The Verb Blitz Adage : Keep It Simple

They say it’s best to keep things simple. And so it is with the Verb Blitz apps.

Verb Blitz, if you missed it, is a solid, old-school reference and drill tool to practise verb conjugations. I created the first over a decade a go as a nerdy hobby project in machine morphology, and it’s now available in 23 languages. Originally intended as a support for my own learning, it’s now helping lots of other learners grapple with endings, stem changes, and all other manner of verb fiendishness.

It was definitely high time for updates. The original apps were developed in XCode with Objective-C and storyboards, which are now very much ‘the old’. Since then, Swift and SwiftUI have become the smart new kids on the block for all things Apple. The longer you leave things, the harder it is to catch up, so a conversion project was as much about up-skilling myself as keeping the apps functional and easily updateable.

A screenshot of Verb Blitz for Scottish Gaelic.

Reining It In

The thing to guard against is that overzealous rush you get when you start a new project. It has a lot in common with the euphoric optimism polyglots get when they start a new language. After a handful of words, we’re promising ourselves that we’ll reach C1 within a year, that’s we’ll commit large swathes of each day to linguistic endeavours. Time and other commitments get in the way, and overpromising can sometimes dent our motivation a little.

For that reason, I found myself having to rein it in a little with the new, fresh Verb Blitz apps. I have a lot of exciting ideas for further developments, but to let them take over would be to jeopardise updating the existing functionality in good time. The fact is that by focusing on getting the foundations right – the existing activities – I take care of the urgent needs first, and have lots of time later to do the more fun stuff.

Isn’t that just like learning a language? It can be so tempting to skip the boring introductory units, and head straight to the meaty chapters of a new course book. I feel that urge with every new language project I start. But it’s definitely worth reining it in. Deal with the urgent needs first – basic communication – and then all the fancy bells and whistles can come later, when you’re up and running.

It’s a nice reminder of the importance of sobriety and moderation in project management. Once again, good learning strategy seems to have a lot of touching points with well-planned tech development. Not least the oft-forgotten advice when setting out: first and foremost, keep it simple!

Using Bing's AI chat to play a word association game in French.

AI Chat Prompts for Language Learning Practice

As AI becomes more and more a fixture of daily life, it’s not surprising to see it sneaking gradually into the language learning setting. The list of AI-infused apps is growing daily: premium chatbots, word games and other practice tools that are taking app stores by storm.

But before you shell out the cash, be reassured that you don’t need to spend a penny to bring the magic of AI to your own routine. You can achieve exactly the same, routine-transforming effects with a few handy prompts and free-to-access AI platforms.

AI for Free

There is an impressive and ever-growing array of AI chatbots to experiment with, some free, some premium. The difference, largely, is in the amount of environment setup that has already been done in premium apps. This is often just a case of configuring the AI to play a certain role, or act in a certain way. But here’s the secret:

You can do this easily yourself, with no development skills required.

It’s simply a case of good prompting. Tell it, in simple, natural English, the rules of the activities you want to run. Define the way you want it to respond to you. Give it a role to play. And state your limits and boundaries. Get a handle on prompting effectively, and popular, free platforms will more than suffice.

The biggie, of course, is ChatGPT, which has a solid free tier for general use. Google have also joined the game with the commendable Bard, which is definitely worth a look. That said, since Microsoft released their new AI-powered Bing chat mode, I’ve been using that more and more. It has an excellent Creative Mode preset, which gives it more unpredictable, humanlike responses. Just bear in mind that Bing currently limits the conversation to a 30-interaction maximum.

The following examples use French and Swedish to show how I’ve been using it to support my own language practice. Just swap in your own target language as required!

Word Games

The simplest kind of game to set up is good old basic word play. The following prompt sets up a turn-based alphabet game, which challenges your vocab recall:

Let’s play a word game in French. We have to go through the alphabet in turns, stating a verb that begins with each letter, plus a short sentence using that verb in context. Let’s play!

