Monday, 22 May 2017

8 Reasons to Use Facebook Memes to Grow your Foreign Language Vocabulary

We all have been there: it's a hard day's night and studying your target foreign language is the last thing on your mind. But you can still stick to your commitment to study it every day. How? Think Facebook. Think memes.

Let's face it: if you are addicted to Facebook like me, you will be scrolling down your Facebook news feed at some point anyway. Especially when you have an excuse of being incapable of doing anything after a hard day at the office. So, why not inject some language practice into your Facebook habit to make it more useful and make you feel good about yourself?

So, Facebook memes it is. First, just a quick definition of a meme from Google in case you have been in a coma for the last decade or so lol:

meme /miːm/ 2. an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.

In this post I will look at the memes that are pieces of text with or without pictures. Like the below ones in English, German and Russian.

I am pretty sure you have come across such memes in your own language too. Thanks to the Internet and globalisation, memes are a more or less universal phenomenon so they come in different languages. So, you can actually find them in the target foreign language you are studying.

Why is it a good idea to use Facebook memes to grow your vocabulary? There are several reasons.

Reason #1. The vocabulary is used in context.

A meme is not an extract that you cannot understand without reading the whole text. A meme is a well-rounded text so words and phrases included into it are used in context. And context is king when you need to learn words and phrases as only in context you can fully understand their meaning and see how they are used.

Let’s take the word ‘cliffhanger’ in the below meme as an example. Assuming you don’t know this word, you can still figure out its meaning based on the context: an episode, a guy watching TV, the episode ends, the guy says ‘I need answers.’ And you can also see how the word ‘cliffhanger’ is used: ‘the episode ends with a cliffhanger.’

Reason #2. It is the most up-to-date vocabulary.

Language is not some precious gem hidden away in a treasury of super wise books some super wise scholars guard. It's a living and breathing organism that constantly evolves. Technology has put our life on fast forward and language reflects this rapid development as well.

While traditional textbooks take time to get published, with the Internet you have the most fresh developments in language. And you need to speak the lingo. Well, unless you choose to ignore modern life completely and stick to musing about good old times. O tempora, o mores! lol

Memes are ideal transmitters of the most current vocabulary. As a learner of German, I have come across some words I couldn't have found in textbooks, for example ‘geliked’ and ‘entliked’ (past tense from ‘like’ and ‘entlike’, i.e. ‘to like’ and ‘to unlike’ in social media context). I believe most German native speakers know these words though they are not reflected in dictionaries yet.

Reason #3. Same memes are posted in different languages.

Yes, it's called the Internet. The information is shared by the whole world. No wonder the same memes pop up in different languages. And it's a definite bonus for language learners as very often halfway through reading a meme in their target language they already know what it's about. Thus known content compensates for the unknown form, i.e. foreign language. So the foreign doesn't seem too foreign any more helping you to remember the words and phrases better.

Dark Lord defeated by an old yogurt in English and Russian

Reason #4. It is relevant and familiar content.

Memes often tap into something familiar like a typical situation or belief. They can also tap into the latest news and current affairs. So, the broader context memes tap into is relevant to most people. Therefore learning words used in memes is not like trying to remember some medical terms out of the blue when you have nothing to do with medical science. As in the case with the same memes posted in different languages, you have the same situations / beliefs / current news referred to in different languages. So, the relevant familiar content compensates for the unknown form. And again the foreign doesn't seem too foreign any more hence you remember the used words and phrases better.

typical grumpy teenagers

Reason #5. It is fun!

Memes are a lot of fun! The humour of memes is based on the situation it describes or choice of words or both. If the text is accompanied by a picture, it usually adds to the humorous effect or is directly involved in creating it together with the text. Humour is one more reason you remember words and phrases used in a meme better.

Reason #6. It is shareable.

As memes are funny, you feel the urge to share them to spread the joy, to have a giggle with your friends. And I mean with those friends who speak this foreign language as well as with those who don't.

When you share memes with your friends who speak or learn the same foreign language as you, there are linguistic benefits involved for both parties, as next time your friends are sure to reciprocate and send you funny memes they come across.

When you share with your friends who don't speak the language, there are status benefits lol. You share a meme and casually translate it for these ignoramuses. Next thing you know you get nicknamed ‘professor’. Not bad, huh?

Reason #7. No search needed.

With memes you can be lazy. Normally you search high and wide to get the content you need to study your target language. Considering how big and noisy the Internet is, it's not an easy task. With memes you don't need to search. They find you instead. Facebook with its algorithms has made it easy. You follow the sources that share memes on Facebook and make sure you hit ‘like’ when they pop up in your news feed so that Facebook shows you more of those.

