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flash card program for learning a foreign language

Hi, I am a native English-speaker living in Poland for a little while and trying to learn the language beyond the beginner level.

I've tested out a couple flash card-type programs that I found on for trying to learn vocabulary, but all seem to either be clunky or don't allow special characters to be entered.  (Polish has some additional characters to the usual alpha set.)

I'd like a program that can: allow me to enter non-standard alphabets, be able to test foreign language->english testing, and english->foreign language testing.  Some kind of charting of score results over time would be a plus as well as to organize the data sets (isolate verbs/adjective/nouns or food/numbers/etc).

I had considered writing my own program on top of Excel, using Excel as the data-entry for this but thought maybe something better existed out there.

Can anyone recommend a solid program perfect for this task?

Jim Buck
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Check out SuperMemo. It is not king of usability and reliability, but the repetition spacing algorithm is really something. I can personally attest to its effectiveness.

Here's an introduction to the software from my website (meant for English learners, but still relevant):

The official site for the software is

Tomasz P. Szynalski
Tuesday, November 26, 2002


Given that is a "SuperMemo" promo site pretending to be a guide to learning English, I'd be interested to know what your relationship is to the software you're promoting here.

I'd also be interested in the relationship you have with "Jim Buck". His query seems like a really perfect lead-in for your advert.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Yea, the first post appears to be a leader for the Spam in the second post.

I find it very hard to see exaclty what supermemo does, or who it is aimed for. It would appear to be some kind of program for educational tests but the dociumentation is aimed at the user instead of at the teacher.

There's no trial version, and none of the screen shots are showing an actual question.

There is passable freeware language authoring software available in "Hot Potatoes" and robust and long established commercial software in Author Plus. I can't see this program getting any fans at all.

Why is the guy wasting his time spamming this forum though?

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Wow, tough crowd! :)  I'm not related to Tomasz at all, but it's interesting that I'm learning Polish, and a Polish guy responds.  Tomasz, czy mozesz polecac cos inne zeby uczyc sie dokladnie polskiego?

To make myself credible, this is me:

I'm a developer in the game industry (but no longer with Sony) - not the Super Memory industry.

I will check out the other suggestions above, but does anyone else have other ideas as well?

Jim Buck
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

(Just a test to see if Polish letters can show up on the board.. please ignore: ąćęłńóśżź)

Jim Buck
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Well, maybe you're real and Tomasz isn't, or maybe it is a pure coincidence.

It's still not at all clear what you want. If you just want something for flashcards for you then go to the stationer's and buy a pen and some cards. If you want a picture on one side for some strange reason then get some clip art and print that.

There are computer programs available for English, and to a lesser extent French and Spanish, but I doubt if there is much for Polish. What happens when you do a Google Search!

If you could be more explicit about your needs I could do a search on the main CALL sites.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The Rossetta Stone series does do Polish, but it really is a pretty elementary vocabulary recognition program though well done. The Polish CD costs  a whopping $195, but you can get a one-month web subscription for $19.95. I must admit that the graphic intensive nature of the Rosetta Stone program would mean a lot of waiting for the downloads!

This site might give you some tips

However, if you are living in Poland I would suggest you try and swap Polish lessons for English lessons.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Ok, I can see where my original message may not have been clear enough.  When I say "flash card program", I don't literally mean that I want to print up flash cards.  I mean I want the same functionality that people often use paper flash cards for when learning a language.

I'd like a program that allows me to enter Polish words and their English counterparts.  (In this case, it obviously doesn't have to be a program specific to Polish.)  Then I can tell the program to quiz me on these words both in the Polish->English direction as well as the English->Polish direction.  Ideally, it allows me to keep track of the words in some kind of logical way so that I can test myself on, say, the food words (a subset of nouns).. or all adjectives.. or colors only (which is a subset of adjectives).  Ideally, it can track my scoring over a period of time.  Ideally, it stores the data in simple text format (so I can easily edit it external to the program if needed).

I thought maybe someone here had the "ideal" program for doing this since there seem to be a lot of people doing translations for Joel and, hence, went through foreign language training.  I did search on with unsatisfactory results toward the programs I installed.  I also tried a while back with a lot of irrelevant results.

As for exchanging language lessons, I am already taking a class.. but it ends in a few weeks.. and I'd like to test myself on vocab in my free time anyway.  A lot of Polish words are hard to remember since they can often look like relatively-random characters put together - to the English eye anyway.

Jim Buck
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I'd say that the physical cards are more convenient , portable and easier to use than any computer program.

The time you would spend setting up the program wiould be better spent learing the language.

To give you one of the great quotes in software engineering "The fact that you can do something on a computer doesn't make it a good idea1"

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

So Jim,

You worked on Twisted Metal 4?  Cool!  What advice would you give someone who's interested in transitioning over into the gaming industry? 

I'm not definitely saying I'll do it yet, but I'm definitely interested.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002


Be warned - working in the game industry sounds 'fun' (and maybe it is?) but are you willing to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for 3-4 weeks at a time during 'crunch time'?  A friend of mine is a developer on the sims online and this is what he does.  I've known him for 5 years and this is how his 2-3 last jobs have been.  Yes, he makes good money, but to justify working 18 hours a  day for 3+ weeks at a time?  Even if he pushes 6 figures (which he does.) No way it's worthwhile in my opinion.  I considered it, but unless/until you become a lead developer, the money isn't great (b/c everybody wants to be a game developer) and the hours are shitty all around. 

Food for thought...
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Well, I honestly believe I'll learn much better with electronic "flash cards" than with the paper ones.  Anyway, I can type entries much faster than writing them (and they'll be legible :) ).