One of the best things about using AI for these kinds of language games is the capacity for on-the-fly correction and feedback; it can sometimes appear almost human. Below, I started cheating by inventing words, but Bing was far too clever to be caught out!

Playing a language learning word game - and trying to cheat - with Microsoft Bing's AI-powered chat mode.

Playing a language learning word game – and trying to cheat – with Microsoft Bing’s AI-powered chat mode.

Another fun vocab item practice mode is word association. The following prompt sets up a game where the meaning of each turn’s word must be related to the last. If the bot considers the link too tenuous, you lose the game:

Let’s play a word association game in French. You kick us off with a random noun. We then take it in turns to give a word which is somehow related in meaning to the last. If the link is too tenuous, the player loses. Shall we play?

It’s a great way to recycle vocabulary. You might need to play with the prompt to make your AI teacher a little less strict, though. Mine ended up with a bit of a mean streak. Very harsh!

Bing AI being VERY harsh on me in a word association game.

Bing AI being VERY harsh on me in a word association game.

Story Games (with Tutor Mode!)

When you’re ready to take it beyond words, AI is ready for you. One of the most amusing ways to practise with full sentences is storytelling. Try this prompt for a narrative whirl:

Let’s play a turn-based storytelling game to help me practise my French. We build a story by taking it in turns to add a sentence each time. Please keep the language level to about A2, and tell me about any mistakes I make as we go along. The story should be set in the present day. You start us off!

Note the specification of a language level, as well as the instruction to correct your mistakes as you go. It makes the AI response so rich and helpful that it really is a gift to learn from. To tailor it further, try adding instructions about which tenses to use (narrative present or past?), and even vocabulary topics to crowbar in.


Ai chat can prepare you for real-world chat, too. Setting up a foreign language role-play is as simple as describing the situation in as much detail as you like:

Let’s do some role-play to help me practise my French! You play a friendly waiter in a Paris café, and I am a customer. I enter the café and you come over to take my order. You realise I’m learning French and so give me very simple descriptions of all the dishes. But you keep mishearing me, so I have to repeatedly rephrase what I ask for.

This can be as straight-laced or as silly as you like. Sometimes, it’s a case of the crazier, the better. There’s nothing like a bit of silliness to increase engagement and recall.

You can even target the chat more by priming the AI with the actual vocabulary items you want to lever in. It’s a great way to recycle words over and over again:

I want to practise talking in Swedish about family. Imagine you’re a friend of mine and we’re having a chat about our families. Keep the language level to about A2 on the CEFR language scale, and using the following words as much as possible: mamma, pappa, bror, syster, vänner, snäll, vänlig, lita på, besöka

Whether you’re new to AI, or just beginning to experiment with it yourself, I hope these sample prompts give you some useful, fun practice ideas. Do you have any good ones to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!

The Turkish flag. Image from

A Foray into Turkish Verbs

This week, Turkish fell into my lap, quite unexpectedly. Not another one! I hear you cry. Well, not quite.

Here’s the deal. One of my favourite things about developing language resources as a career is the variety. Languages that I probably wouldn’t ever have thought to study land in front of me, and just by working with them, I get the chance to learn about them (if not quite to speak them all).

As it happens, I’ve been working on a Turkish verb drill app lately. Geek fess: automated language learning practice based on morphology models is a nerdy passion of mine. If you build an accurate linguistic model as a digital object, you can manipulate it to create myriad, virtually inexhaustible testing options. That approach fits particularly well with verb conjugations with all their paradigms and permutations.

Second geek fess: if it’s possible to have a most beloved part of speech, the verb is mine. No, I can’t believeI have a favourite part of speech, either.)

In any case, if you’re making these models, you have to understand them first. To start with, I will usually grab a bunch of grammar primers, as well as consult Wiktionary and other online resources like the excellent Turkish Text Book for explained examples to base a program on. The side-effect is that I’ll become unintentionally familiar with language systems I’m not actively learning, which is both a not-particularly-useful gift, as well as a source of linguistic fascination.

