Sunday, 18 February 2018

Pronunciation Pain. Part 2 - Welcome to the Language Gym

In the previous post, we tried to answer the question if you actually need to improve your pronunciation and how much it is ok for you to deviate from the standard pronunciation based on what you use your target language for. We examined what pronunciation and standard pronunciation is, the motives or reasons why you might want to get rid of your foreign accent, your chances of improving your pronunciation as an adult language learner and your pronunciation goal.

When drawing your language learning plan, you need to look at the whole picture and based on your language learning goals, areas of improvement, the time and other resources you are able to allocate to your language study, decide how much effort you are prepared to spend on improving your pronunciation.

The reason for this analysis is that pronunciation is a separate skill that requires specific work with full focus only on this skill.

What is Pronunciation Training?

So, what pronunciation training actually entails?

Depending on what your areas of improvement are, you might need to work either on separate sounds or intonation or both. If either of these two is off, your pronunciation might hinder communication, i.e. understanding.

If it is both separate sounds and intonation that you need to work on, usually, pronunciation practice starts with working on separate sounds.

Working on Separate Sounds

Here you are likely to need IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet) or any other transliteration system, especially if the language you are learning is not phonetic, i.e. words are spelt in a different way than pronounced. English is one of the examples of a language with traditional (read: nightmarish) spelling, i.e. the spelling that has stayed the same even though the pronunciation has changed a lot over the centuries. That’s why, by the way, English words are transcribed in our Ready vocBlocks and when you make your own vocBlocks transcription pops up automatically from the built-in dictionary.

When working on sounds, you might want to read or watch some theory on how certain sounds are pronounced, i.e. how and if your tongue, lips and soft palate move to form these particular sounds. It is especially important for the sounds that are very different from your native language. For example, /θ/ and /ð/ in English if you don’t have any such sounds in your mother tongue.

Don’t be surprised if your mouth refuses to articulate the sounds of your target language the way they should be pronounced and if your facial muscles hurt after the training. Articulating sounds of different languages requires work of different muscles, so if you have been speaking mainly your native language or if you have been articulating the sounds of your target language in an incorrect way, different muscles have been working, so the ones that are working now, when you are training correct pronunciation, hurt. Yep, welcome to the language gym!

When practising separate sounds, you need to monitor that your organs of speech are positioned and move correctly. While you won’t be able to see your soft palate or fully see your tongue, the position and movement of your lips can be easily monitored when you practise with a mirror.

And even if you don’t think much of this technique, don’t just brush it off as unnecessary: you will be surprised how easily your organs of speech slip back to the familiar moves they have got used to over the years of speaking your native tongue. Even when you think your organs of speech move and/or positioned correctly, a check in the mirror might prove otherwise. So, grab that mirror, beaut, to check you really round your lips in the right way for that /əʋ/ sound!

It doesn’t mean, of course, that from now on you are compelled to stare in the mirror every time you speak your target language. It’s necessary for your phonetic training, of course, but that’s where it ends. And though phonetic practice can turn out to be addictive for you if you are a bit of an actor or if you don’t mind checking that you look gorgeous while speaking your target language, it would be a bit on the wacky side if you pulled a compact mirror out of your briefcase in the middle of a contract negotiation with your foreign partners, glanced at it while pronouncing your /θ/ and packed it back smiling and nodding with satisfaction.

First of all, while having a real life conversation in your target language you are much less likely to be in control of your language per se, including pronunciation. You will have to think what to say not just how to say it!

And, secondly, you won’t have to think about your pronunciation. The muscles that work when you speak are just that, they are muscles. As other muscles in your body, after a long enough period of working out (phonetic practice) they start taking care of themselves. Same way as you don’t have to constantly think of correct posture or hold your stomach in after you have been working out in the gym for some time, you will be articulating sounds correctly without constantly making an effort to do so.

Working on Sounds in Context

The next step of phonetic practice is working on short phrases, sentences and tongue twisters so that you could train the sounds that you have been working on at the first step, in connection with other sounds.

The main feature of this kind of practice is exaggeration: you need to articulate the sounds you are working on very clearly and distinctly, much more clearly and distinctly than they are pronounced in real speech.

