The perceived difficulty of a text increased with the increase in the counts of syntactic features.

How Sentence Difficulty Affects Reading Comprehension

Reading proficiency is one of the most important ways Voxy measures language competency. But to make learning effective, it’s essential that the difficulty level of a text closely matches the reading proficiency levels of learners. As a result, Voxy needs to determine the difficulty level of a text as well as the difficulty level of sentences within it to provide the most effective learning experience possible.

While it’s well known among educators that a learner’s comprehension of sentences affects his or her ability to understand a full text, very little attention has been paid to the difficulty level of individual sentences. Voxy recently conducted an experiment to gain a better understanding of what makes a sentence difficult, comparing conventional measurements to more complex sentence features.

Voxy discovered that traditional non-syntactic features—elements like sentence length, total number of words, and the number of low frequency words and syllables which appear less often—may provide a more accurate assessment of difficulty than syntactic features, which are more complex. Syntactic features include who/what/why/where phrases, dependent clauses, and coordinate phrases that include words like “and,” “but,” and “so” to connect different parts of a sentence.

Click here to read the full report.

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Google+ Meets Voxy: The Next Step to Integrating Language Learning into Daily Life

Voxy is pleased to announce that it is bringing Google+ to its millions of language learners worldwide to provide them with a seamless experience as they learn from content that is relevant to their interests and goals. Our learners will now have the ability to sign-in, interact, and take One-on-One Live Tutoring Sessions powered by Google+ and Google+ Hangouts.

Voxy chose Hangouts due to its robust features, ability to operate in low-bandwidth situations (including mobile) and ease of customization which ultimately benefit both Voxy users and tutors. In fact, Voxy’s highly trained and certified English language tutors are excited about delivering focused and productive live tutoring sessions via Google+ Hangouts, as they can leverage Hangouts’ video, audio and text features while in live sessions with students.

Keeping with Voxy’s core mission of bringing language learning into a user’s daily life, learners now also have the ability to share their lesson scores with friends, family and co-workers in their Google+ network. Google+’s unique interactive posts feature allows anyone to accept the challenge to beat their friend’s score leveraging the same real-world interactive music, conversation, image or article content Voxy uses for teaching English.

And just as Voxy users begin discovering these new features over the upcoming days, they will also be demonstrated for Google I/O conference participants at the Developer Sandbox portion of the conference from May 15 – 17th. As a Developer Sandbox partner, Voxy was invited to showcase its applications that are based on, or incorporate technologies and products that are featured at the conference and share with over 5000 other developers the next step to integrating language learning into daily life.

Aimee Styler
Special Projects Manager


Is this the Future of Language Learning?

Google debuted their mysterious “Glass” device just last year, and since then it’s garnered attention across the tech scene and even the fashion industry. Now with even more details being exposed at SXSW, it’s even more clear that Glass and wearable computing are the next “big thing.” Glass is meant to be additive to our lives by giving us an implicit and novel interface through which we can filter our experiences and access the internet. With a powerful camera, a microphone and an array of sensors, including GPS, businesses will have unprecedented context upon which to deliver valuable software. With wearable computing we’ll be able to process and filter the data from our daily activities, and learn from the world around us. Sounds familiar!

That’s because Voxy was founded on the concept that language learning should be contextual and that mobile technology allows users to be immersed in their learning experience. This vision is already thriving through the Voxy mobile and web apps: over two million language learners engage with our product to read and listen to authentic personalized content, and practice real conversations in their target language towards the goal of accomplishing real-world tasks. We’re excited to say that this is only the beginning. With the advent of wearable computing technologies, a new medium has been created for Voxy to leverage, for the benefit of its users and language learners everywhere.

At Voxy we’re eager to provide our learners with the best, most effective learning methodologies and Voxy has made it a priority to investigate the usage of wearable computing. Sam Dozor, our Lead Application Developer, spent two days at the recent Google Glass “Foundry” in NYC – a hackathon where developers were invited to see what they could build for Glass. Although we can’t yet disclose the details of what he built, we are proud to say that Sam’s Glass service beat out the field and took home the grand prize! As a result, Voxy will be getting early access to Google Glass, allowing our tech and product teams to start envisioning the next generation of language software.

