There are several ways to learn vocabulary in a new language. You can immerse yourself in the language by moving to an environment where only that language is spoken, and pick up the words around you as they are being used. You can also use focused, intense study sessions to learn and memorize new vocabulary words. Ideally, you’d be able to do both! However, it’s not always possible to move to a new country just to learn its language, so the focused study sessions are a practical alternative. Even if you can’t get to the US or the UK, to France, to Spain or Mexico, or to Germany, with an internet connection you can get to the world of Spanish, English, French, and German words that Rene Kondratzky provides at www.Vokabel.com. We talked to Rene about the resources provided on the site.
UV: You mention that you started this site as a way to help you keep current in your vocabulary, but the website offers help in four different languages. Do you speak German, French, Spanish, and English?
RK: In mid-life, I took two years off from my career to focus on language study by taking formal university level courses in French, Spanish, and German toward a post graduate diploma in French literature (a love of my life). Sprinkle in chats with internet buddies, soirees with bilingual French and Spanish friends, and a job that gives me the opportunity to communicate daily in German at work and I have many reasons to keep my vocab current. I also worked in France for a few years in the early part of the century. I am an avid reader and, to a lesser extent than speaking, vocabulary training makes it more enjoyable to read the works of authors such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Teresa of Avila untranslated.
UV: The website has different categories of vocabulary words, such as “Food” and “Professions.” However, you also offer another important language category: verbs and verb tenses. Why did you decide to expand this category to provide the conjugations of verbs, rather than just the basic form of the word?
RK: I think it’s only natural to include verb conjugations in one’s training plan when approaching what it takes to maintain competency in a foreign language. Speaking using the incorrect verb tenses can be painful (often moreso to the speaker than the native that one is communicating with). Every student also knows that an improperly conjugated verb is the number one culprit for all of the red ink on their test/essay.
UV: You’ve chosen to use the “flash card” test model for vocabulary practice, rather than the “games” model that some other websites use. Why do you find this model more useful?
RK: I like the flash card model particularly when one takes the time to type the response and struggles pulling the word out of deep memory. The purpose of the tests for me is to bring those words from deep memory (i.e. I understand them when I read/hear them) into near memory where I can retrieve them quickly when in conversation. Having said that, any tool that forces you to use your brain actively instead of passively is valuable in any learning endeavor.
UV: We like the fact that your tests can be done online on a computer, offline, or through an app for iPhone or Android. When you use your site for your personal vocabulary practice, how do you access the tests?
RK: I am putting the entire site into an app so lately most of my spare time is taken taking all of the tests on my iphone app for testing purposes. I always put new tests on the website first because that’s where my main word database is so the tests will always go out to the website first.
UV: What do you find more useful, quick five-minute reviews of a word (or several words), or a longer study session focused on an entire word list?
RK: A longer study is always best. I’ve spent many hours entranced on my computer zipping through the tests using the keyboard-only, do not retest correct words, ignore extended characters features. Having said that, which language student could pass up the opportunity to brush up on their vocab for a few minutes on their PDA when waiting for/sitting in a bus, traveling, sitting alone in a restaurant or park, waiting in their car?