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Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software

Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software

Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software…

Please note that this is an updated version reflecting minor changes. Specifically, the Android version is not released as previously noted and at this time grammar notes are available for the Thai version only.

I have been studying the Burmese (Myanmar) language for over a year, however until recently, I could barely hold a conversation. I know the alphabet (itʼs very similar to Lanna Thai), know a few hundred words, understand basic grammar (itʼs almost the same as Japanese), however when I ordered Burmese food near the Indian temple in Bangkok (Silom), I would get lost after “hello” and “thank you”.

When I say that I have been studying Burmese, I mean that I have been taking classes at Ramhamhaeng University which I am using to fulfill the foreign language requirement of the Bachelors Degree majoring in Thai that I am working on. Classes meet once a week for two hours which since the classes arenʼt all that popular (1-8 students), it means that I get a fair amount of time practicing with my teacher. The problem is, aside from my interactions with the Burmese restaurant staff, I have zero additional exposure to the language. I canʼt get Burmese TV, podcasts or movies. Burmese phonology is very different from English and Thai, it has tones but they are different from Thai tones so my ability to speak Thai doesnʼt really help that much. Actually, my studies with Japanese are probably more helpful as it means I donʼt need to get my head around a new grammar system (both Japanese and Burmese are Subject-Object-Verb with markers after each sentence part to indicate role).

This realization that I needed more exposure to Burmese led me to the Internet and to the strangely named L-Ceps and L-Lingo offerings (the software is great, however the name is one of the things that I donʼt really get). Fortunately it also happened to be at a time when I was about to have a two week break from university, and I really couldnʼt think of any better way to spend my time than to dive into the language. I gave myself a goal of doing 40 hours of study during the 14 days that I had off and then chronicling it on my South-East Asian blog, Goldenland Polyglot. On an ideal day I spent 45-50 minutes studying followed by 10-15 minutes of mild exercise and then back to studying. My initial goal was to write this review immediately following the ten day immersion, however I ended up getting side-tracked with a billion other things until just now.

L-Ceps offers language education specifically geared towards Asian languages viz. Arabic, Burmese, Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, Korean, Malay, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese. The software is developed in Flash and works either as an online ($9.99 USD / month) or desktop ($49.95 USD) version for Mac, Windows and Linux. There are are mobile versions currently in development, with a multi-platform release planned for 2011.

When you first start the application, you are given the choice of studying your target language using either English, German, French or Spanish. Obvious omissions from that list are any of the Asian languages which they teach. My Burmese classes at university are all taught using Thai, so it would be great if I could somehow configure L-Ceps to drill mean the same fashion. Using a second language to learn a third (or fourth or fifth) has helped me to not forget what I had learned in any of the previous languages.

People with experience using Rosetta Stone will notice obvious similarities when first opening up an L-Ceps application, however the differences soon become apparent. L-Ceps has designed their applications from the ground up to focus on Asian languages with their own alphabets, grammars and unique pronunciations. Each of 105 different lessons introduces six new words grouped around a common theme and then runs you through a series of quizzes to test your memory. Vocabulary from previous lessons are used in current lessons, with sentences that get progressively longer and more complicated to help cement your knowledge. As you can see from the screen capture below, Asian models and Asian places are used in the photographs (in other lessons I noticed Thai busses), which is a nice added touch when studying Asian languages.

Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software

Each lesson starts by individually introducing each of six words and then progressing to the screen above where you can mouse-over the picture to hear the word or phrase used. With languages that use a non-Roman script, you have the option of using the native scriptor the Romanization. The only problem with the screen above and many of the other screens is that they have a designed-by-engineers feeling, which, while utilitarian, isnʼt always the most visually pleasing. Before moving to Asia and becoming a language nerd, I was a software developer nerd for years and remember building many an application that was slow to be adopted due to its user interface not being designed by professional designers. That aside, everything does work flawlessly (another benefit of having engineers design applications), in months of working with the application, I donʼt once remember it crashing or behaving in a way that it shouldnʼt have.

