorite part with language learning.  I just love learning how different languages are extracted from random sounds and assembled in such a way that they mean something to people.  I am fascinated how Japanese can do it a certain way which is totally different from Italian which is completely different from Georgian!  Yet for each of those groups, the sounds and sentences have lucid meaning.  I can already tell that Georgian is remarkably different in its grammar and syntax than any other language I have studied; I can see how linguists get so excited over it!

I found a great course that teaches “Survival Georgian”.  It is put out by the Peace Corps and is completely free. ( I just love free knowledge!)  You can find it here for yourself if you are interested :  http://sites.google.com/site/soyouwanttolearnalanguage/georgian

So, I have really just scratched the surface of the very basics of this alien language.  I am through Lesson 5 which means I have mastered such necessities as:

Where are you from? – saidan xarT?

What is your name? – ra gqviaT? / ra gqvia?

My name is…  – …mqvia  (sounds like “mivqueeah”)

Nice to meet you –  sasiamovnoa

and the most important phrase in any language …

Excuse me, where is the toilet/restroom?  –   Bodhishi, sad aris tualeti?

Of course, I can also now say “I am a Peace Corps Volunteer” effortlessly… which does me no good as I’m fairly sure I won’t ever be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia in this lifetime. Oh well.

The lessons are fun because there are also VIDEO lessons that come with the pack. These lessons are led by a Georgian instructor named Keti.

Keti is VERY intense.    Keti does not smile.    Keti looks like she could (and would)  kick the living crap out of me even though I probably outweigh her by 100 pounds.  Keti WILL teach you Georgian … or else!   Despite my being somewhat intimidated by my virtual instructor, video lessons with Keti are quite entertaining.  In a sense I feel like I am transported back to the Cold-War era and am receiving some sort of secret CIA assignment.

”  Say  ‘I am a Peace Corps Volunteer’.”  “SAY IT!!!  …  I will break you ……”

Nevertheless, in the next week or two, I hope to finish the “Peace Corps Survival Georgian” Course.   After that I’ll go back to Book2 and start on the Beginner’s Georgian course.  At that point I may actually have enough under my belt to start finding actual people to speak Georgian with!
I may have to start with these guys!

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! 新年快乐! (Happy New Year!)

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! 新年快乐!

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (新年快乐) everyone! Xin Nian (新年) is “New Year”. Xin is new and Nian is year.  Kuai le (快樂) is happiness, joy, delight, or rejoicings. So “Happy New Year” in English is “New Year Happy” in Chinese: Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! 🙂


So, a new year, new goals.  Well, not so much “new” goals, but I am changing my approach a little bit.  Nothing is changing with Pimsleur.  I’m still plugging away at finishing a lesson every day or two until I am finished with all 90 lessons.  1/3 done!


I am, however,  moving away from the FSI/DLI Standard Chinese, a Modular approach and substituting the DLI Basic Course ( available here: http://jlu.wbtrain.com/sumtotal/language/DLI%20basic%20courses/Chinese%20Mandarin/ ) .  Why you may ask?  The DLI course is slightly more current (1989 compared with 1983) but has better quality recordings.  The material between the two is nearly identical until the latter half of the DLI course where it really takes off in terms of depth compared with the Standard course.  The major difference that I have found is in the recordings.  The overwhelming majority of the FSI/DLI Standard Chinese recordings are in English whereas the DLI Basic Course recordings are almost all in Mandarin.  With such little time to devote to daily language studies, I need it to count!  I need to be immersed in Mandarin, not English.  Here is where the DLI Basic Course comes through.  These recordings were developed for the DLI officers so they could immerse themselves in Mandarin outside of class.  Thus, they were able to increase their exposure from 6 hours a day (classroom alone) to around 9 hours a day (classroom plus tapes) .  So, for the standard 80 week program, the homework tapes would bring them from a total course-load of 2400 hours (assuming 30 hours a week) to 3600 (assuming 45 hours a week).  Recall the minimum 2400 hours of study required for competence in a “Level IV” language such as Chinese.  The DLI Basic Course tapes consist mostly of a relentless barrage of Mandarin spoken at natural speed (read: FAST!!!) with various accents of varying intelligibility to my novice ear. Quite the challenge, I must confess!


I’m starting with Unit 7 which is about the same corresponding level to where I left off with the FSI course.  My goal is to master a MINIMUM of one unit a week x 26 weeks which would put me at Unit 33 in July. That is about 65% of the way through the entire course which should give me a pretty good command of spoken Mandarin by this Summer.


I have also been resistant to a well known method of learning the Chinese writing  system called :  Remembering the Hanzi: How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters by James W. Heisig. :





This book teaches the most common 1500 characters using stories and mnemonics so as to cement the meaning and method of writing each character in the students’ heads.  I have been resistant to using this method but so many of my peers have enthusiastically recommended it, that I decided to take a look at it.


My main critique of this method is that it does not teach the “sounds” associated with each character, only the “meaning” of the character.  This is INTENTIONAL for the method to work.  It separates speaking and writing.  This is something completely foreign to me, a native speaker of English,  where a word’s pronunciation is forever linked with its written form!  I had always wondered why Chinese programming is always broadcasted alongside Chinese character subtitles.  It now makes sense.  “Written Chinese” is almost identical whether it is Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Hakka, Min, Xiang or Gan ( some of the mutually unintelligible dialects of spoken Chinese) .  The way each character is pronounced by these different dialects is completely different.  A Mandarin speaker would probably have no clue what a Cantonese speaker was saying to him, but if he wrote it down, it would be perfectly clear! (assuming the Mandarin speaker had knowledge of the Traditional character set…)   This course teaches the meaning of each of the character and links it to a little story so it is not forgotten.  Some students claimed they have learned 1500 characters in 4 weeks using this method.  The link between the character and its sound comes later in the learning process after the student has more of a spoken vocabulary.  That is, after all, how we all learned our native languages.  Who learns to write their language before they can speak it??  So, OK, I’ll give it a try.  The material does go fairly fast so I should be able to master the 55 lessons by July.    example:


# 22

唱 sing

This one is easy! You have one mouth making no noise (the choirmaster) and two mouths with wagging tongues (the mini- mum for a chorus). So when you hear the key word sing, think of the Vienna Boys’ Choir or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the character is yours forever. [11]


下 below

Here we see our famous magic wand hanging, all on its own, below the ceiling, as you probably already guessed would hap- pen. In addition to giving us two new characters, the two shapes in this and the preceding frame also serve to illustrate the difference between the primitive meanings for ceiling and floor: it all depends on whether the single horizontal line stands above or below the primitive element to which it is related. [3]


If I have any spare moment to relax (slim chance) through all this.  I’ll attempt to do a little bit of Beginning Chinese Reader.  I found recordings that follow the text – word for word.  It is nice to listen and follow along with the text.  It helps with my rapid character recognition and comprehension and it is (believe it or not) somewhat relaxing!


OK THEN!  Here it is, the updated schedule!


  1. Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese II and III : one unit every 1-2 days
  2. DLI Basic Course : one lesson a week – minimum
  3. Remembering the Hanzi: two lessons a week
  4. Beginning Chinese Reader : bonus with free time
  5. Find Chinese conversation partners once the new semester commences 1-2 x / week