And Turkish is quite an interesting one, as far as verbs are concerned.

As Regular As A Turkish Verb

The first thing is the regularity. Pretty much everybody makes this remark; in my searches, I repeatedly came across the seemingly wild claim that there are no irregular verbs in Turkish.

Well, as shocking as it is to someone used to ‘school languages’, this claim appears to be more or less accurate. Verb after verb, tense after tense, there is very little that is completely unexpected. The alternations that you do find are often explained away phonologically, too. For instance, the -t- in the root git- (from gitmek, to go), can become voiced intervocalically in some tenses, like gidiyorum (I am going).

There is one aspect you could compare to Indo-European verb irregularities, which is a handful of verbs with an extended aorist root (vermek, to give, for example, has the aorist root verir- rather than the expected ver-). But it’s nothing compared to the verb table headaches we had in French, German and Spanish.

Just What Are You Inferring?!

The other striking difference from languages I’m more familiar with is the inferential mood. This relates to reporting events that were not necessarily witnessed or experienced, and it’s not something that the Indo-European biggies tend to indicate now; perhaps the closest is the subjunctive of reported speech in German. In his book Dying Words, Nicholas Evans explores  several languages that have these kinds of hearsay features in their verb systems, and they’re all off the beaten, mainstream path. That said, Balkan languages – possibly via contact with Turkish? – have developed ways of expressing it too.

Anyway, bundling that into mood and tense allows Turkish to express some very nuanced situations very succinctly. Take this example from Fluent In Turkish:

almak (to buy)
almiş (I heard that s/he bought)

How nifty is that? If you ever wondered whether it was possible to feel envy over a language having a particular tense, there’s your answer.

Although I’m not learning Turkish, I am learning about it – and loving it. And if all we take away from these brief forays is an appreciation of how other languages do stuff differently, we’re still all the richer for it.

Close-up of the cover of Routledge's Hindi : An Essential Grammar (2022)

Hindi : An Essential Grammar [Review]

Hindi has sat comfortably amongst Routledge’s Essential Grammars range for some time, offering students the concise, systematic grammatical treatment the whole series is known for. The title appeared in its first edition back in 2007, so a fresh, updated version was a very welcome addition to bookshelves at the end of 2022.

Anyone familiar with my own bookish exploits will know that the Routledge Essential and Comprehensive Grammar series are close to my language lover’s heart. They’re all excellently researched reference and study works, supported throughout with authentic, real-world language. Recent editions have benefitted from an even clearer layout and eye-friendly typesetting, and the Hindi title is no exception. They’re very easy on the reader, particularly in terms of line spacing and table layout.

The book takes the familiar parts-of-speech approach, chunking grammatical elements into particularly brief, easily manageable chapters. This makes for real indexical ease, obvious from the detailed, seven-page contents section. No wading through an amorphous Nouns chapter here! But it’s great for targeted study, too; you could easily tackle a whole section in an hour-long study session, either independently or with a teacher.

As well as the usual amendments and corrections, this second edition offers extended explanations on several aspects of Hindi. These include extra material on flexible word order, ergativity, and politeness distinctions. As with other updates, such as the second edition of the Greek Essential, it’s great to see Routledge’s commitment to keeping the whole series relevant.

Script Support

The book is a winner on another important front, too: alternative script usage. To be fair, if you’re serious about learning Hindi in the long-term, then you’ll probably have started with Devanagari well before picking up this grammar. You might even have studied Devanagari before your Hindi journey like some (ahem). Devanagari is no prerequisite to learning to speak Hindi, of course, and if you’re in it for the casual dabbling, you might not have the time or inclination.

With this grammar, it’s no sweat at all. You can dive into any section of the book and read examples in Devanagari or Latin transliteration. The transliteration is extremely straightforward, too, using capitals to represent retroflex consonants, and the tilde for nasalised vowels. And the transliteration takes nothing away from the book’s commitment to both lanes; this edition still concludes with a substantial section on contemporary script usage, including current trends and recent changes.