Again, this doesn’t mean that you will be articulating the sounds in this exaggerated manner in real life conversations going forward. Absolutely not. If you did, you would sound really weird (nobody does it) and you would sacrifice speed which is one of the parts of good pronunciation. But when training, you need to focus on one thing at a time (it’s not speed at this point) and exaggeration is necessary for you to learn to articulate the sounds correctly.

At this step of your phonetic practice, you might find it useful to monitor your pronunciation by recording your voice and playing it back to yourself. While listening to your own voice is not the most pleasant thing in the world, treat it as a necessary evil that will help you avoid slipping back to your old pronunciation mistakes or making new ones. For the next (third) step of your pronunciation training recording and playing back your voice can also help avoid any mistakes.

Working on Intonation

This third step is working on intonation. Intonation is the music of the language so just as with musical notes that people look at when playing a musical instrument or singing, you might need to employ some graphic means to mark whether the intonation goes up or down, which words in the sentences are stressed and where pauses are made.

You can mark the sentences and texts, you are working on, either based on the standard intonation patterns or by listening carefully to the audio of native speakers. A combination of both, i.e. marking texts while listening to the audio and applying your theoretical knowledge of standard intonation patterns is all the more effective and accurate, especially if your musical ear is a bit deaf.

Please note that the texts you use for this purpose should be the ones designed for language learners even if they were not specifically designed for training pronunciation. With real stuff from youtube, for example, you risk copying all sorts of deviations from the standard and might struggle with the complexity and irregularity of real thing that you don’t need for your phonetic training.

After you have marked the text, you need to repeat it sentence by sentence after the speaker copying the intonation, stressing the right words and pausing in the right places. If a sentence is too long, you can stop the recording where the speaker pauses and repeat a part of the sentence before listening and repeating the next part.

Working on Speed

Once you feel confident enough with intonation, you could challenge yourself with repeating these texts with the same speed as the native speaker(s) of the recording.

Speaking in your target language with a native-like speed is quite important as (like other elements of pronunciation) it impacts communication.

It is like driving on a busy road: you need to have approximately the same speed as others so as not to break the flow (in the case of speaking, the flow of conversation). Too slow and other road users get impatient, too quick and other road users get uncomfortable.

If you cannot imitate the speed from the first attempt, don’t worry, it’s not that easy, especially if you are physically struggling to articulate all the sounds of your target language. It’s a matter of practice to make your target language speech quicker and more native-like, so keep trying!

And, by the way, if the text you have chosen happens to be a heated argument between two friends or spouses, an exchange of quick emotional remarks, good luck with that! It’s a tough but good practice which you might actually enjoy if you are a bit of an actor.

Now that you have an idea of what phonetic training is, you can decide if and how much time you can spend on it and (if it’s a yes) add working on the sounds, intonation and speed of your target language to your language learning plan.

Happy articulating!

Monday, 29 January 2018

Pronunciation Pain. Part 1 - Do You Need to Improve Your Pronunciation?

When one starts learning a foreign language, pronunciation is probably not the first thing on one’s mind. On the one hand, there are new words to learn and new grammar structures to understand and remember. On the other hand, there are new routines to be organised and new habits to be built for learning to actually happen in your busy adult life. So pronunciation can get pushed to the back burner very easily.

As a result, one day you might discover that even though you can recall the right words at the right time, build sentences and in general speak the language, people have trouble understanding you. Even if you have been working on your reading, listening, speaking, writing skills and tackling grammar, if you haven’t been taking care of your pronunciation, it might become that rain that spoils your language parade.

What is Pronunciation?

So, what is pronunciation exactly? A quick definition from Wikipedia tells us that “Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken.” [1]

There is no mention of a foreign language, as you might have noticed, and, in fact, pronunciation is not limited to the sphere of learning languages. Pronunciation of native speakers can also differ based on their age, social class, education, residence, etc. So, when you speak your mother tongue you also have an accent, i.e. a certain “manner of pronunciation” [2].

For example, Birmingham or Brummie accent of the British English is seen as uneducated or working class. "Peaky Blinders" is a popular British TV series based on a story of a criminal gang from Birmingham. The members of the gang speak with Brummie accent:

So, accents are deviations from standard pronunciation. But what is this standard and who says what is standard, i.e. correct, and what is not?

In the past when there was not much communication between different regions, there were lots of dialects and not just one (standard) language. Depending on where you lived, you spoke a certain dialect which your neighbours might or might not have understood.