At Voxy, we know that languages aren’t learned from a textbook; research has proven that adults need real-world input for effective learning. Wearable computing is the ultimate manifestation of having real-world input. Can you imagine a world where you have contextual, personalized language learning lessons pushed to you whenever and wherever you want them? We can. And having an even faster, more effective, and more engaging way to learn a language? You will.

Aimee Styler, Special Projects

Image courtesy of Flickr: zugaldia


10 Interesting Facts about the English Language

Have you ever wondered what the little dot on top of an ‘i’ is called, or what the only two words in the English language that end in ‘-gry’ are? No? Well, get ready, because you’re about to!

In the English language, …

…the shortest word containing all five main vowels is ‘eunoia’, meaning ‘beautiful thinking’ or a state of normal mental health.

…the longest word with only one vowel is ‘strengths’ (9 letters long).

…there are only 4 words that end with ‘-dous’: ‘tremendous’, ‘stupendous’, ‘hazardous’ and ‘horrendous’.

…the oldest word is ‘town’.

…the longest one-syllable word is ‘screeched’.

…the longest word with all the letters in alphabetical order is ‘almost’.

…the only two words that end ‘-gry’ are ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’.

…the longest word without the main vowels is ‘rhythms’.

…the dot on top of the letter ‘i’ is called a ‘tittle’.

…the most commonly-used word in conversation is ‘I’.

Gabi O’Connor
Gabi is a Senior Associate of Pedagogy & Curriculum at Voxy.  She received her BA in English Literature and French Translation at the University of York, her M.Phil. in Popular Literature at Trinity College Dublin, as well as certification from the University of Cambridge TEFL program. Having lived in eleven countries and learned several languages as a result, she has a passion for expanding her and others’ cultural and language horizons.


At the Crossroads of Language and Culture

As anyone who has traveled to a new country can attest, language and culture are inextricably linked. While many language learners have dutifully conjugated lists of irregular verbs, religiously memorized the dialogues in textbooks, and painstakingly filled-in page after page of worksheets, they often arrive in a new country completely unprepared to actually tackle any real-world tasks. For example, what do you say when you want to pay for a ride on the subway? How do you make a doctor’s appointment over the phone? And what do you do if your travel plans go awry? Can you just hop on the next train, or do you need to change your ticket in advance?

Accomplishing tasks like this is not just a matter of stringing the right words together; these daily activities also involve interacting with a human being in a different culture. How do you get someone’s attention? How do you apologize? How do you end a conversation? These are things that language learners immersed in a new culture learn by observation; by, for example, paying attention to what the person at the front of the line says when he or she orders a latte. Significant research on second language acquisition has found that language learners need access to large amounts of input or examples of the target language as it is used by fluent speakers, which is what enables them to learn both language and culture in context. This is why immersive language experiences are so important for teaching language with culture.

Take, for example, the following exchange between a box office attendant and someone attempting to buy tickets for a performance:

Customer: Hi, are you still open?
Box Office Attendant: Yeah.
Customer: Okay. I ran here. You close at 8?
Box Office Attendant: We’ll be closing shortly, yes.
Customer: Do you have any weekday matinee showings?
Box Office Attendant: Wednesdays are the matinees.
Customer: What time?
Box Office Attendant: 2 o’clock on Wednesdays.
Customer: 2 o’clock, okay. Um, I need, I guess–
Box Office Attendant: Excuse me, the show’s on, could you please keep your voice down.
Customer: I’m sorry.
Box Office Attendant: Thank you.

This invitation into language interchanges laden with cultural information is highly motivating to students; authentic materials are successful in part because of their appeal, as students experience a special thrill when they realize they’re beginning to understand and participate in what was once someone else’s linguistic and cultural domain. Many diligent language learners observe fluent speakers completing tasks like ordering from a menu or introducing a friend in hopes of imitating that; however, while trying to spy discreetly, learners can’t ask for clarification or repetition. Language learners should always remember that asking for help is not something that only language learners do – fluent speakers make mistakes and need help, too!

Esther Liu

Katharine Nielson, PhD
Katie is VP of Curriculum and Pedagogical Research at Voxy. She has her PhD in Second Langauge Acquisition from the University of Maryland and has spent the past fifteen years teaching Spanish and ESL, developing and evaluating curricula for online and face-to-face language instruction, and researching how adults learn languages. Previously, she worked at the Center for Advanced Study of Language, where she led research projects investigating the effectiveness of technology-mediated language training products.