Reason #8. Comments are included!

Comments are a bonus you get with memes. With comments you can read conversations native speakers have in reaction to a meme. If a topic is controversial, grab popcorn and something to record words and phrases in and start collecting. Once confident enough with the means of expressing your own opinion, you can chime in too!

So, these are the reasons why Facebook memes are useful for growing your foreign language vocabulary. And although memes help you remember this vocabulary better, you will not necessarily be able to remember it instantly. That's where spaced repetition software that creates tests with your target vocabulary, comes in handy.

I have been using vocblocks as it allows you to attach images, i.e. memes to the words you learn. Thus you have the context (and the relevant picture if there is one) at hand. You can go ahead and grab the sets of English, German and Russian memes I have created to start you off. If you find it an effective and fun way to grow your vocabulary, you can create your own sets either on this website or on any other you use. I have provided below a list of Facebook pages you can follow that post memes. Happy learning!

Suggested Facebook pages posting memes




Originally published at italki

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

How to Quickly Create vocBlocks Using Import

When it comes to creating your own vocBlocks you can drop in words and phrases as and when you pick them up or you can import whole lists of vocabulary to create your vocBlocks super fast and easy.

What is Import

It is a function that helps you create new vocBlocks by importing lists of words and phrases you have.

Say, you are listening to a podcast ‘Are you big on small talk?’ from BBC Learning English website and would like to learn the new vocabulary listed for this podcast. All you need to do is copy and paste this vocabulary into a new vocBlock to start learning it straight away.

Another example when the import fuction might come in handy is if you have been using some other spaced repetition software to grow your vocabulary, for example, Anki, and would like to have all the vocabulary you are learning in one place now. You can simply import your Anki decks to create new vocBlocks.

How it Works

You will need to go to My vocBlocks section on our website and hit Import button in the top left corner.

You will be creating a new vocBlock so will need to name it, choose the languages used and make sure the format is the one you need.

With format, there are four options you can choose from:

- CSV - word, translation, transcription

- CSV - word, transcription, translation

- Anki Deck

- Lingvo Tutor

If you have a list of words to import, you need to choose one of the CSV formats depending on whether translation in your list comes before or after transcription. Further in this post I will explain in detail how to import short and long lists of vocabulary and explain what CSV format is.

When importing Anki decks and Lingvo Tutor dictionaries, you will need to choose 'Anki Deck' for the former and 'Lingvo Tutor' for the latter from the drop down menue.

Once the format is chosen, copy and paste the imported data (see left screenshot below) or attach an Anki deck (see right screenshot below) and hit ‘Import’ button at the bottom of the page. Anki decks can also be dragged and dropped if you want it even quicker.

Importing Short Lists of Vocabulary

To import short lists of vocabulary you need to put commas between words, their translation and transcription. This format, when data is separated by commas, is known as CSV format. CSV stands for comma separated value.

Once you put commas, the tool will understand which data goes into a separate field, i.e. word field, translation field and transcription field. For example, to create a vocBlock for the podcast ‘Are you big on small talk?’ I mentioned earlier, once you have pasted the data into the ’Imported Data’ box, you will need to put a comma between the phrase and its explanation so that they go into separate fields in your new vocBlock. For example, the entry

slipped my mind


will need to be put like this

slipped my mind, forgot

so that 'slipped my mind' got into 'Word or phrase' field of your vocBlock entry and 'forgot' ended up in the 'Translation or explanation' field.

The next important thing to keep in mind is that each line of your document will be converted into a separate vocBlock entry. So, you will need to make sure that the data that you want to be in the same vocBlock entry is not split across lines. Thus, in the example above I put the phrase and its explanation in one line though originally they were split across two.

There are also a couple of minor tweaks which you might need to make to ensure the data you paste for importing converts properly.

One tweak is for those explanations that already have commas in them. So as the tool knows not to split the explanation and put it into separate vocBlock fields, you will need to enclose the whole explanation in double quotes. For example, for the entry


feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed

you will need to enclose the explanation into double quotes like this:

awkward, “feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed”

and the tool will know that the whole explanation is to be added to just one field and not to be split between ‘Translation or explanation’ and ‘Transcription’ fields.

Another case in which you will need to make a slight adjustment is if you have double quotes in the original text already which you would like to retain in the vocBlock you are creating. All you need to do is enclose them in another set of double quotes. For example, for the below phrase and its explanation taken from the vocabulary list for a podcast ‘Immigrants Learn to Lose Their Accents’ from Voice of America’s Learning English website the phrase “green card” in the explanation needs to be enclosed into another set of double quotes like this

green card,n. a document that shows a person from a foreign country can live and work in the United States. It is not green, but once was, so it continues to be called a ““green card””.

and the tool will leave the double quotes from the original text for you.

