Category Archives: Learning

QR Code Success!

Reading QR Codes in ¡Dígame!We first developed the ¡Dígame! card game as a paper prototype for our new mobile app. Translating the game play from a mobile, social video-based game to real life worked surprisingly well.  When the idea arose to integrate video via QR codes on the game cards, I worried that the scanning delay and mix of phone and card game would interrupt the game play and cause the game to be less fun.  One of the biggest challenges in software design is that people say that want something, but they can’t realize all of the implications, so you can give someone what they ask for and have that end up as something that doesn’t improve the experience and can be distracting.  Due to this uncertainty, we launched our card game crowdfunding campaign without the QR codes and agreed to play test them before making the final decision on whether to include them.

Last week, Glen organized a group of people who had little or no Spanish language ability.  They played ¡Dígame! and had a lot of fun.  With a QR Code on each card, linked to a video of a native speaker saying the phrase expressively, sometimes with gestural hints, plus having the translation into English , the “fear factor” of being immersed in this new language was greatly reduced.  Each person was challenged to teach a phrase, acting it out like Charades. Even if that person had to learn from the English translation in the video, the rest of the group learned through the immersive quality of the game, decoding meaning by watching and using their own gestures while only hearing and saying the phrase in Spanish.

The feature of QR codes linked to expressive videos on the phrase cards has been a big success so far and adds a fun dimension to the game. This week we’ll be recording our latest revisions of the game phrases and creating links and QR codes for each phrase.  Today is the last day to pre-order the game on Indiegogo:

Making a Game out of Learning a Language

I love learning languages. I love that spark of understanding when I get my point across in a new language. I love how my brain settles into unfamiliar patterns as I discover how to say something in a language different from my own. I even love the silly mistakes early on, when I’m brave enough to speak and someone else is not afraid to correct me. I’ve puzzled at the contradiction of how I can love learning a language, yet it still requires great discipline.

With Mightyverse, we wanted to capture that simple joy of mastery and make it easier to get to those good feelings more often. We set out to design a mobile, social experience that would make it so we actually want to practice vocabulary, since it feels like playing a game, rather than feeling like homework.

Cards with Japanese Kanji and Hiragana text and a drawing of a dog

Our first paper prototype was in Japanese.

After some gamification research, we designed our mobile software game, then before building it or creating a detailed visual design, we set out to create a “paper prototype.” This is a common software design practice where we actually construct the experience with drawings on paper and get people to look at and interact with a series of sketches, making it easy to get quick feedback on layout, wording, and a sequence of interactions. For our game, which relies heavily on the crowdsourced video phrases in Mightyverse, we realized we could substitute a native or fluent speaker of the language to create a real-world experience that mimics an online experience of interacting with our global language community.

We decided that we would not write a line of code until we could create a situation with our game where a group of people in real life had fun learning and speaking their learning language. We didn’t just want to add sparkles and unicorns to make it entertaining, we wanted to tap into the aspects of social learning that we believe will make the mobile game intrinsically fun.

Through several design iterations, we actually created two separate card games. The second one was much easier to play test since it required only one speaker of the learning language. We created the card game in three languages (Spanish, English and Japanese) with hand-written phrases and printouts pasted on index cards. We then went to the fabulous SFBabel Meetup, and asked random groups of strangers to play our game. It was exciting to see people having fun playing the game and we learned so much from their responses.

For our next iteration, with my friend Val, some kids and friends, we printed out our “helper” cards with instructions that were way too long and a little confusing…
Two of the kids look bored while another kid reads instructions and woman asks a question.
But once we started playing, it was fun. It was amazing to see the transition from bored skepticism to laughter and playful banter in Spanish! We played for hours, with longer and longer stretches where everyone only spoke Spanish.
Kid gestures, smiling, while mom guesses. In the foreground, cards with pictures of hands are on the table.

After many more sessions of playing the game, iterating on the rules and the cards, we have a system that really works. People have fun speaking Spanish, whether they start with little confidence and very few words or many years of Spanish classes.

