A full review of Glossika, one of the few language learning apps we think you need.
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In this guide…
- How Glossika works in general (high-quality audio + spaced repetition)
- Why we like Glossika — three reasons why it’s one of the two apps we use
- How to use Glossika efficiently for language learning — 9 tips from our experience with Glossika with a few different languages!
- A few things we think Glossika should improve
- What Glossika costs and tips for free trials
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How Does Glossika Work?
The core of Glossika is simple: listen and repeat.
When you sign up, you tell Glossika what you’re interested in. For example, you might be interested in “Travel”, “Social”, and “Rude”, which is as fun as it sounds.
Like me, you might not be interested in, for example, “Doctor” (any decent doctor in a good hospital speaks better English than whatever language I’m using) and “Crime” (I only commit crimes using English).
Now Glossika starts serving sentences. The default is to give you 10 new sentences a day, revised 6 times each (60 “reps”). The day after, you revise these sentences a few times, and then continue revising them at decreasing intervals afterwards, using a spaced-repetition algorithm.
A study session for 10 sentences a day takes about 30 minutes with active listening.
Glossika counts each repetition as a “rep”. One thing I was curious about was: how many reps until I’m fluent? The answer is about 50,000. It took me a month to get to nearly 10,000 in Egyptian Arabic. So be patient.
Like this guide on Glossika for language learning? You might also like…
- Our favourite apps for language learning
- Pro tips for using Anki for flashcards
- Why apps aren’t enough, and we also like to use books
Why Do We Love Glossika?
You’re fluent in a language, I believe, when you can confidently and spontaneously say sentences like this:
“Damn it! My pen rolled off the table and fell on the floor and now I can’t reach it!”
I can study a language for months and such a sentence might still elude me. But a small child would be able to say it without a second thought.
Glossika teaches full sentences that are very useful, spoken by natives, and asks you to repeat them.
Normally, we’re not really fans of apps — we prefer traditional language learning methods like books and teachers. We like Glossika because it’s not supposed to replace the entire language learning process — just part of it.
If you want to try Glossika now, you can get a seven-day trial to Glossika and your first 1000 reps free here.
We’ve studied more than ten languages between us, and we find most apps to be just toys. Some of them are too hard to use to make effective use of the content (I could never make use of the content in Mondly, for example).
Reason 1 we love Glossika: Spaced repetition of real audio means we learn
Firstly, the audio in Glossika is 100% natural.
With most apps, you’re never really sure if the audio is realistic. You find yourself thinking: “Is that the colloquial way of saying it? And do people speak that clearly? Wait, isn’t that too formal?”
With Glossika, we’ve tested enough languages (some of which are. native to us) to know with confidence that the accent and pronunciation is 100% native and natural
Secondly, Glossika forces you to listen actively.
With many other apps/websites, you don’t even have to listen. You can just read. And if you listen, it’s tempting to just listen once or twice and never go back to it.
Even if you did go back to it, there’s no structured way of doing so: you just would listen to an entire chapter’s audio again, if using a textbook, for example.
Thirdly, Glossika spaces repetitions.
Glossika intelligently spaces out repetitions so that you memorise the structures and words over time. And it asks for feedback to say if a sentence was too hard or too easy (in which case it removes it).
In fact, you might find Glossika’s repetition system scary, because you won’t memorise all the content before it moves on. But you don’t need to memorise everything with Glossika.
Today you’ll learn “She doesn’t have a car“. The word for “car” might be hard for you. But next week you’ll learn “Is the car broken?” and later you’ll learn again “I can’t find my car keys”. Like in real life, you’ll hear words again naturally.
Reason 2 we love Glossika: Loads of languages!
At the time of writing (2019) Glossika has over sixty languages. And they’re all included in the membership.
Glossika includes the less-resourced languages we’re learning, Egyptian Arabic and Swahili, plus a bunch more languages for which there are limited resources:
- Chinese in the forms of Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese and Wenzhou-nese (!)
- Persian/Farsi (whish Jo is using)
- Two variants of Vietnamese — I didn’t know there were two
- Even UK English for those of us who don’t want to be instructed by an American
See the full list of Glossika languages here. Hopefully, in the future, they’ll add Australian English, as I’m getting a little rusty.
The best part is that you can learn any language using any language. This is wonderful in an age where most language resources are in English. If your mother tongue is Arabic, you can learn Chinese without having to go through English.
How to use Glossika effectively in language learning
We started using Glossika in 2018, and have learned a lot about how to make the most of it.