Transliteration throughout might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s really not a given with Hindi primers. I’ve been working with Teach Yourself Hindi Tutor recently, and although it’s a truly fantastic and valuable resource, it requires proficiency in Devanagari from step one. Similarly, many beginner’s textbooks provide Latin support only so far, before switching to script after the initial chapters. For some, native script is a choice that definitely comes later on.

All in all, my verdict won’t be a surprise, considering my understandable fanboying of the series: I think this one’s just swell! For Hindi scholars, Indo-Europeanists and dabblers alike, Hindi : An Essential Grammar is a solid title in the series, substantially improved in its new edition.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar, published by Routledge in October 2022.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar [Review]

Only the other day was I heralding the appearance of two brand new Routledge Essential Grammars – and just in time for Christmas, too. So what should land on my doormat this week but the very latest addition, Filipino : An Essential Grammar? There’s no such thing as coincidences, I hear you cry!

Any new language is a welcome addition to Routledge’s solid family of language learning texts, and with this one, it’s a double whammy; it pips the publisher’s own Colloquial series, which still lacks a Filipino / Tagalog title. For a language with upwards of 80+ million speakers worldwide, the book plugs a textbook gap with the solid, practical approach we’ve come to love from the Essential collection.

Filipino : A Concise But Comprehensive Essential

At just shy of 200 pages, the title, penned by Sheila Zamar, is one of the lighter volumes in the series (check out the brilliant Icelandic edition for a true doorstop of a book, for comparison). That said, it’s by no means light on content, divided into well-defined parts-of-speech chapters. Each of these is concise and snappy, but still chock-full of examples of language in use.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar, published by Routledge in October 2022.

As a self-confessed verb obsessive, it’s extremely satisfying to see four very chunky sections (nearly half the book) taken up with a systematic presentation of the verbal system. It’s what you’d expect, given the quite different (and fascinating) classes of Austronesian conjugation, but the exposition and explanation is handled with neat, logical progression. Handily, glosses are provided alongside many of the examples, so you can see exactly what is going on in a given sentence.

(Type)set for Success

If you’re a fan of the series you’ll have already noticed, but I should add a word or two about the excellent formatting of the whole reissued grammar series. From the clean, sans-serif fonts to the clutter-free setting of the tables, the new editions are all exceptionally clear and easy to read. The block-colour covers in blues, aquamarines, crimsons and bricks look both artsy and academically serious at the same time, although that leaves me with one mystery: what do the cover colours signify, if anything? My first thought was language groups or families, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps authors have the option to choose their own favourite as a wee thank you for their work. Answers on a postcard in the comments.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar is certainly worthy of its essential title in a not-so-crowded textbook field for the language. Heartily recommended for serious learners and casually interested polyglots alike!


You can teach an old dog new tricks! Image from

Old Dog, New Tricks

Have you ever learnt a new trick in your target language, and promptly gone to town with it, trying to crowbar it into every conversation?

It’s the excitable puppy incarnation of the old use it or lose it adage. You might call it use it… and use it… and use it. The trait isn’t uncommon amongst students of languages – or otherwise –  when there’s a particularly passionate connection to the subject.

For instance, I know one wee chap who will excitedly regurgitate new dinosaur facts ad infinitum to his very patient parents. My own not-so-little brother will hold me hostage to myriad beekeeping facts (his latest fad) when I visit of late. And I, myself, will bore my own friends rigid with newfound oddities of grammar and etymology. (No, the behaviour doesn’t wane with age!)

It really is one of the joys of learning to (over)share your new skills.

How’s Tricks?

It’s in my mind recently thanks to a bit of Gaelic new tricks magic I’ve learnt. Some months ago, I came across a really interesting quirk of Gaelic word order that bears a striking resemblance to German syntax. Namely, verb phrases place their head to the right of the noun phrase in certain conditions:

Gaelic: ‘S urrainn dhomh am biadh a chòcaireachd. (is ability to-me the food to cook)
German: Ich kann das Essen kochen. (I can the food cook)
English: I can cook the food.