Games industry.. ohh..  probably should start another thread.  I will (or someone else please) if it goes beyond this reply.  Is that Crimson as in Crimson Fury? :)

Yeah, I worked on Rally Cross, CART World Series, Twisted Metal 3, and Twisted Metal 4.  I started in the industry in early '96 and left Sony mid-'00.  I essentially gave my lifeblood for the 4 years I was there.  I worked TONS - basically it was wake up, work until really late, sleep, wake up, etc.  However, it was extremely interesting work, and I loved it.  However, I had a relatively little social life for that period of time.  I left as we started to get into PS2 stuff to start my own company with a guy I worked with. for those interested, however it is down since we are on sabbatical (hence why I'm in Poland).

If the hours don't scare you (and this guy talking about his friend on The Sims isn't exaggerating), then.. to get in the industry.. I would say the best way is if you had a connection.  Like all industries, the games industry is all about relationships and minimization of risk.  If you know someone in the industry already, they might be able to short-circuit a path to get you a job somewhere.  If not, then you have to knock on a million doors.

Just to give you a little insight how I got in.  I graduated with my masters in '95 and started replying to all games-programming jobs I could find on  Everyone wanted experience.  Everyone has heard this paradox before in other industries.  You can't get experience unless you get a job in the first place.  Well, I had sent my resume to a friendly guy that was working as a producer at Sony Interactive.  I actually got a positive respone from him, and he had me talk to a couple guys on the phone (including the lead programmer).  They decided to fly me out (from New York) to San Diego for an interview.  After talking with a few people there, they made me an offer, and I accepted.  I think the only reason why I got past this friendly guy was that he wasn't as hard-assed as other people I had contacted and didn't really have an idea of what to ask me.  He was one in a million that was willing to talk to a guy with no experience.  Not the norm for sure.  So, luck got me in the door.  But, in the interview, it was my math background that really got me the job (they wanted me to do vehicular physics simulation for Rally Cross).

So, I got lucky basically.  I think those are the only two ways in - luck after knocking on enough doors or knowing someone.  I don't know much about building up a portfolio of demos/etc, but I imagine that without luck or knowing someone, it might help in the cold calling.

Jim Buck
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I suppose if you're used to spending more than twelve hours a day in front of a computer screen, then electronic flashcards become more attractive.

I would think you might find it quicker to actually write a program yourself than spend ages looking through the web, downloading stuff, learning how to use ti and then finding it is not appropriate. I am a language teacher so I have a fair idea what is in the market, and nothing immedialtely springs to mind.

Why don't you use Access? Create a form with two text boxes, one for the Polish word and one for the English word. have a command button that toggles the visible property for each text box, and seeing you're a mathmetician get another button to access the records randomly.

But email me a copy of it when you've finished (minus the words - Polish isn't on the agenda at the moment).

Incidentally, if you look around the web at language llearning software, as a games developer you'd be amazed how bad it all it. If you get venture capital contact me, there's an opening :)

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

If anyone else is interested, I did put together a flash card style language tool in Excel myself some time ago, (originally for learning Japanese but works for any pair of languages) and also to exercise some VBA skills.

If anyone wants a copy, please send me an e-mail... it's free an' all...

Joel Goodwin
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I don't have Access, but I don't think it takes a math degree to get random record access working. :)

You are 100% write on the software I have come across so far - just plain horrible.  I did consider writing my own from scratch since I know I could do a much better job than I've seen, but it would only be for myself.  I sell games not language software, but who knows.. if there truly is an opportunity, maybe it's a good idea.  I could be like how FogBugz came to be.  :) My business partner also speaks a foreign language, so this would interest him as well.  Any ideas on what the possible market for this is and what they are looking for?

Anyway, I took Joel up on his offer to check out what he has.  I thought Excel was a good place to have a quick'n'dirty one since people use Excel to keep lists.

Jim Buck
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

I gave up on Excel after I had to spend an afternoon re-entiering a load of data it had let me scramble.

As Joel mentioned somewhere on the site, Excell was never intended for people keeping lists. It was just that that was what people used it for.

The advantage of using Access for this is that if you decide to go further with it you don't have to restart from scratch.

But for a couple of hours quick coding, just use Excel.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

My relationship with the company which develops and markets SuperMemo software is simple: I am on their affiliate program. So yes -- you have reasons to distrust my recommendations.

I started using the software around 1993, something like 7 years before I started my site for learners of English and got on the SuperMemo affiliate program. I have published my experiences with SuperMemo here:

Tomasz P. Szynalski
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

This message is exclusively for Jim Buck, I apologize for spamming anyone else. I do not even have an idea what this forum is about. Sorry.

Dear Jim

Tomek Szynalski called my attention to your original inquiry. He has been hurt by the spammer accusation while just trying to help.

If he cannot be trusted because of being an affiliate of SuperMemo, so much less I can be trusted as one of the developers and authors of SuperMemo.

However, I will put it plainly and straight from the heart: if you want to learn Polish and type your own words in: SUPERMEMO IS IDEAL for the purpose. Tomek's comment "not a king of reliability" is just too cautions. SuperMemo is the king in vocabulary training. And this message has nothing to do with commercial interests. Please mail me and I will arrange a copy for you free in that specific context (please quote from this text to jolt my memory if need be).

I have two motivations here: (1) help you learn faster and (2) perversively take a stand in defending Tomek's good intentions.

Have nice time in Poland

(again apology for writing about MY love on YOUR forum - Peace!)

Piotr Wozniak
Thursday, December 12, 2002

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