Introduing slower audio

Ever feel like your brain can't quite keep up with all the mental processing that must occur to understand native-speed Chinese speech? That's perfectly normal. Your brain is actually doing a tremendous amount of work. It must segment the incoming aural data stream into words and phrases, recognize words and retrieve the meanings from memory, and identify the syntatic, semantic and contextual relationships that comprise the big-picture meaning.

Natural-speed Chinese speech is about 3.5 characters per second. This means you have less than 290 ms to process the information contained in each character and place it into context. Well, to give your brain an easier time of all this processing, we now offer audio playback at 75% natural speed. That's an extra 95 ms per character for your brain to search for meanings, analyze structure, or 休息一下. It actually makes a big difference. The new audio player looks like this (just a picture, not the actual audio player):

Dual-speed audio player

The play-back speed can be toggled using the 快 (fast/natural) / 慢 (slow) links. Try it out on one of the Asking Directions exercises.

So what's going on? Well, it's really simple. We're just playing back the same recording at a slower rate, but adjusted in such a way that the pitch stays the same. While it would be preferable to have all our recordings spoken slowly and at natural speed to begin with, this is nearly as good, and much easier.

Why is WordSwing named WordSwing?

The name WordSwing is part of a metaphor for language learning. The words you learn are vines hanging in the jungle that you can use to swing to new vines (words), and thereby traverse the landscape (language-scape), in a fun, exhilarating, and effective way. You use the part of the language you know, to have meaningful language practice and thereby expand your understanding, swinging to ever higher levels of proficiency.

Consider the first part of the name, word. At WordSwing, there is a substantial focus on growing your vocabulary, as this is often the most important factor when understanding and communicating in real-life situations. So in this sense, words are your vehicle (or vines) to learn new things and get to new places. The focus on the word as the unit is also apparent in our estimate of your knowledge of the language. We track your learning at high resolution, down to your familiarity with individual words and even particular word usages. It is precisely this high resolution that enables us to propose relevant and accessible activities. A vine that you can't swing to is no use in exploring the jungle, and language that is not accessible is no help for learning.

Now for the second part, swing. Language learning should be fun and playful, and what better toy than a swing to capture the fun, playful nature of language. Language is amazing flexible and malleable; there are often many ways to say things, and thus language is an endlessly entertaining toy that can be played with in an infinite number of ways.

Ever wonder how many characters you know?

If you have been learning Chinese you no doubt have wondered, “how many characters do I know?” Perhaps you would like to see if you’ve made a dent in the roughly 4000 characters it usually takes to be considered literate. Or perhaps you want to see some measure of all that effort you’ve put into studying. Or maybe you want to impress your mom. Regardless of your reason, you would rather not run through the roughly 10,000 characters in modern use to count how many you know.

Fear not! Statistics to the rescue

Fortunately it only takes a relatively small sample of characters to accurately estimate how many characters you know overall. So we at WordSwing put together a little gadget to help you out. This gadget will sample characters and ask you a simple yes or no question: do you know the character? The more answers you give the more accurate the estimate.

Character knowledge estimation gadget

But isn’t this question fraught with peril? you might ask. What does it mean to know a character? Well, luckily it can mean whatever you want it to mean. If you want it to mean the character is vaguely familiar, then the resulting estimate will be how many characters are vaguely familiar to you. If you only answer yes if you’ve mastered the character, then the estimate will be for how many characters you’ve mastered. If you want to try it several ways, just clear the estimate and start over.

Curious how it works?

As in any estimate, there are some assumptions that go into it. We assume that the characters you know are a sampling from the overall frequency distribution of Chinese characters (based on a large corpus of modern Chinese) and that you know each character with a probability proportional to the frequency of the character. Thus each character represents a binomial draw and our goal is simply to estimate the constant of proportionality that scales the integral of the frequency distribution to the estimated number of characters you know, which we do by a variant of logistic regression. This model is about as simplistic as one can make it, and undoubtedly, the modeling assumptions are not exactly correct, but hopefully the Law of large numbers helps us out and we believe this represents a fairly accurate estimate of how many characters you know.

WordSwing updated. Should allow faster development

I just updated WordSwing. This involved a bit of downtime, so hopefully this didn’t interfere with your study efforts. If you notice any problems, please let me know and I’ll get them fixed. 

The most important change is totally behind the scenes, namely much better test coverage. This will allow me to make improvements more quickly and more frequently. So stay tuned.

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Learn a language by swinging up to ever higher levels of proficiency by effectively using the language you've learned so far.

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