We’d not covered it in class at that point, so I filed it away mentally as an interesting fact to revisit later.

I didn’t have to wait long. One of this term’s big ideas for our group was that very phenomenon. We’ve spent lesson after lesson having fun with it (in fact, some of the most fun lessons we’ve had, making up humorous sentences based on whacky scenarios!).

The thing is, I’m now using inversion everywhere – not just in class, but in casual chat too. I’m also spotting it everywhere in my reading too, as if a spotlight has been shone on it. It’s as if inversion has taken possession of the new tricks cortex in my brain, neurons glowing at the slightest excitation.

It reminds me of that explosion of expressivity when you first learn to form the past tense in a language. Suddenly you want to use it everywhere to talk about what you did, what you’ve been doing, what you used to do… And it’s one of the greatest signs that you really love the subject, or language, you’ve chosen to dedicate your time to.

Do you recognise new tricks syndrome in your own language learning? What new linguistic toys are you currently playing with? Let us know in the comments!

Icelandic Noun Master - an app with an appreciative audience.

Do It For An Audience

It’s nice to be appreciated. And sometimes, an appreciative audience can be just the boost you need to get back into gear.

I received some lovely feedback this week about an app I’d almost completely forgotten about. It all related to a very active Icelandic phase I was going through a couple of years back. At the time, I was enjoying a particularly fierce battle with noun declensions, but suffering from a dearth of resources to help (fellow Icelandic learners will relate).

There’s a good piece of advice in this situation. If there’s no help forthcoming, help yourself.

To get a handle on those noun tables, I put together a quick ‘n’ simple app to drill those declensions. I used Java and Android Studio (it’s my job, after all), but there was no prerequisite level of tech – it’s something that could just as easily take life in a site like Quizlet or Educandy.

The idea was basic: a set of multiple choice activities to drill Icelandic noun endings, separately by gender, or altogether. It just needed a bit of time to put together questions and prompts from the grammar guides I had available to me. And the result? A really effective five-minutes-a-day app for getting those endings into memory.

The added benefit of putting it together as a mobile app was that it was ready-bundled to share on to others. I released it as Icelandic Noun Master on Google Play as a free app, and watched the downloads slowly clock up. It’s still there, quietly helping anyone who needs it.

Learning by Making

DIY resource production – for yourself and for others – is a language learning strategy that can yield surprisingly positive results. For a start, resource creation gets you thinking deeply about your learning material, and how to transform it into a clearer, easily testable format. To make questions from it, you have to step away, look at it from a different angle, turn it inside out, think about it in ways that perhaps weren’t obvious on first glance. It’s like turning a jigsaw puzzle upside-down for a fresh perspective, and suddenly spotting where a piece goes. That see it in a different way benefit, incidentally, is why teaching to learn is likewise such a good strategy.

But there’s another intended side-effect, an almost hypnotically effective one. In the creation of resources, you can drift into an almost automaton-style collating of material, sourcing and listing sample sentences, questions or tabular data. It’s a kind of flow state that encourages foreign language material to bed itself in almost by a process of osmosis. Even if it doesn’t quite become active knowledge in one fell swoop, it lays the ground for it to become so later.

Keep ’em Coming

So, in these ways (and probably many more), an appreciative audience can be a useful tool for a language learner. And of course, there’s also that feeling that what you’re doing has impact and usefulness – and that can work wonders for your motivation. In any case, it’s got me thinking that there’s a bit of life left in the trusty old Icelandic Noun Master yet. I’ll be returning to it now, to spruce it up, and revise my own Icelandic. And maybe I’ll even add an iOS version to the mix, too.

Have to keep that audience happy!

A Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar (Gardner 1892). Dense, but thorough descriptions!