Later, “modern Nationalism, as developed especially since the French Revolution, has made the distinction between "language" and "dialect" an issue of great political importance. [3]” The linguist Max Weinreich wrote that ”A language is a dialect with an army and navy” [3].

So, what happened is a certain dialect was called a language based on certain social, political, cultural, or historical considerations and the pronunciation typical of this dialect became standard.

Standard dialect/language and standard pronunciation are backed by institutions, i.e. government, schools, etc. and spread by media, formal literature, published textbooks, dictionaries, etc.

Obviously, over the years these institutions have influenced populations of their countries with regards to how people speak, but the reality is much more complex than the pure standard, as non-standard dialects still exist (e.g. Scouse and Tyke dialects in the UK; Bavarian, Swabian and lots of other regional dialects in Germany), the population is not homogeneous (different age, social, regional, ethnic groups) and the standard itself changes over time.

Showing your True Colours

So, unless you are a phonetics professor teaching standard pronunciation, it might be ok to deviate from this standard and show the world what you are by the way you speak. And this includes a foreign accent too. After all, your primary goal when speaking a foreign language is to be understood and not to conceal that you are not a native speaker, isn’t it?

If you haven’t been trained to be deployed as a spy in a foreign country, you can predict with a 99.9% accuracy that if you ask your friend, who is a native speaker of the language you are learning, whether you sound like a native to them, they are likely to reply that you do not. It doesn’t mean straightaway that your pronunciation is not good, in fact your pronunciation might even be very good and not deviate a lot from the standard. Why would your friend say it then, you might ask. Is he/she just trying to piss you off? This actually might be the case but even if your friend has no intention of making you angry, their answer might mean lots of other things some of which have nothing to do with your pronunciation.

For example, it might mean that you don’t speak with a local, regional accent that your friend is used to. Or, perhaps, your friend haven’t learnt any foreign languages themselves and it’s difficult for them to understand what exactly is not “right” with the way you speak and they think you don’t sound native because you tend to use more formal words that you learnt from books rather than more informal ones they expect to hear in conversations. Or you don’t look or have manners same as local people and that influences the overall impression you produce.

Examining your Motives

On the other hand, if you know that you have a distinct foreign accent and it bothers you, before you commit to improving your pronunciation, you might want to double check your motive. This will help you decide how much (if any) of your time, money and effort you are prepared to invest into your pronunciation training.

To verify the reason you want to get rid of your foreign accent, you might want to ask yourself these questions:

Do you find that people have difficulties understanding you because of your accent and you are struggling to reach your professional and/or personal goals because of it?

Do you feel that you do not belong to a group of native speakers, for example, your friends, your colleagues, etc. and think that improving your pronunciation might help to feel one of the group?

Do you feel that people think that you are less intelligent because of your foreign accent and improving it will help you look and sound smarter?

If you have answered “yes” to the last two questions, then pronunciation is probably not the root cause of the problem, and improving it might not be the solution.

If you are trying to improve or rather change your pronunciation to become one of the group of native speakers or just to build better relationship with them, you might find that other stuff can get in the way, for example, cultural, religious or social background shared by these native speakers that you don’t share.

If your accent is not too thick and your friends or colleagues don’t have too much trouble understanding you, pronunciation is most likely not a problem for building relationship with them. In fact, people notice your foreign accent much more when they have just met you but once you have spent some time with them, they might even forget that you speak with a foreign accent.

So, instead of trying to be someone else and trying to change your pronunciation that doesn’t actually get in the way of being understood, you might want to find something you already share with the people you are trying to connect with. This could be same interests, hobbies or just the same place you visited on holidays. If you still struggle, a bit of good-natured humour (not too much sarcasm!) can go a long way.

As to you feeling seen as less intelligent because of your foreign accent, people might not even have this idea about you and it’s all in your head. Depending on what foreign accent you have, native speakers of this language might have different stereotypes about it, if any at all. In fact, stereotypes associated with certain accents are not limited to the stereotypes native speakers have towards non-native speakers.

