SlimStampen on the rise
Learning Swahili is easy
We all learn differently. What comes easy to one person might be impossible for another.
Florian Sense came up with the computer program SlimStampen. It is meant to make learning easier for everyone.
SlimStampen recognises the words you have trouble with and the words you remember easily.
Sense: ‘Students who have learning issues benefit from SlimStampen.’
The UK tested the program and tried to learn Swahili (rafiki, elimu?).
SlimStampen will be available to all students from September onwards.
Reading time: 5 minutes (819 words)
Our first meeting takes place in Sense’s office in the psychometry department in the Heymans building. He happily shows me his doctoral thesis, titled Making the Most of Human Memory. He turns to a page with four graphs consisting of dots and bars.
He points to one of the many dots. ‘Look’, he says. ‘You’ll be one of those dots.’ The graphs show how many mistakes each participant made during studying.’ Everyone is different’, the PhD candidate says. ‘That also means we all learn differently. What comes easily to one person might be impossible for someone else.’
SlimStampen takes this into account. It recognises which words someone struggles with and shows those more often than words they remember more easily. SlimStampen is based on various learning and brain theories. ‘People learn optimally when there is the right amount of time between learning and repetition’, Sense explains. ‘When something is repeated too quickly, it’s too easy, and people don’t learn anything. If it takes too long, they forget again and also don’t learn.’
SlimStampen measures whether people remember a word correctly and how much time it takes them. Based on their performance, the computer develops a tailored learning programme. This will not only enable people to learn faster and more efficiently, but learning will also be more fun and motivating: ‘students who have learning issues benefit from SlimStampen’, the PhD candidate says. ‘Some of them are really good at it, which means they’re boring to us.’
Swahili it is
I would love to learn Spanish or increase my French vocabulary. But alas. It has to be a language I absolutely do not know. Otherwise we will not know whether the program works or not, because I might have heard half of the Spanish test vocabulary somewhere before. So Swahili it is.
To test SlimStampen, I meet with Sense for a second time. It is Wednesday morning, 9 o’clock: time to test how many Swahili words I can learn in 90 minutes. Because our experiment needs to be scientifically sound, Sense takes me to his lab, which is a small room with a table with a computer. The computer will help me learn words using two methods: a traditional one with words on flash cards, and the SlimStampen test. For the first 45 minutes, I will memorise the words on flash cards.
The screen shows the Swahili word ‘rafiki’ on a card, and its English translation, ‘friend’. After I type the word ‘friend’, the computer shows me the next word: ‘elimu’, I read, and in English ‘science’. And then three more, before ‘rafiki’ makes a repeat appearance, only this time typing in the English translation requires me to have remembered it before.
I am presented with words in groups of five until I have answered all of them correctly at least once. At first, it is going quite well. Remembering five words at a time is perfectly doable, but the more groups I see, the more I forget and mix them up. I am beginning to get frustrated.
When time is up and I have seen all 50 words, the computer lets me play Tetris for a while before I have to take a test: A long list of Swahili words appears on screen, and I have to write down their English translations. As many as I can remember, anyway.
The second part starts immediately. This time, SlimStampen provides me with words based on how well I am doing. Again, the computer shows one incomprehensible Swahili word after another: ‘pipa’, it says, and ‘barrel’, except this time it immediately makes me translate ‘pipa’ again before moving on to ‘nabii’ and ‘prophet’.
Depending on how quick my responses are and whether I translate the word correctly, the program repeats words at increasing or decreasing frequencies. ‘Pipa’ reminds me of clowns and I keep forgetting the actual translation, which means it keeps returning. Just like ‘kaputula’, which I associate with capitulate, but which simply means ‘shorts’.
‘Aah doei’ = enemy
As soon as I have managed to memorise a few more words, SlimStampen adds a new one. ‘Adui’ is easy to remember: ‘Aah doei’ (Aah, goodbye’) means ‘enemy’. Anyway. I have to say that studying like this is quite nice. I am actually beginning to enjoy it in a weird way. After a second round of Tetris and another test, I am done.
Sense retrieves me and together we take a look at my results to see which dot on the graph I am. Interestingly enough, I learned exactly 27 words in both tests. But during the actual learning sessions I did better with SlimStampen. Using SlimStampen, 82 per cent of my answers were correct, in comparison to 67 per cent using the old system. That is also reflected in the content feeling I had while learning with SlimStampen. Added to that is the fact that the old system showed me 50 words, while SlimStampen only showed me 34.
So in relation to the amount of words I saw, I actually learned more. In Sense’s graph, my dot is somewhere in the middle. His results show that students with learning issues benefit from the program in particular. On average, they remember eleven words using the flash card method, but 17 when they use the SlimStampen method. They were also shown fewer words by the SlimStampen program, but they eventually learned more words using that method.
Sense’s research shows, then, that the more difficulty someone has memorising words, the more they benefit from SlimStampen. And although in the end I did not really do better on the final test, I prefer SlimStampen for the simple reason that learning something is more fun when it feels like you are doing well.