Learning German Using VociTeach and AskMeEvery


Made an interesting observation about the impact of setting a goal that your care about and starting to measure performance to the goal. This came about in my Learning German project.

When I decided to get serious again about learning German, I looked around for some free resources. Generally I was thinking I would listen to podcasts during my awful every work day two hour round trip commute. When I’ve done this in the past I have to say I really did not enjoy it. The desire to listen to the podcasts faded in about two days and I found something else to do. This time around I started the search differently, looking for apps instead of podcasts. I still ended up with a podcast that I actually like but along the way I found an Android flash card app by Stephan Wiesner at http://german-podcast.blogspot.com/ It’s his podcast that I like too.

A set of flashcards demonstrating the Leitner ...

A set of flashcards demonstrating the Leitner system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stephan’s app uses the Leitner flashcard process. He built in a simple bar chart that shows you how you are progressing with moving the cards through the process. There’s also a quiz that gives you a point for correct answers and deducts two points for wrong answers, then allows you to keep track of your high scores. Got someone you are working with to learn a foreign language? The quiz could be a fun way to compete.

Recently I was watching a vidcast interview of Tim Ferris, the famous author/inventor of the Four Hour Work Week and recently the Four Hour Chef. He talked about foreign language learning and without actually referring directly to the Leitner system, he said just go learn a 1000 words in a language and some basic grammer and you are 90% of the way there. I already know the basic grammar part thanks to my high school German grammar that amazingly I can still remember. I just don’t have the vocab to go with it. I like the app. It’s a daily challenge to see how far I can get through new words, but I found myself looking at the bar graph of how many words I had mastered and while I was sure the number was going up, I could not remember how many words I had mastered the last time I checked and it just felt like I was moving too slowly.

Along comes the Truth in Tech podcast Episode 23 where they interview the guys who created AskMeEvery.com. If you sign up at AskMeEvery, you can get an email every day that asks you a question, like How Much Did You Weigh This Morning or What Time Did You Go To Sleep Last Night or How Many Drinks Did You Have Last Night. You get the idea. It’s a little self quantification web app that every person could easily use without having to know or care what a Fitbit is or whether or not your need Penicillin if you have Endomondo. I started using AskMeEvery to track a basic question about what time I woke up, even though I already track that information through www.quantifiedawesome.com. I just wanted to see if I would learn anything different.

Then it hit me. What about the question: How Many German Vocabulary Words Have You Mastered? Asked every day. I just have to launch my VociTeach app, check the chart and see how many cards are in the sixth bucket (Leitner system reference) and type the number in to the little block on AskMeEvery and Voila – tracking my progress.

Here’s the observation. I take the vocabulary sessions much more seriously now. I used to just check a word and if the answer did not immediately come to mind, I’d just check the answer and mark it wrong and move on. I didn’t care if I got one wrong, because it just meant I didn’t know it very well. As soon as I started tracking this on AskMeEvery, two specific things happened.

1. I work harder to get right answers. I’ll think about a word, skip it and come back to it later before I just give in and get it wrong.

2. The temptation to cheat is much higher. Leitner uses 6 buckets. Get a word right it moves to the next higher bucket. Get one wrong and it goes back to bucket number 1. When I am struggling with a word in bucket number five, the temptation to cheat is strong.

At any rate, it’s working. I am more motivated and I am learning at a faster rate. So to you Stephan Wiesner for VociTeach and to you AskMeEvery I say vielen Dank, ihr programm ist zehr gut!

Using AskMeEvery to Track German Vocabulary Progress