The application really shines when you move into the quiz section, the first one looks similar to the above screen, except that a single word or phrase is spoken and written on the screen and then you are prompted to click on the matching picture. Depending on the lesson, a second batch of six photographs might follow using a similar quizzing method.Eventually, you move on to a picture quiz which uses just four pictures and increasingly complex sentences. The problem with sentences with increasingly difficult grammar is that for Burmese there are no grammar notes to help you along. The Burmese in the image below translates into English as “The woman is not standing, she is sitting in the office”, the words for woman, office, stand and sit have all been introduced, however the grammatical structure needed to form negative sentences never is. Burmese sentences are negated similar to French ones in that the verb is surrounded on both sides with short words (ma-buu), which can be confusing if you arenʼt taught it directly.

I eventually started using some extra books (Burmese for Beginners Book and CDs Combo by Gene Mesher along with my school textbooks) which helped a lot. While the lack of grammar notes in the Burmese version is a problem, it is not an issue with the Thai version. At present the Thai (and Chinese) versions of the software have grammar notes, and notes for Burmese will be part of a free upgrade soon.

Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software

In addition to the picture quizzes, there are three word-based quizzes. In the first one, you are presented a word in Burmese and then you choose between the correct of four English words. The image below shows single words, but many of the quizzes use full sentences.

Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software

After successfully completing the Burmese into English quiz, L-Ceps switches things around and gives you a single word or sentence in English and then has you pick the correct Burmese translation.

Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software

In the final quiz you are shown a picture and hear the word spoken in Burmese, then you have to write it on a piece of paper, click a button to see the correct answer and then tell the computer if you got it correct or not. This is the only feature that seems poorly designed. Writing and typing are pretty much the same thing, the quiz should function by having the user type in the answer using the native alphabet and then automatically determine if the answer is correct or not.

At the completion of each quiz, you are presented with a summary of your results, a list of your wrong answers which can be copied to the clipboard, and then given the option of going back and reviewing the wrong answers or moving forward with another guided quiz. The only thing that struck me as strange in this screen is the way that you can click on items from the list and have them copied to the clipboard. Not that itʼs not a good feature to have, rather I was surprised that it was included only for the wrong answers. I couldnʼt find a way to see a list of all words in the lesson and copy them to your clipboard.

L-Ceps does provide some great offline learning tools, including MP3s, lesson notes and printable flashcards which became my constant companion on public transportation, however the ability to easily import text into Anki or another SRS would be a benefit (I know, I should stop complaining and just learn to type the Burmese alphabet).

Review: L-Lingo Burmese & Thai Language Learning Software

After finishing 40 hours with the program, the biggest improvement in my skills was in my ability to learn new words. With a language like Burmese, most students are going to find the new sounds to be quite a hurdle. Itʼs not like learning Spanish or French where you can easily find mnemonic devices that relate back to English. Here you are faced with a plethora of phonemes, most of which will be new to you. Spending 40 hours with L-Ceps in two weeks meant that my brain had time to absorb the new sounds and find ways to build mnemonic devices.

L-Ceps is a new company and their products show the lack of maturity that comes from a new company. That said, their faults are few and far between. The Burmese product needs grammar notes (again, the version has them), the user interface needs polish and the writing quiz should be better. At the same time, they are presenting Asian languages in a format that makes them easy to learn, and with the compliment of MP3s, printable flashcards and lesson notes you have a complete package which you can use to study in multiple environments. I have already begun recommending that friends use their products, and will continue to do so.

Luke Cassady-Dorion
Goldenland Polygot
luke.org

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15 Comments

  1. It seems that every week I hear about a new Thai lanugage option. It is great that we have all these resources, but finding the time to use them (or money to pay for them) is a problem. L-Lingo does look good and I enjoyed Luke’s review.

  2. Paul, L-Lingo is very good. I was given the Thai version and I’m extremely happy with it. In my opinion, it’s on the top rung of learning Thai software. But like always, it’s down to how you learn languages. Once you know that than you’ll know if this one will work (hold your attention).

  3. In the article you mention an android version. But on the website nothing is mentioned about that. Can you give a link to the android Verdun?

  4. Good question Denisee (I’ll have to ask and get back to you). When I interviewed Khun Busakorn from L-Lingo last year plans to create an android version were mentioned but I couldn’t find anything on the site either: We also aim to create a mobile version for iPhone and the new Android phones.