For lengthy explanations like the one above you might want to have it split into two separate paragraphs in which case you will need to feed the tool the data in the following format:

green card, ”n. a document that shows a person from a foreign country can live and work in the United States.

It is not green, but once was, so it continues to be called a ““green card”””.

All I did in this example is split the explanation into two paragraphs and then added one more set of double quotes to enclose it so that the tool treats the explanation split across the lines as belonging to one vocBlock entry and doesn’t put the second paragraph into a new vocBlock entry.

Importing Long Lists of Vocabulary

If you have long lists of vocabulary which need to be imported to a vocBlock, and these lists are not in CSV format, in order to speed up the process, you might want to use a spreadsheet application like MS Excel or a free one like Google Spreadsheets or OpenOffice Calc. Just copy and paste your lists of vocabulary into a spreadsheet and then export in CSV format before pasting the list into the 'Imported data' box.

Importing Lists of Vocabulary without Translation and/or Transcription

If you have a list of words without translation and/or transcription you can still import it to create a vocBlock and the missing transcription and translation will be added automatically from the built in dictionary. You can always untick the relevant boxes when importing data and the tool will not be adding the missing translation and/or transcription if you don’t need it for some reason.

Audio Pronunciation

This will be automatically added to the vocBlock with the imported data so you will have a talking vocBlock without any extra effort from your side! And as with the transcription and translation you can always untick the box to have no audio added to your vocBlock.

We hope that the above is a helpful guide for creating vocBlocks using Import! But if we missed anything or you have a question please do not hesitate to drop us a line.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

How to Stop Being a Wimp Nerd Style

A post featuring 13 English parts of body idioms in context and proving that knowledge is power in many ways.

‘If you wanted to get a well-preserved carcass of a pig and not some half decomposed crap, you had to be there early. First come, first served.’ My granny told me. You see, some grannies tell you stories about princesses waltzing at the balls in their pink frilly dresses, some give their preferences to unicorns prancing on the rainbows sprinkling glitter all around and yet some tell you about their dissection practice at their vets training uni. No leg pulling.

Apparently, these stories didn't forge nerves of steel as I used to attempt to faint when I saw blood. Any amount of it. A drop would suffice. A proper Achilles heel of mine. And I am not even starting about road kill which I used to regularly drive past on my way to the office located at the business park hidden in the picturesque countryside. Closing one's eyes for a second at full speed in a rural winding road is not the best practice but my excuse was I could have fainted at the wheel. Not fun either.

Then my English practice happened. I was learning parts of body in English.

Well, obviously being above the intermediate language level, I knew many words by heart already. So, I edited the vocBlocks Face, Body and Inside deleting almost all of the words in parts 1 and 2 and merging them with part 3. This part 3 'Inside' was all over the place by the way. Some words were familiar but shaky. Some words were understandable due to their international nature but I needed to keep an eye on the way I pronounced them. And some were downright new for me.

For instance, coccyx or tailbone. Not sure how I managed not to learn this interesting part of human anatomy earlier. And since there are two words, I actually wanted to leave out ‘coccyx’. A pain in the neck to pronounce. But then I heard Sheldon saying this word in this chair inspired little monologue and accepted the challenge.

‘I must say, I am enjoying your new chair... Aligns the lumbar, cradles the coccyx, balances the buttocks.’

So, I was practising spleens and colons and trying to bring home the difference between cartilages, ligaments and tendons, when I thought that it would be nice to stop those attempts to faint when faced with some blood. This stuff looked ok in the pictures. And after all modern kids are exposed to ‘Operation Ouch’, dissections at school and IKEA Red Riding Hood’s wolf while I still act like a Middle Ages damsel in distress. Enough of the dark ages, let's da Vinci this one!

So, documentaries about human body it was, eyes wide open, not missing a detail. Ok, I admit an attempt to puke, a couple of panic attacks and one count of involuntary cringing. But other than that I think I deserve a pat on the back.

And of course I was running the tests on a regular basis, battling with the names of the bones. Radius though was easy enough to learn once this clumsy and a bit thick in the head detective got one of his fractured in this scene. And since I love Rassel Crow who said the word, it did stick. I just recorded the sentence to have context with the useful related word ‘fracture’ at hand.

‘When you are talking to your doctor just tell them you have a spiral fracture of the left radius’

If you would like to memorise parts of body in English, grab our vocBlocks Human Body. They are translated into French, German, Russian and Spanish as well.

There is certainly more to the language practice than meets the eye. Yep, knowledge is power.

Let me know in the comments below, if you see eye to eye with me here or not. I am all ears! If you have any questions, feel free to pick my brain as well. Happy learning!