For example, in American movies villains often speak with a British accent. Some examples include Scar in “The Lion King”, Magneto in “X-Men” and Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs”:

And in this scene from The Big Bang Theory Raj talks about American accent that makes everything sound stupid:

Even if native speakers do have certain stereotypes connected with your accent, it’s not a reason to despair. Once the native speakers, you are trying to build relationship with, get to know you better, very often the power of stereotypes fades and they treat you based on your personal characteristics and actions.

However, if you find that native and non-native speakers have difficulty understanding you because of your accent and it has a negative impact on your career or personal life, then you definitely need to consider pronunciation training.

Adults and their Pronunciation: You Can Do It!

As an adult speaker of a foreign language, you might want to know that research has shown that accents “remain relatively malleable until a person's early twenties, after which a person's accent seems to become more entrenched.” [2] These “neurological constraints associated with brain development appear to limit most non-native speakers’ ability to sound native-like. Most researchers agree that for adults, acquiring a native-like accent in a non-native language is near impossible.” [2]

Not good news if you were thinking of turning into another Queen of England in terms of your English pronunciation.

Talking about the queen though, an acoustic analysis of her Royal Christmas Messages, conducted by a scholar, revealed even her speech patterns “continue to change over her lifetime.” [2]

That's right. The person, who is practically employed to serve as an icon of tradition, also cannot help changing! It’s pretty good news for you as a language learner willing to improve your foreign accent which doesn’t seem that entrenched after all.

So, being pragmatic about your pronunciation, the task of improving it means making it closer to the standard pronunciation while understanding that life is more complex than any artificial standard and it’s ok to deviate, and, on the other hand, understanding that as a non-native speaker learning the language as an adult, you need to be less of a perfectionist as there are natural limitations connected with the way the human brain develops.

Your Pronunciation Goal

How much you are ok to deviate from the standard depends on your overall goal of learning your foreign language according to which you can place your pronunciation goal on the “pronunciation quality continuum” ranging from a very thick accent to a slight accent.

For example, you are learning your target language for pleasure, so that you could ask for directions when you go on holiday or impress your foreign friends with a phrase or two and entertain them throwing in some idioms they don’t expect from you pronounced with your thick foreign accent. Then deviating widely is ok and even cute.

If you are learning your target language for work, for example, to be able to communicate with your foreign partners or to participate in the international level events, then you might want to put your pronunciation goal further away from the thick accent end of the continuum.

If you permanently live and work in the country where your target language is spoken, then you might want to move the pronunciation goal quite far from the thick accent end, based purely on a number of occasions you need to get understood in your daily life. This is especially the case if your career depends on successful communication, for example, if you are in sales or heavily involved in interaction with clients.

So, when drawing your language learning plan, you need to look at the whole picture and based on your language learning goals, areas of improvement, the time you are able to allocate to your language study and other available resources, decide how much effort you are prepared to spend on improving your pronunciation.

To make this decision though you also need to understand what pronunciation training actually entails. If you are not sure, check out our next post dedicated to the specifics of pronunciation training.

Happy articulating!

References

1. Pronunciation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciation

2. Accent (sociolinguistics) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accent_(sociolinguistics)

3. Dialect https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialect

Monday, 8 January 2018

New Year - New Language Learning Plan

Happy New Year guys! Yep, 2018. Wow. 2017 went fast. Before you know it, 2019 will be knocking on the door. Hence, if you haven’t done so already, you’d better sort out your language learning plan for this year.

When you learn a foreign language as an adult, you need to have a language learning plan of some sort. Two reasons. First, you need to make sure your busy life and lazy self don’t squeeze out language study out of your day and second, so that you could plan the specific and feasible outcome to stay motivated.

It’s so easy to just forget to study your foreign language when your life takes over, so you might end up going foreign language free for days if not weeks. At the same time, you will have this unpleasant feeling that your target language is fading away and you are not doing anything to prevent it, let alone improve your skills. If you put together a plan in which you indicate time slots in your day or week as well as specific resources for your language study, you are much more likely to stay on track.

On the other hand, if you base this plan on the specific and feasible language learning goal, you are much more likely to stay motivated. It’s no secret that learning a foreign language takes months or years (depending on the level you would like to achieve, how much of your time per day or week you dedicate to your study, etc.). So, at some point, you might feel that you are not making any visible progress. It is especially the case if your level is intermediate or above and if you cannot allocate too much time per day or even per week to your foreign language study. When you have a specific and feasible goal in sight, you don’t feel either stuck or overwhelmed: if the goal you set is realistic, i.e. you have allocated enough time and suitable resources to achieve it, you just keep your eyes on the prize and keep moving, keep making progress albeit a slow one.

