Introducing WordBrewery’s Course Mode: Personalized digital language courses
By the end of WordBrewery’s Intermediate Spanish course, you will have mastered the 1,000 most common word families in Spanish and will understand about 90% of the words you encounter in daily life.
To become fluent or even competent in another language, learners must master a core set of high-frequency words. All four language skills—reading, writing, speaking, and listening—require this basic vocabulary. Meaningful communication is impossible without it.
WordBrewery founder Ryan McCarl and others on the WordBrewery team have spent the past year and a half asking: What is the most efficient possible way to learn and teach the core vocabulary needed for fluency? And more ambitiously: can we build customized language courses to implement that method while adapting to each learner’s level of vocabulary knowledge?
There was one constraint: we wanted to make sure that our courses remained true to WordBrewery’s principles, the basic commitments that make us different from every other language-learning app:
- Use only authentic sentences
- Teach only high-frequency words
- Never teach words out of context
- Never rely on rote memorization
The first automatically generated and individualized language courses
Our search for the most efficient path to fluency led us to build Course Mode: automatically generated and invidualized language courses that teach high-frequency words in the context of real sentences from the news. The courses measure and adapt to each learner’s exact level of current vocabulary knowledge and teach a set of sentences that is customized for each learner.
By the time a learner finishes the Intermediate Spanish course, she will have read thousands of real Spanish sentences and mastered the 1,000 most common word families in Spanish. Along the way, she will have encountered hundreds of Spanish idioms and every common grammatical pattern while getting a glimpse into different parts of the Spanish-speaking world by reading sentences from the same news websites that native speakers read.
Getting started with WordBrewery’s language courses
The course dashboard screen
The Course Dashboard for WordBrewery’s Intermediate English course
When you start or resume a course, you will see your course dashboard. The statistics meters at the bottom of the Course Dashboard tell you (1) how many of the course’s target words you have mastered; (2) how many of the course’s target words you have “studied,” i.e. how many of these words have appeared in sentences you have seen in Course Mode or Explore Mode; and (3) how many total words you have mastered in your target language.
What happens inside a course lesson?
There is no limit to the number of lessons in a course. A course continues until you have mastered each of the target words in the course. This is a long process, but it reflects the fact that there no shortcuts to fluency—just more efficient ways of pursuing it.
A. The eight sentence screens
The first eight screens in a course lesson are “sentence screens” that display real sentences from the news. These sentences have been specifically selected for you based on your current word knowledge statistics and learning needs.
Teach the course algorithm which words you need to practice by clicking them to reveal their definitions. You can also add them to lists for further study, printing, and exporting.
Getting the most out of the sentence screens
To get the most out of a WordBrewery course, you should take your time and study each sentence until you understand every word in it. Use the following procedure:
- Read the sentence through once without stopping and listen to its audio. Repeat the sentence aloud after listening to the audio, and try to mimic the pronunciation of the speaker.
- Identify and click any words that you do not know or need to review.
- Review the meanings of those words in the Word Information box. Consider adding those words to a study list by clicking the star icon at the bottom of the Word Information box.
- Now that you have the meaning of every word in your short-term memory, read the sentence again.
- Without looking at the sentence, replay the sentence’s audio by clicking the speaker button. Repeat it without looking at the screen.
- Press “Continue” when you are ready to move on to the next screen.
- If necessary, click the full-sentence translation icon and use the Google and Microsoft translations to check your understanding. If you do this, only do it after you have done your best to understand the sentence without looking at a translation. Then, think of the translations as rough guidelines, not as “correct answers,” and be aware that translations are often imperfect.
- Optional: If you want more context about a sentence, click the newspaper icon to see the sentence in its original context.
- Optional: If you want to review this sentence again in the future, click the star icon beneath the sentence.
- Optional: If you think a sentence has an error or does not make sense, click the thumbs-down icon to report it so we can delete it from the database and improve our sentence filters.
B. The six quiz screens
The remaining screens in a course lesson are quiz screens based on sentences you have studied. None of the question types test your knowledge of an isolated word. Several use variations of the cloze (fill-in-the-blank) method. These screenshots and their captions illustrate some examples:
A multiple choice cloze question in the Intermediate English course
A cloze typing question in the Intermediate Spanish course
A listening comprehension and typing question in the Accelerated Beginning Spanish course
Because our quiz questions are automatically generated, different for every learner, and based on real sentences from the news, some questions may have several possible answers or other problems. You can skip these questions by pressing the “Skip” button below the answer section.
Some questions include hints that you can use to prompt your memory. Using a hint slightly penalizes your knowledge score for the words tested in the question.
When you finish a course lesson, you will see a completion screen that shows you your progress:
A screen showing your statistics after a completed lesson in the Intermediate Spanish course
Q: What does it mean to “master” a word?
The purpose of a course is to master all of the target words of the course by studying them in the context of many different sentences selected specifically for you based on your current word knowledge. I will explain the concept of “mastery” and how we measure word knowledge in greater detail in a separate post on The WordBrewery Blog. For now, here is the basic information you need to know:
Here is an example from our administrator panel of how WordBrewery automatically tracks your mastery of high-frequency words as you use WordBrewery.
- You have a Knowledge Score of 0-100 for each word. A word is Mastered if your knowledge score for the word is 90-100. You should be able to recognize and recall a Mastered word fluently, as though it were a word in your native language.
- Every time you interact with a sentence in either Course Mode or Explore Mode, the knowledge score for each word in the sentence changes. For example, clicking a word to see its meaning slightly lowers your score for the word; continuing to another sentence without clicking the word slightly increases your score for that word.
- Answering quiz questions in Course Mode also affects your knowledge score for each word in the sentence serving as the quiz prompt and, in multiple choice questions, for each word presented as an answer choice.
Q: How are different Course Mode sentences selected for each learner?
Every sentence consists of target words and review words.
The sentences displayed in a language course are chosen by our algorithm according to the following guidelines:
- Note: the actual order of these screens is randomized.
|Sentences 1 and 2||One completely new word per sentence that you have never seen on WordBrewery; the remaining words are review words.|
|Sentences 3 and 4||Two nearly-new words per sentence; the remaining words are review words.|
|Sentences 5 and 6||Two familiar words per sentence; the remaining words are review words.|
|Sentences 7 and 8||One nearly-learned word; the remaining words are review words.|
Q: Which courses are available so far?
This week, WordBrewery released its first four courses:
- Accelerated Beginning Spanish (master the 500 most common word families in Spanish)
- Intermediate Spanish (master the 1000 most common word families in Spanish)
- Accelerated Beginning English (master the 500 most common word families in English)
- Intermediate English (master the 1000 most common word families in English)
In the next two weeks, we will add similar courses for German and French. Which languages should we add after that? Let us know, and note that we prioritize languages based on the number of members we have studying each. To help us improve and build new courses faster, please support us by joining WordBrewery, making a donation, or sharing this post with your network.