fbpx
Vorto

Hi there • hola • cześć,

If you don’t know us, my name is Michał and she is Katie. We are founders of Vorto – an app for language learners and we’re very excited to invite you to try it out. 

In January of 2017 we moved to Spain with the idea to learn Spanish and to work on Vorto. Three years later, I can’t say I’ve learned the language, but now I have an app to help me improve. I hope you will find it useful too. Please check it out, give it a try and let me know what you think!

If you’re studying a foreign language or know someone who does, please share Vorto with them. Once you register, you will have 14 days to try the app without commitment.

Cheers,
Michał

Thoughts on Language

Language Learning with Five Senses: Sight

I cannot commit a word to memory until I’ve seen it written. Preferably multiple times. Ideally with some photographic assistance. Once I realized that, I started powering through reading material in my target language.

Yet again flying to Poland, I am surrounded by a language very different to my own. Consonants brush past my ear. I don’t have a chance to absorb their meaning.

Winnie the pooh in Polish and English

Opening the in-flight magazine, I see my native language peppered throughout the blocks of Polish text. My eyes savor the unfamiliar words at their own pace. I imagine the sounds, decipher the meaning and relate text to imagery. The pages awaken words that laid dormant and forge new connections.

Words on a page require your undivided attention. As an avid multitasker who is mildly addicted to podcasts and Instagram, giving my mind nothing but text to absorb is surprisingly refreshing. I can break apart the words into bite-sized meanings, put together the puzzle of an entire phrase, or let the page transport me into a story. Language learning is a generally social endeavor, but reading is one of the times when it can be delightfully solitary.

Books aren’t the only way to absorb language with your eyes. If you are in an immersive setting, you are surrounded by signage, advertisements, graffiti and pamphlets. Everywhere you turn is an opportunity to enjoy a new bit of vocabulary.

Another way to think about learning through your sense of sight is to imagine how you learned new words as a baby. When you learned to speak, someone would say “ball” and point to a ball. Your mind had a direct connection from word to object. The thing existed because it had a name. As adult learners, we don’t have a kind and patient person who will follow us around telling us the word for everything we see. That’s why we put sticky notes on our trashcan to remind us it’s “basura”. Trust me, if you take the time to do this, the visual reminder will never leave your head.

Eine Tasse, which means "a mug" in German, written on a sticky note on coffee mug to learn German

This image-to-word can be reverse engineered thanks to the modern wonders of the Internet. The next time you encounter a word you don’t know, try an image search. The context of the word plus the variety of images may help the meaning click on a deeper level.

Vorto app interface with

When I studied Latin in high school, I used to draw pictures of the words on my cards. It helped me remember. These days, I can’t imagine taking the time to make flashcards by hand, much less drawing visual reminders. Selfishly, we created Vorto with ourselves in mind. As Michal was putting together the learning interface, he added images. That’s why, when you add a word or phrase to your library in Vorto, it’s automatically paired with the top result from a Google Image search (don’t worry, it’s the safe search). The algorithm can yield some strange results, but I’ve found that the more unexpected images burn the meaning into my brain even more than expected.

Whether you take the digital or the analogue approach, I highly recommend incorporating more eye candy into your language learning routine. If I take my own advice, maybe the next flight to Poland won’t leave me feeling so exasperated.

Thoughts on Language

Talk with your Hands

Do you love learning new languages but can’t gather the cash to travel abroad? Have a hard time speaking without moving your hands? Want to get in touch with a whole new community?

September 24-29 is National Deaf Awareness Week in the United States. The week focuses on promoting the positive aspects of deafness, encouraging social inclusion, and raising awareness of the organizations that support those who are deaf.

Colleen tells us how she merged her love of languages and kinesthetic learning into an obsession with American Sign Language (ASL).

Uncategorized

Vorto – Sounds foreign… yet kind of familiar.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a universal second language that is easy to learn and can be used to communicate with millions of people around the world? One language that is a blend of all the others sounds like a utopian fantasy, but could it be a reality.

Let me introduce to you Ludwig Zammenhof and his nineteenth-century creation, Esperanto. Ludwig was a Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist living in Białystok who grew up fascinated with the idea of a world without wars. He believed that the easiest way to achieve that goal would be if people were able to communicate with each other without language barriers. You need to remember that they didn’t have the internet back then and access to books and budget airlines was pretty limited. So Europeans didn’t really know much about each other.

Ludwik Zamenhof on an old Polish coin.

While still in school, Dr. Ludwig developed Esperanto – a new international auxiliary language. It is structured by a set of 16 grammatical rules, no tricky exceptions, and built around a lexicon of word roots coming from primarily Roman languages. Around 75% of all words come from French and another 20% is rooted in the Anglo-germanic languages. Surprisingly, only about 1% of the vocabulary can be traced back to his native Slavic languages. Esperanto includes a very small portion of Hebrew, Arabic and Japanese.

And why do we mention dr. Zamenhof and his Esperanto?

I learned about Esperanto and Dr. Zamenhof during a history class in High School. I was fascinated by the idea of intentionally creating something so complex yet approachable by finding similarities between languages around Europe. I find it impressive that someone’s dream was to stop wars by connecting people with a new language. While Esperanto might not be used as a universal language the way Zamenhof imagined, Esperanto is still used by millions of people. The language has a thriving community of people around the world.