When drawing a language learning plan I would recommend setting a goal of working towards a certain language level. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has six standardised levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) which you can use for this purpose. Alternatively, you can stick to the Elementary - Intermediate - Advanced hierarchy.

Setting a level goal is a good starting point that will encourage you to free up more time for your language study and work towards improving your level and not just maintaining it.

Your language learning planning will be easy if you have an exam booked in your target language.

For example, if your exam is at level B2 and is scheduled for the end of the year, your goal will be to achieve this level by the end of the year. It’s easy to allocate a main resource for this kind of studying too, you just need to choose a good study book designed specifically for those who would like to take this exam. As all four core language skills (reading, listening, writing and speaking) are tested at such exams at the stated level, such books are designed to help you develop each of these skills at this level too.

In this case, your plan might look something like this:

If you are not planning to take an exam and are using different resources for your language study instead of just one course book covering all four core language skills, you might find it useful to set a level goal for each of the core skills.

This will ensure that you work on each of these skills to acquire all-around language ability. Then you won’t find yourself in the situation when you discover that you speak at a decent A2 level but cannot make out what you are being told as your listening skills are somewhat between complete starter and A1.

An additional benefit of this approach is that you acknowledge your current level for each of these skills, identify areas of improvement you did not think of in the first place and allocate more time and resources where they are needed.

For example, after you have acknowledged that the levels of your listening and speaking skills differ considerably and hinder your ability to have conversations in your target language, you set a goal of taking both your speaking and listening to the B2 level but based on the current state of development of these skills allocate more time and resources to listening as you will need to make more progress with it compared to speaking. Then your time and resources for listening and speaking might look something like this:

As your listening skills are at the beginner level, you won’t be able to comprehend a lot even when listening to the level A audio materials. The best way to start is listening to rather short pieces for which you have transcripts, so that after you have listened to them you could read them and use a dictionary to look up unknown words.

The most reliable resource of the audio materials suitable for your level would be audio materials that come with your course book or online course, so you could listen to the audio while you are walking your dog, for example, and work with the transcript of this audio later during your study time.

The idea is to listen to these audio pieces over and over again with your headphones on. Headphones help you hear and understand better while listening to the same piece several times ensures you pick up all details which you miss listening to the audio once. Listening to the piece before your study time also helps you use this valuable study time more efficiently.

Another listening activity is listening to songs in your target language. It’s supposed to be a light enjoyable activity that you could engage in while driving or doing some housework, for example. You don’t have to give your full attention, try to understand everything and wear headphones while listening to songs. It’s a good idea though to have lyrics available for the songs you listen to, so that you could refer to the written text to fully understand them and to pick up new vocabulary this way.

The most important thing here is to enjoy the songs you have selected. If you cringe every time you hear some songs and force yourself to listen to them just because they are in your target language, you might start loathing the language itself not only these songs. It’s not the wisest thing to do as you will have plenty of moments when your language learning motivation will hit its low (I am not trying to discourage you by the way), so it’s better to avoid stuff that puts you off from the start.

Let’s take another situation. Your overall language level is intermediate and your goal is to achieve advanced or native level in reading so that you could read resources available to the native speakers to pursue your hobbies and progress with your target language simultaneously.

Indeed, as a busy adult you don’t have too much time to indulge in your interests and hobbies, so it is in your best interest to transfer from learning materials to native level stuff so that your choice is no longer restricted by your language level and you could actually read the stuff you are interested in in the language you are studying.

For example, switch to reading history books in your target language killing two birds with one stone - learning the language and pursuing your hobby of a history nerd. In this case, you will need to start dipping your toes in the unchartered waters of native level history books. Thus you will start growing the vocabulary specific to this area of knowledge that will make it easier and easier for you to read more of these books in your target language.

It is fantastic of course if you can read history books that you love every day but if you have other reading to do, for example, some professional development books or if you want to watch some movies, you might want to allocate, for example, alternating fortnights to your reading in history. A fortnight is a period that is not too short so that your history reading could gather and benefit from momentum and, on the other hand, you will have time for other stuff you need to read or do.

