“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow” – Oliver Wendell Holmes. Zeta was puzzled to discover her friend could suddenly speak Icelandic. Out of nowhere. For no reason at all. So she forced them to show her how they did it…
It was on a warm, sunny day in Dublin that my linguistic, Eurovision-obsessed friend asked me, very excitedly, to quiz him on the days of the week. In Icelandic. So I did, and he got them all right (I’m assuming, I don’t actually speak Icelandic). Out of curiousity I asked him “How do you know the days of the week in Icelandic?” and what he told me changed my life forever…
Okay, I exaggerate. Hugely. But it still had an impact. Sort of.
He told me about Byki (pronounced Buy-kee), a language learning system that teaches you any language you want. He ranted on, saying it was great and that I should try it, and that he thinks learning Finnish would suit me…
Intrigued by this (Byki, I mean, not learning Finnish), I decided to try it out, and went onto byki.com. The homepage explains what Byki is about and has a massive list of languages to choose from in alphabetical order. I clicked on Spanish, reckoning that I should start with what I’m familiar with (I study Spanish in school). The website sends you an email with the link for downloading the software- after it finished, the programme started immediately. First, a pop-up appeared telling me to create a user account or something to that affect, so I entered my name and clicked OK/Save/Whatever the button said. Everything else was pretty straight-forward.
Byki – which stands for Before You Know It – works by taking a bunch of words and phrases used in everyday speech, categorising them into “lists”, e.g. Greetings, Colours, Taking a Taxi, etc., and teaching you each list separately using virtual flash cards (there’s even an animated hand on the screen holding the card) and an audio voice pronouncing each word. You select whatever list you want to learn and go through the three steps to learning it:
1. Preview It: Review the cards in the list.
2. Recognise It: See the word/phrase, think of the English, flip the card and see if you were right. After you get a certain number of answers right you have to type the answer.
3. Produce It: Same as Recognise It except vice versa.
The system keeps a record of all the words you’ve learnt and, after a few days, any words and phrases you’ve learnt but haven’t refreshed are put under Stale. You can revise stale words by clicking on My Learnt Items on the top of the screen, and clicking Refresh 10 Most Stale Items.
- Byki Express (also known as Byki Lite) is FREE!
- Installing it is extremely simple, for computer dummies (me) and geeky folk alike.
- Teaches you stuff you WANT to know (like how to say “Can you help me?” or “Where is…?”) instead of the boring grammar yiddy-yadda that doesn’t make any sense and is boring.
- The audio recordings are real natives, not like on some language learning systems that leave you speaking French in a robot voice.
- The website offers over 70 languages to choose from, including Hebrew, Japanese, Scottish, Luxembourgish, Latin, Zulu…
- Can be installed onto most Windows and Mac versions.
- Experts reckon that words and small phrases are the “building blocks of language”.
- User-created lists can be downloaded from the internet for free.
- The system was created by Transparent Language, a company that’s made award-winning language learning software.
- If you upgrade to the Deluxe version (not quite so free at $49.95) you get more lists, more features, you can get it as an iPod Touch/iPhone app, and you can make your own lists.
- The free version has limited features.
- Spam email = annoying.
- It gets a tad irritating after 5 tries of incorrectly spelling “discúlpeme”
- The programme only develops your vocabulary, not your grammar – if you want to actually learn the language you have to get off your backside and go to night classes.
If you’re an eccentric bi-linguist like my Icelandic-speaking friend, or looking for a summer project, or bored and unutterably full of ennui, log on to http://www.byki.com and pick a language, any language…
As for me, I’m off to extend my knowledge of French past the standard “Bonjour”, “Au revoir” and “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir”.