Feeling Dense When It Don’t Make Sense

When I first started learning Greek many years ago, as a very inexperienced polyglot-in-the-making, I remember trying to get to grips with an interesting quirk of pronunciation – and feeling a little dense when it didn’t make sense at first.

It was all about stress placement. Specifically, something a bit funny can happen in Greek when a little word like μου (mou – my) follows a polysyllabic word. The longer word gets an extra stress accent – very strange considering the fact that Greek words usually only have a single stressed syllable.

το διαμέρισμα (to diamérisma – the flat)
το διαμέρισμά μου (to diamérismá mou – my flat)

I remember reading this in some dusty old grammar I got from the library, and not quite getting it. I made a mental note that the stress can sometimes change under certain circumstances, and left it at that, feeling ever so slightly befuddled (but undeterred!).

With time, of course, I came across lots of examples of this happening in Greek texts and speech. And with that exposure, my hit-and-miss attempts at reproducing it, and my eventual improvement, came a kind of instinct for where it takes place.

Getting Technical

Wind forward a good twenty years, and I’m leafing through a Modern Greek grammar primer from 1892 (as you do). A Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar was an introductory text originally penned by German Karl Wied, and released in a translation by Mary Gardner in 1892. As it’s such an old, copyright-expired book, it’s quite easy to get a PDF scan of it, such as this 1910 edition at the Internet Archive.

I love these texts for the insight they give into how the target language itself has changed in recent years. But they also offer a fascinating glimpse into the history of foreign language education. How things have changed in a hundred-and-twenty years! But then again, how they stay the same. The technical descriptions aren’t vastly different from the thorough explanations you’ll find in a Routledge Comprehensive Grammar. Well, maybe a little extra Victorian bombast, but the format has remained surprisingly static over a century.

Page from a Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar (Gardner 1892). Dense, but thorough descriptions!

A Short and Easy Modern Greek Grammar (Gardner, after Wied, 1892)

Right there, on page eight, is that accent phenomenon I struggled with as a youth. The description is given in quite traditionalist, grammatical language. It explains that the stress-jumping occurs with enclitics, snippets of words so short that they lack an accent of their own and almost merge into the preceding word.

It’s a technically accurate and comprehensive explanation. But I probably wouldn’t have had a clue if I’d read it there first!

A Time and a Place

There are two points to make here. First, don’t be fazed if you struggle to get difficult grammatical points in traditional texts. With enough exposure to real language, you’ll develop your own instinct for these intricacies. There’s a time and a place for comprehensive, formal grammars, and it’s probably not at the very start of your journey (as much as I love to geek out with hundred-year-old tomes).

Secondly, it’s not that such resources are not useful at all. It’s just that they’re perhaps better used when you have a bit of a handle on the language already, and you are ready for the why as well as the how. It’s also a nice reminder that a little time and experience can make a huge difference with language learning.

What first seemed dense and inaccessible can make complete sense when you revisit it with some street-learned smarts.

Map pins - great for pinpointing a location, just like prepositions of place! Image from

Location Location : Prepositions of Place Between Languages

Prepositions can be tricky, not least those relating to location. They don’t always align between languages, so they are a common source of language learning errors. But getting them right like a master is all down to how we think about space and place in the world.

One of the biggest differences between languages relates to being within an enclosed area or on a flat, open space. It might sound like a very specific category distinction for brains to carve out, especially as we give it no thought in our native languages. But brains do carve physical space up like this, and exactly what counts as each can differ from language to language.

Approximate Location…

Take the word station, for example. In English, it’s neither here nor there. You tend to be at the station, at being as fairly vague preposition attaching some entity generally to a location. Likewise, in French, you’re à la gare, and in German, you’ll be am Bahnhof, each language using its personal flavour of at. However, in Polish, you’ll literally be on (top of) the stationna dworcu. That’s because, for Polish speakers, the station is a large, flat, open space. Whatever historical and cultural reasons led to that distinction – different styles of station buildings or layout or whatever – might now be lost, but they’re felt still in those prepositions.