We’ve designed a crowdfunding campaign as a way to reach language learners who can pre-purchase and play the card game. The next step will be to combine the approaches and make the game playable when there is no fluent speaker present using a mobile app, integrating our crowdsourced video phrases. If you’d like to review the deck, write us! We look forward to hearing from you.

Being Hyperglot

011513_Hyperglots_largePeople who speak more than 5  languages are often called “hyperglots” (and sometimes “Hyperpolyglots”). Hyperglot seems like one of those transitional words that’s ill defined and not very precise. Nevertheless, it’s useful to mark an emerging phenomenon that appears to be on the rise.

I’ve been interested in hyperglots for awhile, especially as they relate to accelerating language learning. Do hyperglots have some extra cognitive capacity to hold all of that language in their brains, a capacity that us regular mortals don’t? Are there techniques we can learn from them that can be broadly applied in our own efforts?

There are rockstar hyperglots on the web like Timothy Doner, Lindie Botes and Benny the Hyperglot. Their appeal is immediate when you see them speaking in videos on YouTube, promising that humans are capable of much more language diversity than we commonly encounter.

While doing user research at language meetups for Mightyverse, I met a woman named Diana Gruber speaking with another person in flawless Spanish. When we introduced each other, her English was flawless as well, and later in the conversation I learned that also speaks French, Italian and Portuguese at a near native level, as well as quite passable German. She also taught at a language school in Texas and has her own ideas on the best way to start to learn a language and then polish your skills over time. One of her key ideas is that it’s important to gain an effect with your new language as soon as you can, learning phrases that you can put to immediate use (“Un cerveza por favor!” and the like).

I invited Diana to our studio where she graciously consented to a video interview about being a hyperglot (an interview that I hope to link to in a future post). She also recorded a series of Spanish Medical Phrases for Mightyverse.

While we had the camera set up and were on a roll,  we recorded Diana speaking in six languages and it took off on YouTube the day she posted it. Hyperglot Diana Gruber speaks six languages

言葉の壁 – Ruby Kaigi 2010

Ruby Kaigi 2010

Ruby Kaigi 2010

8月27日からつくばで始まったRuby Kaigi 2010のオープニングで、Rails 3 やRuby 1.9などの新しいコードの話と一緒に、言葉の壁が話の話題になったのは、びっくりしました。RubyとRailsというプログラミングのコードは、コミニケーションし合っても、それをコーディングするプログラマー同士が、上手くコミニケーションできないのは、とても残念なことです。



Pair Programing Phrase List


learning Japanese

I write this as I listen to “Change” by Miwa, which has transformed from a series of nonsense syllables to something I can recognized as Japanese but still not understand. A year ago, I knew how to:

  • Count to 5 (which I learned when I visited Japan when I was 10)
  • Say いただきます。 (“ittedakimas” which I incorrectly remembered as “let’s eat” but actually means “thank you for the meal” which you say before you eat.
  • Say and type こんにちは (“konnichiwa” which I learned so that I could verify that Laszlo Mail accepted double-byte characters as input text and rendered them corrected)

Early use case testing of Mightyverse showed that it resonated with people who already had some dual language fluency. People who had no knowledge of the language found it quite frustrating. The initial Mightyverse iPhone app had neither the software features nor range of language that language learners or travelers wanted. Nonetheless, when our Japanese investor came to visit, I decided to try using Mightyverse to learn Japanese. I picked a single phrase: “a frog in the well does not know the great sea.” In learning the phrase, I wanted to know what each word meant, so I asked my colleague, Ikuko, to break it down for me. Then I promptly forgot all but the meaning of the whole phrase except the first word (“ino” which means “in a well” since I found it surprising that such a big concept would be known by such a short word). I proceeded to learn the phrase phonetically, until I could successfully parrot it.