Tip 1: Don’t use Glossika first — Use books and tutors
As great as Glossika is, I would never recommend it for someone just starting out in a language. Start with a textbook and learn all the basics of a language. Glossika thinks you can start with Glossika, and that it’s OK to be overwhelmed.
I tried this, with Korean. I’ve learned tons of languages, and am used to being overwhelmed and uncomfortable. But the result was that I was confused a lot of the time and I learned slowly.
Contrast with Arabic, where I spent two weeks with a book first and learned conjugation, some words and the way sentences work. Then I started Glossika. Even though their placement test only put me at the very bottom rung, I actually progressed and learned.
Here’s what you should know before you start using Glossika:
- Alphabet (for Chinese know some foundational characters) and pronunciation
- Verb conjugation, at least in most common forms (present, perfect, simple past, simple future, imperative)
- Sentence structure (where subject, object, adjectives and verb go usually)
- Pronouns and prepositions
- Plurals and other core grammar
- Core vocabulary of a few hundred words
Have a look at our 80-20 vocabulary list for a suggestion of words you might want to learn.
At this point (probably two weeks in) you’ll start to feel like you want to hear how sentences are actually made. This is where Glossika shines. Sign up!
Tip 2: Don’t use Glossika exclusively
Glossika is, on paper, purported to be the only tool you need to learn a language. You will definitely learn a lot through it. However, Glossika is not all you need, for the following reasons:
- Glossika mostly just encourages you to listen and repeat. There are other modes too (like translation), but these still aren’t dialogue, or listening, or of course having actual conversations with people. The best way you can learn is still with a teacher.
- Glossika doesn’t teach what you personally want to learn. If you mostly talk about motorcycles, weightlifting and technology (just a random example, nobody I know personally), Glossika’s vocabulary isn’t going to be suitable. You might not EVER learn the sentence “I prefer middleweight motorcycles so I can ride them to their limits legally”.
- You’ll waste time in Glossika trying to guess/infer grammar when someone could just explain it to you. Look, you’re smart. You probably can figure everything out on your own by inference. But you don’t have to. You’re not an archaeologist who just discovered the Rosetta Stone; you’re an adult who can ask questions and learn rules. Just as it’s useful to know in English rules about how to use apostrophes or the difference between “were” and “we’re”, it’s useful to learn rules in other languages like how to make plurals in Arabic, the different forms of de in Chinese (的, 得, and 地) and when to use “Por qué” and “porque” in Spanish.
Tip 3: Actually repeat words out loud. (Mumbling is OK)
At its core, as we mentioned, Glossika is all about listening and repeating. They say you can “mumble your way to fluency”. But what does this mean?
“Mumbling” sounds dubious, but they mean saying it “in your head” is NOT enough. You need to articulate the words. When you do so, you’ll find that you might have missed some detail. Was there an article there? Was there a word they pronounced with liaison, blurring over it? You’ll catch yourself and learn more.
Settings to use: We like to set “Interval Between Sentences” at 2x for the target language to give time to repeat more than once. This means if a sentence in the target language takes 2 seconds to say, you’ll have 4 seconds to say it.
Tip 4: Go beyond repeating and guess the answer
Rather than repeat, try to go one level up and guess the whole answer before they said it. After the app says, for example, “Why are you putting that coat?” think how you would say that in the target language.
This is pretty tiring. But it’s such a good way of drilling things.
Settings to use: We set “Interval Between sentences” at 2x for the source language to give us time before the target language is said. That way we have time to guess the answer.
Tip 5: Look up words/phrases you don’t understand
It’s tempting to think you can learn passively, and I’m sure you can. But that’s a slow way to go.
Every time you come across a word or phrase you don’t understand, if you can’t figure it out from inference, look up the words. This is especially important when you see two similar sentences, like I did recently. There were two ways of saying “It’s raining” in Arabic. They’re mostly equivalent, but I wanted to look up the words to see how they were related.
If you take notes of words you’ve learned through Glossika you’ll find that you will internalise the phrasing more quickly because you’re only focusing on phrasing and less on new words you didn’t know existed.
Tip 6: Substitute your own words to help remember
This helps you learn new phrases quickly, especially if you’re struggling to learn one.
If you learn the sentence “There’s a book on the table”, think to yourself, what else could be on the table? Where else could the book be? Make modifications like
- There’s a pen on the table
- There’s a book next to the table
- There’s a pen on the floor
This would normally take a very long time to do, so I’d only suggest you do this for the most difficult sentences that you find yourself spending a long time memorising, that you’re really struggling with.
Tip 7: Note down new words you’ve learned
Keep a notebook, a Google Sheet, or use Anki to record new words you learn.