It is also a good idea to have breaks from your reading routine so, for example, having Fridays and Saturdays off might help you have a rest from your routine activities and, by the way, have some social life too.

No matter what language level you have and what goals you are setting, you shouldn’t forget to keep learning and revising your new vocabulary. Five to ten minutes per day using a spaced repetition tool can make all the difference.

If you don’t acquire new vocabulary and let the vocabulary you have already learnt slip from your memory, you will still be progressing but at a much slower speed.

This is especially the case if you don’t come across these new words too often either because your level is quite high and the words you don’t yet know are not used too frequently or because you don’t have a chance to listen or read in your target language often enough for you to come across them to remember them without using a spaced repetition tool.

To make your language learning plan comprehensive, you might want to add this vocabulary practice as well as intensive study time (if you plan to have any) during which, for example, you train all four skills and focus on your grammar.

So, don’t miss this time of the year to plan ahead: commit to specific language outcomes and a plan of action to make them happen. After all, to put a nail into a wall, you need to focus on its small head and hit it repeatedly, so don’t just hammer around and about with your language learning, specify the language achievements you would like to make, the time you are able to allocate, the resources you have chosen and stick to your plan of action to make those aspirations a reality.

Happy planning!

Click to download your planning template:

Monday, 11 December 2017

What is Memoriser and How to Use It. Part 2 - Customising your Memoriser

As promised, part two of the guide on Memoriser is here. While part one is about practising with Memoriser, part two is about customising your Memoriser.

Changes to your Memoriser settings can be done in two ways: either in the Memoriser section by editing separate Memoriser units or in your profile settings by editing the parameters of Memoriser, so that these changes affect all future Memoriser units that you will be creating. Let me go into a bit more detail on each of these ways.

Making Changes to Separate Memoriser Units

When you click the ‘Learn’ button, a Memoriser unit for this vocBlock with the name ‘Memoriser unit: [vocBlock’s name]’ is created and placed in your Memoriser section. If you go to the Memoriser section, you will see a list of all Memoriser units that you have.

In order to make changes to a separate Memoriser unit, you need to press the ‘Edit’ button for this unit. You will then be taken to the Edit page where you can make changes to several Memoriser parameters. Let me go into a bit more detail on each of them.

Name. All Memoriser units are named ‘Memoriser unit: [vocBlock’s name]’ automatically but if you feel that you would like to have a different name for a particular unit, you can change it here.

Description. There is no description for any of the Memoriser units by default, however, you can add your own if you need to record some additional information, for example, a date you started with the exercises.

Spaced repetition stages. There are five spaced repetition stages by default. The first is learning stage while the rest are revision stages. The learning stage is the longest and contains multiple choice and free type exercises in both directions: Word-Translation and Translation-Word. (Please note that image only vocBlocks have multiple choice and free type exercises with just one direction Image-Word as the words and phrases included into these vocBlocks are illustrated by pictures, so normally do not need any additional explanation either in the form of translation or definition). For each type of exercises you will need to give two correct answers before moving on to the next type of exercises or to the revision stage. Revision stages contain only more difficult free type exercises with one Translation-Word direction and again you need to give two correct answers for a word to have it marked as learnt.

However, you can change these exercises to suit the needs you might have at a particular time or to suit a particular vocBlock you have created. Each stage has the ‘Edit’ button on the right. For learning stage, you can change the type of exercises, the direction and the number of required correct answers. With revision stages, in addition to these, you can also delete and add revision stages as well as change their order.

Spaced repetition intervals are set to two weeks, one, two and four months by default. It means that after the learning stage is over, you will be receiving reminders for revision of this Memoriser unit after two weeks, then one month, then two and then four months. In this post, you can get more details on spaced repetition theory if you would like to understand the reasons behind the default settings.

However, you can make changes here as well, i.e. increase or decrease the amount of time between revision stages and also delete and add them.

The box ‘Repeat last interval indefinitely’ is ticked by default to ensure you don’t forget the vocabulary included into your vocBlocks. If you feel that you don’t need to continuously revise vocabulary for a particular vocBlock, you can untick this box here.

Number of words in a memoriser session is set to 20 by default. In this case, you have short two to three minutes practice which you can fit in any time slot you have available during your busy day. However, if a particular vocBlock you would like to practise contains more than 50 words, you might want to increase the number of words included into one session in order to speed up the learning or revision process.

