« Learning without studying » is the strapline of a new language learning application called Popling. I think the idea that you can learn anything without working for it is a bit unrealistic, but I do think that the creators of Popling are on to a good thing.
The idea is to help you by « tricking » your brain into learning while you are doing other things. It works on a classic pedagogical tool which every language learner has used at some time or other: the flashcard.
So what’s new? Flashcards have been around forever. Popling is flashcard software which works especially well for second language learners who spend a big part of their day in front of a computer. Every few minutes as you work, Popling will display a question or a prompt in a small online flash card window. It is very easily configurable for vocabulary in the language you are learning, so that if you are trying to learn French kitchen vocabulary for example, you might get the prompt « dishwasher ». If you have learnt the word, you will type in « lave-vaisselle ». If you haven’t learnt it, you can take a peek at the word and try to memorise it for next time.
You also have the choice of ignoring the flashcard if it arrives at a bad moment, and it will just go away. Apparently it’s « learning with no motivation required ». I doubt that it is really possible to learn anything without motivation, but in spite of the blah blah, it is a very good tool.
You can either subscribe to an existing set of flashcards in the language you are learning, or create your own. It takes a bit of work writing your own flashcards, but it’s part of the learning process and that way you can be sure to learn the vocabulary you need.
It requires the installation of a lightweight Adobe Air desktop application. Have you tried it? Found any other interesting uses for it? Have your say in the comments.
For more information on online flash card systems, see Building vocabulary through spaced repetition.