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Index Cards are so 2000

For once, it’s positive that you check your mobile phone every 5 minutes.

You do it, I do it…that quick look at your phone, although you checked it only 5 minutes ago.  I mean, we could miss something, right? According to a study from the university of Bonn where mobile phone usage by more than 60’000 people was evaluated, we activate our mobile phone on average 53 times per day. That means we interrupt what we’re doing every 18 minutes just to check our smartphone. If your mother looks at you with reproach when reading these numbers, just know this – the behaviour stretches through all age groups and social layers. You may look back to her reproachfully, too.

However, this is not going to be a text about the depths of smartphone-addiction; in this case, it’s good if you activate your mobile phone as much as possible. The inventors of the Berliner learning-app “Semper” make use of exactly this habit: Every time you open an application on your smartphone and it is loading, a vocabulary-exercise opens up.

The application combines the newest knowledge from brain research and the proven educational theory that to learn things by heart, small, accidental learning units are much more helpful than firm, longer and planned learning units. When I read this, I knew I had to test test this for myself! I already have a long school career behind me that included writing thousands and thousands of index cards.

With Semper you can coach any learning area. From mathematics to fields like biology, history, or political science and economics, you can add different packages for each subject. I decided to try a language module, and there I can select from more than 50 different language-packages. Turkish? I can also learn that in Kreuzberg. Italian? I speak it already. Maybe improve my Spanish? No, that’s not it. I really wanted to choose a language where I am a total beginner – so I decided on Arabic, because I like something about this language.

I begin with the first pair of words and I notice quickly that I am not good at remembering the arabic symbols. You see, Semper does not begin with the alphabet. Although I cantell the differences between the words when I hear their pronunciation, it isn’t very practical to have to hold my phone against my ear every time I open an application. This is especially true when I’m using my phone at work. After going through the first steps in Arabic, I’m able to make a distinction at least between السلام عليكم and  مع السلامة, but I still give up.

It will have to be another language, one with a Latin alphabet. Dutch sounds quite likeable, and apart from “Ik hou van je” and the classic “Noeken in de Koeken,” my Dutch is scanty and not useful at all.

After selecting the language I want to learn, I can also designate with which apps Semper will set up a word task for me when I open it. I decide on the six apps which I use the most. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

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I begin with the first of twenty learning units of the Package “Dutch A1.” My first words cover the basics: Hello, Goodbye, numbers and colours. In the course of two weeks I got through three  learning units. Within the application itself, I can review the words that I have learned, the words that I have begun learning and the new ones to come.

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In the beginning, the application doesn’t make a lot of sense, because it gives me a choice of words for my answer – but most of them I don’t know yet. This makes it very easy to find the match for the word that the app is looking for. Here is an example:

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The only word which I had already learned was “Entschuldigung.

It was the same thing going from German to Dutch:

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But the good thing about the application is that it asks you for the word in both languages: from Dutch to German and German to Dutch. The further one progresses in the learning unit, the more challenging it becomes. This means that the word combinations become more and more complicated and alike. Like this:

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And if you choose the wrong answer, it tells you what the word really means.

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I wished that the app would offer me new words a little faster, because I felt that I had to repeat the words for a long time, until new ones came into play.

All in all I’m very pleased with this app and will use it again with pleasure before my next Holland trip. But one thing I have to confess: The Semper version of my “standard” apps like Instagram, Facebook and co. are only a link to the normal app. The “real” ones I’ve put as far as possible to the back. I found that in the morning I didn’t really have the patience to do vocabulary exercises and I didn’t use the Sempa-Version. Nevertheless, I did learn some Dutch, and can enthusiastically say: Tot ziens, mijn vrienden!

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