I then experienced the frustration and joy of a language learner with an interesting twist. When I spoke this phrase to my American friends who knew Japanese they listened carefully and might be able to understand one or two words, but not understand the meaning of the phrase. They would then say some simple conversation starter to me, of which I understood not one word, to my enormous frustration. However, when I said this phrase to a native Japanese speaker, he or she would immediately smile and nod and often finish the sentence with me. Suddenly we would have something in common and they would tell me in English about where they learned the phrase or about the original Chinese poem or share something about the well-known poet. I delighted to experience a part of the Mightyverse vision made real. I proceeded to learn phrase #2: “I’m sorry I speak the Japanese of a pre-schooler.” This phrase wasn’t as successful in creating connections, but introduced me to Japanese sentence structure.

A few months ago I submitted a talk to Ruby Kaigi, about language and unicode and web applications. (I felt the proverb fit the topic, so I made my first Japanese phrase the title of the talk.) A few weeks ago, I decided to start learning Japanese in earnest with twice weekly Japanese classes. Our teacher instructed us to learn to read and write Hiragana as part of her lessons. She claimed this would help us speak and I bravely ventured forth.

Since I spend quite a bit of time on muni, I decided to try a few iPhone apps to learn conversation and reading. My two favorites are iStart Japanese and Human Japanese. Each also has a free version that you can start with and provides a substantial amount of learning before you need to buy the full version for further lessons. They are quite different and both are complimentary to each other, to the language classes and to Mightyverse. I have found that I learn best when I can learn the same concept in many different ways and I have found that to be true of language more than most things.

iSpeak Japanese is a wonderful introduction to conversation as well as written Japanese. The teaching patterns for conversation were very effective for me.  I also love how you can toggle the writing between hiragana and roman characters and that they introduce the Kanji with the writing as well.  I don’t really feel like it is sticking in my brain yet, but I enjoy working through the exercises and the quizes do seem to help.  My only disappointment is with the pronunciation — I have heard from two native Japanese speakers that they do not really say the “su” at the end of a word like “nomimasu” (which is instead pronounced “nomimas”).  It seems odd that a language program would  teach conversation and not address this common pattern.

Human Japanese iPhone appHuman Japanese is a lovely application that interleaves cultural lessons with language lessons, starting with the hiragana characters. The attention to detail is very lovely and the pacing of the application is comfortable. The notes, gestural drawings and animated strokes really help me understand how to write the characters where my old-fashioned paper workbook didn’t give me enough of a clue. I highly recommend this exploration of Japanese culture and language for the new Japanese language learner.

While Mightyverse does not target beginner language learning, it does prove to be an effective complement. I turn elsewhere, whether it be friends, classes or language learning aids, to learn to fundamentals of sentence structure and simple vocabulary. From Mightyverse, I am inspired to learn more complex and entertaining or specialized phrases and to hear pronunciation from real native speakers.

Why Na’vi?

Na'vi fandom is global and fueled by imagination

Na'vi fandom is global and fueled by imagination

We recently embarked on a project to record Na’vi phrases into Mightyverse. Na’vi is a constructed language created by James Cameron and Dr. Paul Frommer for the movie Avatar. Due to the popularity of the movie, it’s estimated that Na’vi is already the fourth most popular constructed language, after Esperanto, Klingon and Elvish (from the Lord of the Rings).

I’ve been fascinated by the community that’s sprung up around Na’vi and the people who are learning it. It has the potential to become a relatively popular language, with events where people communicate solely in Na’vi, teaching it to their children and translating texts like Shakespeare and the Bible. In the face of the decimation of indigenous languages worldwide, friends of mine who are following Mightyverse have questioned why we would spend anytime documenting Na’vi while so many worthy, incredibly vital languages need to be recorded.

That’s a fair and thoughtful question.

My own feelings about the movie are complicated. I thought it was ultimately a violent revenge fantasy cloaked in a peaceful message film. Kind of Dances with Wolves all over again, with a weird Pocahontas story woven in. I’m not a big fan of the film and felt kind of yucky after seeing it. But I like weird stuff and I’m clearly not the intended audience for the film anyway. I have to confess though that I was absolutely entranced by the craft of the film and the exquisite production that it represents. Cameron has no equal in the universal spectacle of Hollywood film. And his work has now spread across the globe to places more refined stories will never reach. It’s a true phenomena of human storytelling writ large.

So, here are the reasons why I felt Na’vi recordings could be important for the evolution of Mightyverse.

– Na’vi is international. I love the fact that people all over the world are learning Na’vi and in the process sharing a love of language across cultural borders.
– Na’vi learners are obsessed. It’s amazing how many incredible resources have been produced so quickly, and how they are evolving daily. They’ve escaped beyond the confines of the film and are now creating their own world far more interesting than the limits of Pandora.
– Na’vi excites children about language and other cultures. Children are the key to the future of language survival. If they learn about adpositions, topical, dative and genitive cases through Na’vi, well that can’t be too harmful.

Finally, if people learn about Mightyverse through a link somewhere to Na’vi phrases, well, that would be very nice as well.

Mightyverse used on a pilot project to support Hawaiian revitalization

Then There Were None Documentary FilmThe co-founders of Mightyverse came together to work on Mightyverse out of a love of language. It’s heartbreaking that of the 7000 or so languages spoken throughout the world today, some believe that over half of them could be extinct on a practical level by the end of this century. We are hopeful that Mightyverse has the potential to help in the global effort to revitalize endangered languages, and this is a big part of what drives us to make Mightyverse useful to the world. It’s hard to imagine, but with approx. 1000 fluent speakers and less than 10,000 active speakers, Hawaiian is on the list of endangered languages that could conceivably die out over the next 100 years.

Needless to say, this would be a tremendous tragedy for the world.

Fortunately there are very good efforts going on to grow the speaking community, including immersion schools, television programs and passionate individual efforts. And yet the resources on the web to answer the question “How would I say that in Hawaiian?” are still fairly limited. We are extremely excited to have worked with National Geographic Fellow, Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey, on a project to record Hawaiian phrases into Mightyverse. We are currently at 109 phrases and hope to grow that number with the help of other native speakers. Stay tuned as we work to develop a collection of Hawaiian language that can be useful for people who want to have Hawaiian language and culture live on through them!

Here’s a fun place to start – some great Hawaiian phrases to practice.

A short video interview with Dr. Lindsey on her project with Mightyverse.

(see a trailer and learn more about Elizabeth’s film Then There Were None here)

いろいろ選べるようになります。- サンドイッチ編

Saigon Sandwich

Saigon Sandwich

前回のコーヒ編はお役に立ったでしょうか? 今回は、サンドイッチの注文の仕方を紹介したいと思います。アメリカでは、サンドイッチを注文する時に、パンの種類やマヨネーズの有無などを指定できます。


“All Sandwiches Served with Homemade Fries or Fresh Green Salad.
Also Served with your choice of Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onions, Pickles.
Available on Freshly Baked Bread Including French, Wheat, Sourdough, and Dutch Crunch.”


  1. どのサンドイッチにするのか
  2. パンの種類
    (French, Wheat, Sourdough, Dutch Crunch – フランスパン、麦芽パン、サワードパン、ダッチクランチ)
  3. マヨネーズ無
    (no mayo – マヨネーズ無し)
  4. マスタード無
    (no mustard – マスタード無し)
  5. マスタードの種類
    (dijon mustard, mustard – ディジョンマスタード、マスタード)
  6. トマト無
    (no tomato – トマト無し)
  7. レタス無
    (no lettuce – レタス無し)
  8. ピクルス無
    (no pickles – ピクルス無し)
  9. タマネギ無し
    (no onion – タマネギ無し)
  10. チーズの種類
    ( American, Cheddar, Jack or Swiss cheese – アメリカンチーズ、チェダーチーズ、ジャックチーズ、又は、スイスチーズ)

Could I have a Corned Beef on Rye?

Can I have a Turkey on wheat, no mayo, everything else?

Can I have a BLT with Avocado and Swiss?




“What kind of cheese?”



Do you sell sandwiches here?

— サンフランシスコのお店 —


Four Barrel Coffee
コーヒー編で紹介したFour Barrel Coffeeは、Valencia streetの14th street と15 streetの間にあります。とてもオープンで、モダンなカフェです。ドーナッツや、クロワッサンなども美味しいので、Mission地区付近を散策した時に休憩代わりに立ち寄って見られたらいかがでしょうか。

Ike’s Place
サンドイッチのメニューで、紹介したIke’s place には、個人的に、立ち寄ったことが無いので、お味の方は分かりませんが、サンドイッチとハンバーガー 、自家製のソースで人気はあるようです。Castoro地区にあります。

Saigon Sandwich
Saigon Sandowitch(サイゴンサンドイッチ)は、ベトナムスタイルのサンドイッチです。サンフランシスコに来られたおりには是非食べてください。とても美味しいうえにお手頃なお値段です。Civic Center/Tenderloin地区にあります。

Even Monkeys Fall from Trees

Monkey waiting to fall

Monkey waiting to fall

This week we have a nice selection of Japanese proverbs, courtesy of Mitsuhito Fujita, our friend (and wonderful Mightyverse engineer) in Japan. Fujita-san recited these proverbs from memory, and they should be familiar to most native Japanese speakers. They were recorded across from his office at Knowledgelink in the Akasaka prefecture in Tokyo, on a very hot Summer day, with the sound of cicadas almost drowning his voice.
Proverbs and idiomatic expressions have been shown to be some of the hardest aspects of language for non-native speakers to learn. How often have you, or a friend mangled a proverb to humorous effect in a language you don’t speak?

The study of proverbs is called “Paremiology” and is a rich area of research for people studying language and the mind.

From Wikipedia:
“Proverbs are found in many parts of the world, but some areas seem to have richer stores of proverbs than others (such as West Africa), while others have hardly any (North and South America) (Mieder 2004:108,109).
Proverbs are often borrowed across lines of language, religion, and even time. For example, a proverb of the approximate form “No flies enter a mouth that is shut” is currently found in Spain, Ethiopia, and many countries in between. It is embraced as a true local proverb in many places and should not be excluded in any collection of proverbs because it is shared by the neighbors. However, though it has gone through multiple languages and millennia, the proverb can be traced back to an ancient Babylonian proverb (Pritchard 1958:146).
Proverbs are used by speakers for a variety of purposes. Sometimes they are used as a way of saying something gently, in a veiled way (Obeng 1996). Other times, they are used to carry more weight in a discussion, a weak person is able to enlist the tradition of the ancestors to support his position. Proverbs can also be used to simply make a conversation/discussion more lively. In many parts of the world, the use of proverbs is a mark of being a good orator.
The study of proverbs has application in a number of fields. Clearly, those who study folklore and literature are interested in them, but scholars from a variety of fields have found ways to profitably incorporate the study proverbs. For example, they have been used to study abstract reasoning of children, acculturation of immigrants, intelligence, the differing mental processes in mental illness, cultural themes, etc. Proverbs have also been incorporated into the strategies of social workers, teachers, preachers, and even politicians.”

We are excited to present this small selection of Japanese proverbs for people looking for another entry point into Japanese culture and language.

Monkeys do fall from trees

Learn how to say “Even monkeys fall from trees”

Language Buddies

One of the use cases for Mightyverse is learning a language. We are starting an experiment of pairing up with language buddies as a great way for people to share their love of learning a language and help each other out.

We’ve paired up Jack (an 11-year old native English speaker), with Daniele (an 11-year old bilingual English/Italian speaker). Jack made up a list of phrases that he wanted to learn in Italian and those that weren’t already in Mightyverse were recorded by Daniele.

Today we launch the “I Like Pie” phrasepack of Italian phrases that Daniele prepared for Jack. You can see it on the homepage of Mightyverse under the “I Like Pie” tab.

Here’s how it works. If you want to learn phrases in any language, just record them in your language and find a language buddy to reciprocate in theirs.

The world just got a little bit smaller.

Interested in becoming a language buddy?
Drop us a line at Let’s be Language Buddies