When we were trying to find a name for our language learning project, we toyed with ideas rooted in English, Spanish or my native Polish. I remember sitting at an airport and waiting for my flight to Chicago with Google Translate opened in my browser. I had a list of random words associated with language learning and was trying them out one by one. While clicking around Google’s interface I noticed Esperanto as a language they offer. At that point I didn’t really know which phrase will be the best candidate yet but I knew I want it to be in Esperanto. After a few tries, we ended up with Vorto.

Vorto
Thoughts on Language

Language Learning with Five Senses: Hearing

We all learn best when the experience is meaningful. Engaging all five senses makes a stronger connection to the information we are trying to absorb. Each sense can become another hook onto the information and makes the meaning deeper and more lasting. As babies, we tried to put things into our mouths to understand them better. So, let’s try to be a bit more like babies and approach language learning from all the senses.

In this series, I’m going to talk about how to stretch yourself beyond the typical boundaries of textbooks and language exchange. I will be using my target language, Spanish, as an example. But it will be pretty clear how you can apply these ideas to any language you are learning. So without further ado, here are some ways to engage your ear holes into the language learning process.

Podcasts

If you’re learning Spanish and haven’t yet listened to Radio Ambulante, you are in for a treat! Each episode is thoroughly researched, emotionally engaging and well-produced. To top it off, each episode has an English and Spanish transcript available. Because this show covers all of Latin America, you also get a chance to expose yourself to many accents and types of slang.

Of course, it may be hard to find quality podcasts in your target language. The selection may be narrow, or you may not find topics that interest you. But the nice thing about Podcasts is that they are free to listen and easy to produce. So keep searching! The subject matter may even give you some nice material for the next time you are in conversation with a native speaker.

Native recordings

While learning your target language in a classroom or with a textbook, the language you are hearing may not be the most natural. That’s where native speakers become your friends. A great source for finding native material in EVERY language you can imagine is Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. They pull heavily from WikiTongues that has a vast library of native recordings.

Self Recordings

This one is the most difficult but also most rewarding. After you hear a lot of native recordings, you might think that you talk with the same accent that you hear. Don’t be fooled. Shannon Kennedy has an excellent explainer in her blog about how recording yourself can help your learning, along with some excellent examples.

If you don’t want to record videos, try sending voice recordings to language partners on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. You can listen AND get feedback at the same time.

TV Shows

According to the 2013 EF English Proficiency Index, which included 60 countries, the top three countries in terms of english proficiency, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, all use subtitles instead of dubs for everything except for children’s programs. Meanwhile, Spain, Italy, and France, which mostly use dubbing for movies and TV, have only moderate to low English proficiency.

Want to get Swedish-level proficient in your target language? Start by finding shows that were written in your target language. Up next on my Netflix queue is Casa de Papel!

If you can’t find shows that interest you in your target language, don’t fret. Just type the name of your favorite TV show and your target language in the YouTube search bar and start enjoying your old favorites with an educational twist.

Follow the socials

This one might accidentally engage other senses as well, but following people who speak your target language on social media is a great way to pipe native content into your cochlea.

Music

This is the type of audio input that goes straight to your soul. Music was how I learned some of my first Spanish words, and when phrases are set to melody they can stick with us for a lifetime. I don’t think a single person reading this will forget the word despacitoAnd I remember learning the subjunctive tense and then feeling the joy of identifying it in a Shakira song. Beyond grammar, listening to songs in your target language will explain why the heck everyone is asking “el anillo pa cuando?” And at that, I’ll leave you with some of my favorites.

Thoughts on Language

Why we love Linguistic Maps

There’s a lovely corner of Reddit called Map Porn. You can find more maps than you ever thought existed. Some are fantastical simulations based on video games, and others would be collecting dust in library storage if not for the internet. My favorite part about this collection of maps is what they can tell us about language.

Maps can put interesting facts into a spatial context.

New Orleans’ Hidden Etymologies

They reveal hidden barriers.

This map takes the common question of “What are you doing?” to show how widely it varies throughout the Arab World. Dialects transcend political and natural borders, therefore the areas presented should be viewed as a fluid and ever-changing approximation.

They help you explore linguistic trends.

Country genders in Portuguese

A simple map of the right data can help you scratch the surface of the varieties of the human experience.

Travel time to the nearest city in India
Travel time to the nearest city in Australia

Or see how the human experience has scratched the surface.

“I am here,” written by a million fingertips on a map in Times Square’s subway station.

 

Thoughts on Language

Trail Talk

Hiking doesn’t seem like an inherently language-oriented activity, but the last several hikes we’ve been on have involved speaking and hearing multiple languages. There’s something very satisfying about greeting your fellow hiker. As a result, I had to get very good at the jumble of consonants in the Polish “cześć” or the gutteral sounds of the French “Bonjour” and the inevitable “Je ne parle pas français” when my fellow hikers have follow-up questions. Beautiful hikes draw locals and out-of-towners alike, which made for a fun game of guess the language when we were hiking to the Old Man of Storr. And there’s something special about the patience that hikers have. We’ve all developed an appreciation of the progress you can see after taking one step at a time.

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google
Spotify
Consent to display content from Spotify
Sound Cloud
Consent to display content from Sound
Cart Overview