Monday, January 19, 2009

Bilingoz review: Great specialized Japanese vocab, could use some better study methods

Bilingoz (via Aspiring Polyglot), the brainchild of Mark MacIntyre, a Canadian who has logged nine years in Japan teaching English and finding the existing tools insufficient to teach those with a need for specialized vocabulary, is a study aid for English speakers in need of specialized Japanese vocabulary (or vice versa, I suppose), such as accounting, dentistry, metallurgy, etc., and one in particular that attracted a lawyer like me: law. So I kicked the tires by testing out my knowledge of basic Japanese legal terms, which (thank goodness) I seem to know pretty well.

Here's what you can do on Bilingoz:
  • "Study", i.e., play a matching game in which you are presented with a six-by-five grid, with each square of the grid containing either Japanese or English. You must then match up the squares, similar to the child's game Memory.
  • Take a "quiz", i.e, do a multiple-choice quiz, which randomly selects wrong answers from the English translations of other vocab.
  • Listen to an audio recording of the words in Japanese at the basic level (i.e., their least advanced level). This is incredibly convenient and will save you a lot of time when you can't recall how a character is pronounced. Hopefully, they'll be added to the more advanced levels sometime soon.
And that's about it. Not quite a one-trick pony, but not far from it.

The exercises suffer from the process of elimination problem, which I've discussed before; because you can use testing strategy to eliminate answers, you can often figure out the right answer without really recognizing the word when you see it. I confess to finding the Memory-likegame mildly entertaining, but I don't think it would be as effective as a more standard flashcard-based system. I'd love to see them add traditional flashcard review as an option.

The other big downer is that it doesn't record your progress. You don't log in, so there's no record of what you have or haven't studied, meaning that you'll probably repeat words you already know in the exercises while trying to cover those that you don't.

Nevertheless, the vocab lists are of high quality; I wish I had them when I first began learning Japanese legal terms, because using these tools could have saved me some time. And the pronunciation recordings at the basic level are quite convenient. While the tools leave something to be desired, they are not without their utility and I'd recommend Bilingoz if you need specialist vocabulary in one of the categories covered.

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