Revising sentences in a language you're learning is apparently a really good way to learn that language.
The only problem is that it does take fairly regular attendance to make this work. This means managing your motivation, and making sure you turn up for reviews at least a few times a week.
While developing japanalicious, I'm acutely aware of this. Motivating our users to turn up day in, day out is a big hairy problem that doesn't appear to have any obvious solutions.
Up until recently I'd had a few ideas as to how we can approach 'the motivation problem' but nothing that felt like it would definitely influence a users everyday behaviour.
One of those ideas is achievements. Much like on StackOverflow or while you're playing Playstation, users of japanalicious could be given achievements for doing things beneficial to learning. Log in and review at least ten cards every day for a week, congratulations, you get a virtual cookie to show off on your profile.
This could be a lot of fun, we could get a lot of comic mileage out of it and it will probably go a long way to motivate users especially in the starting phases of spaced repitition.
Still, after a while collecting cookies will get old. Even if we make harder achievements, this is still something external to the user, an honour that we're bestowing on them rather than something they're achieving for themselves.
How to Motivate Japanalicious Users
Last I week I was in a small Japanese eaterie in Chinatown called Tokyo Diner. It's a nice place with good, greasy-spoon Japanese food at reasonable prices.
I picked up the menu and tried to read some of the Japanese blurb. Strangely, I found I knew every word in the first few paragraphs of it. I understood it perfectly, at regular English reading speed. Though I understood the words, they were put together in an example of real natural language in the wild, in a context that I hadn't experienced before.
It's hard to describe how thoroughly awesome that feels. It's like you're taught technique A, B and C in the dojo, and somehow bring them together into a new and interesting combo in a real fight.
A friend I discussed this with said it was like a boss fight in a video game, you've been taught all the techniques you need to defeat the boss, and now you're them together in a novel and interesting way.
Spaced repitition is about small, daily, incremental improvements. Every few days you spend about twenty minutes exposing yourself to Japanese, constantly testing yourself, without necessarily having much reassurance that it's working.
Being able to pick up a piece of raw, natural language and have full comprehension on the first pass tells you that it's absolutely working.
So how can we give this experience to our users at japanalicious?
Well firstly we've got to get the content from somewhere. The internet is packed with content that we can link to.
We also need to know what words the user knows. We will eventually have review statistics for all of our users on all of their language cards, so we will be able to build up a pretty good picture of the words that the user is confident with.
If we do some clever pattern-matching magic, I'm pretty sure we can recommend raw content to users that they will nail on the first pass. Constantly reminding the user that yes, what they're doing here leads to them being able to read real, natural Japanese will be better motivation than any achievements system because it comes from within the user. They're demonstrating their own ability to themselves, and get to feel the thrill of being competent at something, thanks directly to doing spaced repititions.