Sometimes, the deciding factor is which part of the location the speaker has in mind. In English, we similarly say at university, specifying very generally with at again. German and French follow once more with an der Uni(versität) and à l’unversité. But in Polish, you’re na uniwersytecie, literally on the university. In Polish, it’s the quad-like nature of the lawned university courtyard that is the defining concept; in English, French, and German, it’s perhaps more about the buildings, or even just that general dot on the city map.

Diverging Laylines

So far, it seems like English, French and German form a bit of a group here, behaving in the same way. But it’s certainly not always like that. German and Polish pair up on the opposite side of English when it comes to parking your car. In English, you’re usually in or at the car park. I’d say in personally; it always seems like an enclosed, fenced or walled in area for me, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. French prefers at, giving us au parking. Not so in German, where you’re auf dem Parkplatz, and in Polish, which plumps for na parkingu – literally on (top of) the car park.

And it’s not always physical places that see this variation, either. Think of a party: in English, you’ll be at one, as in French, which places you à une fête. But in German, you’ll be auf einer Party, and in Polish, na imprezie, conceiving the party as a flat area of space. Where, presumably, there is just as much fun being had as in the English and French counterparts.

And for the Less Fussy…

There are, of course, languages which make the whole business of location much easier. Spanish, for example, allows the little word en (in) to do a lot of heavy lifting. En la estación, en la universidad, en la fiesta. How’s that for a helping hand? And Greek also tends to use σε (se, in) as a general catch-all for in, at, on, you name it. At the train station? Στο σταθμό (sto stathmó). At the university? Στο πανεπιστήμιο (sto panepistímio). At the party? Στο πάρτι (sto párti). Of course, you can finesse location with more detailed words like πάνω (pano – on top), κάτω (kato – below), μέσα (mesa – inside) and so on, but you won’t necessarily be breaking any rules if you don’t.

And given the trickery involved in learning prepositions in some other languages, that’s something I’m often very grateful for!

Production courses build up a grammar and lexicon through a step-by-step approach. Image from

Production Matters

Having joked about the state of my French at a recent Linguascope webinar, I’ve been giving Paul Noble’s audio French course a whirl to revive and resume my secondary school language skills. Like the very similar Michel Thomas courses, his series is just magic for improving your language production.

Following a gradual, layering model of tuition, the courses provide a solid blueprint for producing language in the learner’s mind. Step by step, they build up a working grammar and lexicon in the gentlest way possible. As no-tears, get-up-and-running-quickly approaches, they’re honestly very hard to beat. And as a refresher for my français, it’s doing a grand job; I’m already thinking of getting the next steps follow-up.

One Way Street?

What I still miss, though, is language training in the other direction. As audio courses, both the Noble and Thomas series are necessarily a little restrained in terms of teaching comprehension. They give you grammatical tools and vocabulary, but using those alone you are more or less back-engineering any input that comes your way in the real world.

This deficit, of course, is largely down to the format of all formal courses, not just these select few. Thanks to the nature of the medium, they are necessarily finite. They can’t possibly contain enough ‘input training’ to improve that aspect of your fluency.

But thankfully, we can fill the other side of the equation through DIY listening techniques that provide a good comprehensible input model. Comprehension skills arise largely through exposure to unpredictable, everyday language, training your brain to be ready for anything in the target language.

The solution, in this case? A bit of podcast hunting, incorporating resources like News in Slow French into my weekly listens. Together with the Paul Noble course, they’ll make an excellent pairing: production and reception, covered.

Gap in the Market

There’s no doubt about it: courses that focus on production, through building a practical mental grammar, are based on sound learning principles, and are incredibly effective. They’ll form an indispensable part of my language learning arsenal for as long as they’re available.

So, not to take anything away from their usefulness, this recent experience is just more support for a blended, multi-resource learning approach, rather than reliance on a single course. Nothing new there. I do wonder, though, if there’s an opening in the market for a really clever resource that combines all of these elements.

Quelle bonne idée!