Saturday, November 28, 2009

How can Tatoeba be useful for language learners?

In response to byzantinist who asked on Twitter :
How can Tatoeba be useful for language learners, other than learning by adding sentences or using the sentences in SRS?
Honestly, at the current state of the project, there isn't much more than that.
There are no grammar explanations, there are no lessons, there's not much people to ask for help, there's not much data in languages other than English and Japanese, and the data is not even always reliable... Generally speaking, you can use Tatoeba as a complement to your language learning, but by itself there is no way it will teach you a language. (Yea, I know, I'm not very good at marketing :D)

But the project has not reached its full potential yet. My team and I have a lot of ambition, we just don't have a lot of free time...

To give you a better idea of the context, when I started the project I was very frustrated with online dictionaries and I had this vision of a "dictionary" in which whatever you are searching for, it will always provide you with results. Most importantly, it will always provide you with example sentences (and their translations). That would be useful, right?
And I felt : why can someone make a collaborative encyclopedia (c.f. Wikipedia), but no one is trying to make a collaborative "dictionary"? Because obviously you can't build a "dictionary" like this unless you have at least thousands of people who are supporting your vision and who are willing to contribute.
To make a story short, I spent a few years building the tool I envisioned (at least its core). Lately some other people got involved and are helping me make this project grow faster. And now, we're reaching a phase where we really need a community, and preferably a smart one... I mean, if we cannot gather a bunch of dedicated and knowledgeable people to participate, then the project is going to remain useless despite its huge potential.

Basically, at the moment, the project is focused on building a community and gathering/organizing data, more than on integrating language learning features (although we would love to). Because there is no point building a language learning application if you don't have any good data to use... And the sad truth is that it's kind of difficult to find good data. So the concept is : we gather a lot of data, try to organize it, ensure it is of good quality and make it freely accessible, downloadable and redistributable, so that anyone who has a great idea for a language learning application (or a language tool) can just focus on coding the application and rely on us to provide data of excellent quality. And again, all of this is only possible with a strong community...

However, if you have any specific ideas of features that would make your language learning experience better, just let us know and we'll be glad to work on it. I mean, the project is constantly evolving. As far as we're concerned, we're not going to stop integrating new features anytime soon.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New release!

There has been a lot of things going on in Tatoeba within the last couple of months. I never took the time to blog about it, but since we are planning a new release for next week, perhaps it's time I communicate a bit more...

First of all, note that I said "we are planning" and not "I am planning". Indeed, in September (and even a few months before that) the project took another dimension, for I was not alone anymore!
Of course, I never really was alone, but I was - until then - pretty much the only one to implement the next new features, the next improvements, the next design, and also the only one to be officially responsible of promoting the project (which is something I had absolutely no time for, actually)...
But now we are 5 (brilliant, dedicated, innovative and incredibly charismatic young geeks! *hum* yea). Needless to say, I'm quite happy with this new team :)

So what are we planning for this release?
  • A new design (prettier than the current one - hopefully :P).
  • The "list" feature, that will enable users to create lists of sentences.
  • Users profiles, for those who would like to tell more about themselves.
  • Private messages, so that users can contact each other.
  • And some sort of "Wall" (c.f. Facebook), to develop the community aspect of the project.
We will then start promoting the project more intensively, because this project NEEDS a community. There is SO MUCH that can be done to provide linguistic data and language tools that are free and of good quality. As far as we're concerned, we're digging the technical side, we're trying to set up the "ideal" system for this purpose. But obviously, without a strong community, nothing can be achieved. So we do hope that more and more people will join the cause.

On a side note, we also participated to the first "innovation competition" organized by the Université de Technologie de Compiègne (where three of us, myself included, are currently studying). And we have been selected in the first round (second round in mid-January).