  5. Denisee, I just got a response back from Khun Busakorn:

    We are currently heavily focusing on the mobile Versions (Android, iPhone, Blackberry Playbook, iPad).

    We will start some public beta testing for Android Thai Version in approx. 4-6 weeks and I expect the apple devices to be available mid 2011.

    We will be looking for a handful of beta testers which will get the Thai Version for free but they need to give us feedback on the application.

    They need to have at least Android 2.2 on their phone (will not work on earlier Versions of Android).

  6. If there is an Android version, I’m sold. I use my Android all day long and use flash card software for learning Thai often. A program like L-Lingo on Android….I would get right away. There is really nothing proper available at the moment and I’m surprised that none of the other developers has thought of the value yet that a software like L-Lingo would provide on a smartphone (in comparison to having to sit at home in front of the PC).

    I have a Desire HD with Froyo 2.2, so one of the newest devices….so if beta testers are needed, where do I sign up for it? :)

  7. Good to know Denisee. I use the iPhone so at the present time I’m playing around with BYKI. At first I didn’t think that you could import your own lessons and sound, but you can.

    To sign up for beta testing, contact L-Lingo.

  8. Hi Denisee, Busakorn from l-Lingo here. Please email me at support@l-lingo.com and we will definitely provide you with a beta version for testing. Our Android Version is progressing very well and we might be able to send you a first preview within the next 4 weeks (maybe even earlier).

  9. Thanks for stopping by Busakom. Your desktop version is fabulous, so please keep me in mind when you need beta testers for your iPhone version.

  10. thanks for the message Busakorn. I already contacted you through the webform and thanks for the quick answer. Seeing forward to test his out.

  11. Wow, I am Burmese. From what I have seen L-lingo seems to offer very good courses. I am taking Thai lessons with them now, and I checked their Burmese lessons just to see what they have to offer. I’d say it is very good. If someone want to practice, I am willing to help you practice . After all we are all learning.

  12. A short update. I bought the L-Lingo Thai app a week ago. Love it, and I’m up to lesson 24. The reviews here and elsewhere are 100% positive, but I’d like to add a little balance. I haven’t taken notes on this, but in several of the lessons (like Lesson 23, for example) new words appear for the first time in the tests. Also, there are a lot of typos and grammatical errors in the English language Grammar Notes. Is this impossible to fix? Why not? Can’t someone go over the whole 65 lessons and make notes of the inconsistencies etc?

    Some other points: I don’t see how any beginner but a genius could benefit from this app. I’ve studied Thai (though have never lived in Thailand) on and off for 19 years – had I not I’d be lost in this app. I should also should mention to prospective buyers that you’re not going to learn to read Thai from this app.

    Otherwise, I’m happy with it. There is so much absolute crap out there, perhaps I shouldn’t complain. Much better value than a $15 bottle of plonk. I’m 90% positive.

    Thanks for your time.

  13. Thanks for the update Dave. I’ll let them know about the typos and such. And I agree, it’s a great app (especially compared to others out there).

  14. Hey, I’m back almost exactly a year later. Time flies, as we say…

    Well, I’m just going over all the lessons again (for the third time at least) and certainly the often puzzling “Grammar Notes” have been improved. I’m at Lesson 50-something as I write.

    Unfortunately lots of surprises (new words out of the blue in the test sections) continue to appear. One sort of crappy thing: well into 30s lessons the Grammar Notes repeatedly inform us breathlessly about “Ka” and “Krab” instead of maybe introducing the new words that will appear in the tests! That or there will be no Grammar Note at all, LOL.

    Anyway, when I get to Lesson 65 I’ll still buy the new set (up to Lesson #105- yay!) for $6 Canadian or something which is (a lot) less than a pack of smokes and will last a lot longer. Again, better than so many ludicrous apps out there. Thank you (more rather than less) L-Lingo.

    Thanks again, Ms Wentworth.

  15. Wow, it’s been a year already? Time does fly …

    Thanks for letting us know about the updated course materials. I’ll pass it on to L-longo (they are always open for critiques). Actually, I’m on for reviewing their materials myself. It’s been awhile …

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