You might also like these posts:

Ornitophobia or How I Killed Two Birds with One Stone (birds idioms)

How to Boost your 5-a-Day Nerd Style (fruit and veg idioms)

How to Jazz Up your Everyday Nerd Style (music idioms)

Parts of Body Idioms Defined

pull somebody’s leg - to joke, to trick

have nerves of steel - to be very brave

Achilles heel - a specific weakness

by heart - from memory

keep an eye on - to watch or take care of something or someone

a pain in the neck - someone or something that is very annoying

a pat on the back - praise

thick in the head - stupid

have at hand - to have something within easy reach

more than meets the eye - more complex or interesting than it appears

see eye to eye with - to agree with someone

all ears - to be listening attentively

pick somebody’s brain - to ask for detailed information

*The list of idioms is based on this great resource: and

Thursday, 30 March 2017

How to Jazz up your Everyday Nerd Style

A post featuring 10 English music idioms in context and proving that knowledge is power in many ways.

Lunchtime in your office. You are chewing your sandwich and scrolling down your Facebook feed. A video with buskers playing in NY tube. Funny hair. Ok, hit ‘play’. Suddenly it’s not a dull day anymore. The guys rock!

And oh, the tall guy looks like the guy from marketing. Hahaha, you choke on your sandwich, show the video to others and you all have a giggle. It certainly jazzed up for you the afternoon meeting with the marketing folks!

Music can certainly make your day.

And it can also help you unwind and relax.

Deadlines, priorities, meetings, emails, emails, emails. Endless emails. The weekend is here but you feel like all you do is sort out your family stuff. Before you know it, boom! Monday again. Deadlines, priorities, meetings, emails, emails, emails. Endless emails.

If that rings a bell and you feel like a hamster racing like crazy in its little wheel, probably all you need to do is slow down and switch off for some time. And music can certainly help.

I don't know about you but I can easily forget to switch off. Forget to just listen to the music.

Luckily, my English study has recently reminded me that it has been a while since I listened to the music which helps me slow down. For me *nerd alert* it's classical music that does this unwind trick.

I try to align my language studying content with my interests, i.e. classical music in this case, so I am learning the names of the musical instruments now. Cellos and cymbals, flutes and harps and all that jazz, you know.

Looking at the picture of a violin I suddenly realised that it had been a while since I listened to Verdi. So, on it was, loud and bold. Did help me unwind. Not sure about the rest of the household. And the neighbours. And the neighbours of my neighbours. Alright, will probably need to pop on headphones next time. No appreciation of the true music these days *posh face, eye roll, deep sigh*.

Fell out with my husband because of it actually. Not only my fault. It takes two to tango, you know. Surely you need to close the door if you are on the phone with an important client so as not to have to explain a sudden outburst of Verdi in the background.

By the way, harps aside, from this vocBlock I have also found out that drums in the drum kit have different names. And a dialogue from ‘Two and a half Men’ where Zoey told Walden that she would... ahem, bang him like a snare drum, gave me a very clear image indeed. Which I am not too sure I actually needed.

So, you wanna bang me like a snare drum, huh?

Oh, and I discovered that the word ‘bass’ as in ‘double bass’ is pronounced not quite like I thought it was, damn it.

Well, I don't want to blow my own horn here but I have always been good at languages. But there is this one thing that gets me: English spelling! Just when you think you’ve cracked the code, bang! Bass happens. Or bugle! So, lesson learnt, always checking transcription it is, no matter how smart pants you think you are.

I hope I have drummed up some interest for tubas and trombones here. Do check out our musical instruments vocBlock in English and also the same vocBlock translated into French, German, Russian and Spanish to learn these and more.

And chime in in the comments below to let us know what synergy you got from your foreign language study. Feel free to trumpet your successes!

I don't want to sound like a broken record for those who have read my previous two posts here and here but, clear as a bell, knowledge is power in many ways! So, happy learning!

You might also like these posts:

Ornitophobia or How I Killed Two Birds with One Stone (birds idioms)

How to Boost your 5-a-Day Nerd Style (fruit and veg idioms)

How to Stop Being a Wimp Nerd Style (parts of body idioms)

Music Idioms Defined

jazz up - to make something more exciting

ring a bell - to sound familiar

all that jazz - and other similar things

it takes two to tango - both people involved in a situation are responsible for it

blow one’s own horn - to boast about one’s own achievements

drum up (interest) - to try to increase (interest)

chime in - to add a comment to the discussion

trumpet something - to announce proudly to a lot of people

like a broken record - about someone who repeats the same story over and over again

clear as a bell - very easy to understand

*The list of idioms is based on this great resource: