The story of the development of the French, Spanish and German leVocab language Apps is a story of horror, laziness and fun. The beginning of the story (the horror) will be familiar to everyone who has learned a modern language or is a parent of a language student. Rest assured, this story has a happy ending!
Who am I?
I am Niall – the founder and designer of the leVocab apps. I studied French when I was at school and subsequently lived in France & Belgium; I studied Japanese at university and won a scholarship to visit and study in Japan and I have since studied Italian, Spanish and German.
Some years ago I started working for a German company in Ireland and decided I needed to learn German fast as I was travelling regularly to Düsseldorf. Despite its reputation as a difficult language, I enjoyed learning German. At least, I did until I was reminded of gender in languages other than English.
So let me begin by telling you about the horror. Not long into my German studies I was introduced to the tricky triplets – der, die & das. Aaaagh! I was quickly reminded of the terrible twins in French – le and la – and the fact that nouns in modern foreign languages had a gender (masculine or feminine). So once again I had to learn the gender of each noun as I was learning the vocabulary. So began the horror because, as everyone knows, it is challenging to learn new vocabulary but it is downright awful trying to learn the noun genders at the same time.
Now let me tell you about the laziness – it’s time for my confession: I am lazy! I do not like rote learning; I do not like writing out new vocab and the matching gender. I was on the verge of relapsing to my old ways of winging it, depending on guesswork and unreliable rules of thumb when I said to myself there must be a better way.
The fun started with flash cards and progressed rapidly from there. I have studied modern languages as I told you and I also study computer languages - that is my day-to-day job. I decided to write some software for my personal use to help me learn my new words. I soon realized that more people could benefit from this so I set about writing the apps. I had been focusing on the nouns and their genders but then I thought, “hey, I could include pronunciation too.” So I got a bunch of male and female native speakers of French, German and Spanish into a recording studio and they recorded the pronunciation of 1,500 words in their native tongue. I really enjoyed those three days in the studio.
And before I knew it, the leVocab app was born. Well that is not strictly true as I took me almost a year to design it, gather all the vocab, write the code and pull it all together. But now I have a cool app that I can, and do, use anywhere. I can do a short, themed quiz in about three minutes and bingo, before I know it, I have learnt 10 new words.