Desktop+MP3+app, Pronunciation scored, Cheap, ★★★★★
Byki (Before You Know It) has several versions. Version 3 is highly recommended for beginners, because of its pronunciation scores and graphs:
- Free desktop version with 150 words or phrases in each of 72 languages; does not score your pronunciation
- $8 per language for Android or iPhone apps, 1000+ words in each of 25 languages; does not score your pronunciation
- $25-$40 for a desktop package of 76 languages, 1,500+ words each; good graphs and scores to improve your pronunciation
- $70-$180 for desktop and MP3 in any one of 72 languages, 1000+ words; good graphs and scores to improve your pronunciation
- $50 for 5 audio CDs or MP3 downloads in any one of 10 languages; does not score your pronunciation
Byki versions 3 and 4 are excellent places to start, since they hear you and score your pronunciation while you learn. Beginners do well to take advantage of this pronunciation scoring, so you build good habits. Bad pronunciation is hard to fix later and is a barrier to people ever understanding you. The main competitor which has pronunciation scoring is Pronunciator ($50/month for 47 languages). It costs more than Byki, and has less detailed feedback on pronunciation, but it lets you start with very simple words like numbers, which are easier for learning good pronunciation than the complicated artificial conversations which Byki teaches. Try either or both.
Version 3 lets you learn individual words as well as phrases, and the feedback on your pronunciation is a great help, comparing your pronunciation to the native speaker. Its instructions are too cryptic, so try these:
- During installation choose which languages to install; go back later to install more. Besides the target language(s) you want to learn, install one you know, such as English (it is aimed at Spanish speakers), so you can learn how the program works in a language you know.
- After installation, the opening screen lets you double-click any installed language. They provide hundreds of lines of text, called segments. The 3rd-10th segments (lines) are a table of contents showing the segment (line) where each topic starts: 12, 68, 116, 184... However this is in the target language, not very useful for beginners.
- Click the Pronunciation tab, then "Listen+Speak" then "Start."
- Scroll down past the explanatory text to simple phrases. Double-click any word to hear it spoken. The meaning of the word and its sentence will appear below the text. Click the turtle to toggle between normal speed and slower.
- Hold down the left mouse button on the "Record Your Voice" button, while you say the word. Graphs compare you to the native speaker, and a half-circle graph gives you an overall score (green is best).
- If you find a section you want to go back to, write down its segment (line number), which is in a small rectangular box under the target language. In future you can click that box and enter the number you want to go back to.
- Repeat, with more words each day, and later advance to full sentences and the other tabs.
Version 3 has 76 languages with pronunciation by native speakers, and another 25 with 750+ words each but not pronunciation, hence its title "101 Languages of the World." Our index shows the languages which lack pronunciation as "Byki silent." This package converts all spelling to the Roman alphabet. Amazon reviewers say it is a good introduction for people going to multiple countries, or who want to hear common words in some rarer languages.
By contrast with the thorough teaching from version 3, version 1 only has vocabulary flash cards. It shows spelling in English (optionally also in target language), and a native speaker says the word or phrase.
One problem with Version 1 is that even the first lesson is full of phrases which are too long for beginners. They range up to 5 syllables and average 3 syllables per word in the first lesson, in both English and Chinese. The turtle button lets you toggle between normal speed and slightly slower, but it is still very hard for total beginners to pick up the sounds of long phrases.
You could start instead with numbers. Version 1 shows zero through ten, in random order.
Byki does not teach business phone conversations. Version 1 is clearly aimed at travelers, with 30 long phrases on taxis, though no lessons to understand drivers' answers. Version 3 includes similar phrases on taxis along with a few possible answers. It also has conversations on changing money at banks, and checking into hotels.
Version 4 and perhaps others too, will display words/phrases which are hard for you, more often, until you learn them. In all versions you can click to repeat anything.
Only the MP3 files (versions 4 and 5) let you learn alone in the car, since the apps make you look at the screen.
For intermediate students Byki has strengths and weaknesses. Byki does not conjugate verbs, and does not cover as much vocabulary as Pronunciator. However Byki covers grammar in a way Pronunciator does not. Byki's version 3 (and probably 4) lets you click any word in the lesson on the Reading tab, and then shows you links to grammatical explanations for how that word is used. Version 3 is thus an inexpensive way to learn basic grammar if you cannot find a printed grammar for your target language. Pronunciator does not have these grammatical explanations, though Pronunciator conjugates 100 verbs in past, present and future tenses.
All versions are taught in English, except English itself which most versions teach in Spanish. Apps (version 2) teach English in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish.
Versions 2 and 4 have over 1,000 words/phrases according to reviews of the desktop and the app, or "thousands" according to the website, with some of these contributed by other learners.