This is especially useful for very difficult words, like verbs requiring conjugation. I think “I want to learn that in a number of other ways right now.” So I look it up and write down a few sample sentences.
Tip 8: Be aggressive in marking things as easy or hard — don’t waste time
Glossika gives you the option of marking every sentence you learn with a heart (❤️) or a smiley (😊). But these don’t have the intuitive meaning you think they do.
- Heart emoji (❤️): This means this sentence was hard. You like it, and know it’s important, so you want to keep studying it.
- Smiley (😊): this means this sentence was easy. It felt good. You don’t need to see it ever again. (Wow, harsh interpretation of a smiley face).
How to use the heart (difficult): if you still need to practise a sentence and suspect Glossika doesn’t know, and might start cycling it through less and less, mark it with a heart. This tells Glossika that you want to study it more, and it’ll make sure you see it again.
How to use the smiley (easy): Sometimes, phrases come up that you’ve mastered. Maybe you learned them from teachers or textbooks, or they were just so easy that you mastered them.
Regardless, don’t waste time. You need to feel uncomfortable the whole time you’re studying, like you’re pushing yourself. There’s no reason to get exhausted from monotonous study — it’s not going to help you.
That’s why I suggest that as soon as you know you don’t need to hear a sentence again, cut it out by marking it with a smiley face.
Tip 9: Set Glossika to teach you 10-15 new sentences a day, but do two sessions if you really want
The more sentences you add, the more repetition the algorithm builds into your daily study routine. This can get unwieldy.
If your study session is only 10 new sentences a day, their estimate is that your whole study session should only take about 15 minutes. If you increase the study session 15 new sentences a day, this balloons out to 30 minutes. Then with 20 new sentences a day, it’ll take 60 minutes!
The reason for this is that the words can stack up. You aren’t just learning 20 new words; you’d be revising the 20 words from the last few days as well (though fewer from a few days ago).
I find that more than 15 gets crazy, particularly as I take over an hour to finish every 15-word session. On occasional days, I have lots of time and I do two sessions. That way I do 30 sentences in an hour, much more than the paltry 20 I’d have done with the standard algorithm.
Things We Think Glossika Should Improve
Glossika isn’t perfect. Just for transparency, these are the things we’d like to see it improve.
- Improve the mobile experience: We use it on our phones a lot. My main problem with it is that you need to keep the screen awake for Glossika to keep working. It needs to keep an internet connection alive to download information, and the internet often goes into standby when the screen turns off.
- Reduce internet dependance (enable offline mode): This is still in progress. Similar to the above, I wish the web application worked better offline. They do have a function that lets you download audio for a session, but that’s not ideal; the audio alone doesn’t let you heart or smiley face cards, and you can’t see written text to clarify pronunciation
- Improve localisation: This is a hard ask. I get the way that Glossika is built — it’s a giant database of sentences in 60+ languages. So the sentences are all “standard”. But this standardisation means we lose a bit of local flavour. For example, Arabic verbs conjugate differently for men and women. It seems weird to just have one sentence in English, and then have the multiple sentence options only in the written card. Or for another example, when people or places have names, it’d be more appropriate to talk about Ibraheem and Youssef in Egypt, and Peter and Mary in an English course. Again, I know this would be hard, but it’d be nice.
- Tell me what happens after I report an error*: Sometimes there’s an error in the content. Like once, the English sentence said one thing, but the Arabic sentence said that plus a follow-up thing. I reported it. I am pretty sure someone receives those. I would just love to know what happens, like if there’s any point to reporting them.
- Make it cheaper, for just one language: Glossika used to cost $30 a language for a whole package for one language. This was when it was MP3s. Now it’s $30 a month but for all languages. I think $10/month for one language would get them a higher conversion rate.
- Let us see what we have learned (update: this has been implemented!): I get weekly summaries of what I’ve learned in email, plus I can always go and check what I’ve hearted or marked with a smiley. But I’d really love it if there were a list online of everything I’ve learned. This would help with those times when I’m on the run, studying, and later want to come back and add things to my word database.
* Yes, there are errors. But they’re rare (less than 1/100 cards) and usually not serious (a whole section of a multi-sentence phrase is missing).
How Much Is Glossika?
Glossika costs $29.95 a month or $299 for the year. You can get a free week’s trial to see if you like the content and style. We consider it an indispensable part of the early (but not beginning) language-learning journey and highly recommend it.
Tip: Ask for a week’s extension on the trial if you think one week wasn’t enough. I’ve known them to oblige…