Answer timeout (in seconds) is set to 10 seconds by default. It means that you have 10 seconds to answer each question before the answer is displayed. If you feel that you need more time for trying to recall words or phrases in a particular vocBlock, you can increase answer timeout here.

Also, if your vocBlock contains additional notes, longer explanations etc. which you would like to review before giving your answer, you will need to increase answer timeout as well. Please note, however, that if these notes include context where this word or phrase is used, it’s better to read it after you have given your answer to avoid the prompt.

Increasing answer timeout will affect the duration of your sessions, so you need to take it into account when making these changes. Please also note, that timer set to shorter time than what is comfortable for you, helps you stay alert and pushes you to give answers quicker to ensure you know the vocabulary better.

vocBlocks. Here you can see which vocBlocks are included into this Memoriser unit. Only one vocBlock is included into each Memoriser unit by default - in this list you will see this vocBlock selected. However, you can add more vocBlocks from the list (this list includes all vocBlocks you have in ‘My vocBlocks’).

For example, you created a series of vocBlocks: one vocBlock for each episode of ‘Two and a Half Men’ TV series. Say, you have decided that each of them is too small to be practised on its own and at this point you have already created a Memoriser unit for just one of them. Here you can choose the rest of the vocBlocks of this series, so that all of them are included in one Memoriser unit.

Reminders. Once a Memoriser unit is created, a reminder is added to it automatically, so that you don’t need to do it yourself and so that you don’t miss a session. The reminders will be sent to the email address you used while creating your account on our website. If you logged in via a social network, an email address recorded in your social network will be used. The first reminder is sent on the following day after the Memoriser unit is created.

The default time for the reminders to land in your inbox is the same time as when you created this Memoriser unit. For example, if you created your Memoriser unit at 10 pm, the reminders for this unit will be set to 10 pm as well. However, we do recommend that you amend it to the time just before your daily vocabulary learning/revision by replacing it with a new reminder with the time you need.

Learning a foreign language as an adult requires building an iron-strong habit to ensure your busy life doesn’t take over and squeeze your language practice out of your day. You can always throw in more vocabulary practice when you have unexpected time slots like waiting in a queue or waiting for your date to show up, but it’s important to have some definite time slot in your day dedicated to vocabulary practice and the reminder settings are here to assist you with it.

The default frequency of reminders is ‘every day’ to assist you with building and maintaining this regular habit of bite-sized vocabulary practice. However, if you decide that you want to work on some particular Memoriser unit, say, every other day, you can amend the frequency to 'repeat every 2' (days) by replacing the existing reminder with a new one with the appropriate settings.

You can also choose some particular dates for the reminders to start and finish hitting your inbox. So, reminder settings help you get organised with your vocabulary practice and be the boss of your language learning as we believe that active learning is the only effective learning.

Making Changes to All Memoriser Units

The other way to customise your Memoriser, this time with the aim of customising it for all Memoriser units not just for separate ones, is editing the Memoriser parameters in your profile settings.

Your profile ‘Settings’ can be found in the drop-down which appears when you click on your username in the upper right-hand corner (on any page of the website).

When you click on the ‘Settings’ from the drop-down, you will be taken to a page with two tabs. One of them is the ‘Memoriser units’ tab where you can make the same changes as described in this post above but for all Memoriser units. These are the changes to:

- Frequency of reminders;

- Spaced repetition stages;

- Spaced repetition intervals.

Spaced repetition stages can be set differently depending on the type of your Memoriser units: Memoriser units for regular vocBlocks, Memoriser units for image only vocBlocks and Memoriser units created by vocBlocks LookUp.

Please note that for the latter the default number of words that the vocBlocks LookUp dictionary extension packages in a vocBlock is 10. It means that once you have looked up 10 words using vocBlocks LookUp, they will be recorded into a vocBlock which will be sent automatically to Memoriser for you to learn. Here you can amend the number of words to whatever seems most suitable for you. Please note that the more words are included in a Memoriser unit, the longer it will take to learn and revise it.

We hope that you find this short guide on how to customise your Memoriser useful. But if we have missed anything or you have a question please do not hesitate to drop us a line.

Happy Learning!