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Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2015
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Location: Germany and France
Languages: Spanish, English, French trilingual - actively studying German (B2/C1), Hebrew, Tibetan, Setswana.
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Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=859
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Postby zenmonkey » Wed Feb 27, 2019 4:51 pm

The forum has had a mentions of this tool and service. Basically their service is 1) Listen to a professional voice actor of either gender say a sentence and repeat it. 2) You record yourself 3) You get feedback.

It also has a dictation function where you transcribe a spoken phrase and get instant corrections.

It currently works for the big 6 languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Russian).

I tried for the first time yesterday for German and found that the chosen sentences and the speaker pronunciation were very good (having chosen the intermediate / advanced module) and sufficiently challenging. For the free part, we are allowed 10 recordings ad corrections per month. I used all 10 yesterday in about as many minutes. The tool was a little buggy on the iPad but it eventually recorded and presented everything.

So today I got my feedback on the pronunciation. Now I got 10 "way to go", "great", perfect" etc... That's good in that I worked to produce correctly. But this means that it's totally and completely useless for me to get non-critical feedback here. I won't be paying for that kind of return. And I know my speaking needs work. Listen and Repeat is useful, and I'll continue using this type of exercise to work on my "awful" accent.

I know that you can also use this service more intrepidly to get feedback on spontaneous sentences (describing a photo, etc...) maybe I'll try that next month when I get my 10 sentence allotment back.

My questions: if you've used this service, how did you find it? How are you using it? Is it useful to you?
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Tagged posts: Language Method Resource
Please feel free to correct me in any language, critique my posts, challenge my thoughts.
I am inconsistency incarnate.
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Posts: 84
Joined: Tue Feb 19, 2019 2:22 pm
Languages: Speaks: English (native), Swiss German (native), High German, French, Dutch (heritage)
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Re: Speechling?

Postby romeo.alpha » Wed Feb 27, 2019 4:55 pm

I only once used the feedback feature (and did get a correction in the form of the person saying the word I got wrong with a bit more stress). Otherwise I was just using it as a source of sentences for shadowing.

I do like how they set up the business model, that you basically pay for the personal attention from the tutors, and the rest of it remains free and still good for what it is.
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Languages: English (N), Mandarin Chinese (N), German (B1), French (B2), Italian (beginner)
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Re: Speechling?

Postby saronix » Sat Mar 02, 2019 10:36 am

Hi! I've mostly been a lurker here but I decided to create an account to reply since I've had a very recent experience with this app and company, which I think people should know about. Warning first, this is a long post.

I subscribed to Speechling for 3 months when they ran a discount around Black Friday last year. My Unlimited privileges ended about 2 days ago. In that period, I did about 2000 recordings. Before that, I started using Speechling in early November, though I created my account back in March of 2018.

How I Used Speechling
I used it almost daily (except for certain days where I honestly had no time like Christmas and New Year's), averaging 25 min for German, the main language I'm learning, and 10 min for French, which I'm not actively learning, in Study mode (Speak). In fact, this mode of practice was something I did for about 2 weeks, even before I subscribed. I would record until I was satisfied and then move on to the next card.

Mostly, I use the web app using Chrome, though occasionally I used my phone, and hence the iOS app.
Initially, I used Firefox (my main browser now), but there were some issues with playing the feedback audio in the Audio Journal when I clicked the button, which they attributed to Firefox not having an MP3 codec baked in and they recommended I switch to Chrome. Even with Chrome, my computer has some memory issues (fan tends to run very loudly) after a while which affects the recording. I get around it usually by refreshing the page (which of course meant I end up with a new sentence...)

I recorded the sentences from the Speechling Core Curriculum, and I started at A1. Initially I used the Male voice, but I switched to Female (since it was easier for me, as a female). I got to about A2 for German before my subscription expired. I'm slightly more than halfway through A1 for the French.

When I do a recording, I try to listen to the sentence and imitate the speaker for pronunciation of individual words. If I can't catch a word from the recording, I first try the slowed down version of the recording. If it doesn't help, I check the word's IPA on Wiktionary (which also usually has a recording of just the word). I tend to read off the transcript. For French, I sometimes experimented with hiding the French transcript and recording myself based on memory from hearing the recording.

The first time I used Speechling (before subscribing) was also for German. I probably got around half of the sentences as Needs work, probably because I didn't realise "Save for Coaching" meant to... actually save for feedback immediately and I wasn't all that conscientious too. (oops)

Coaches and Feedback
I would say that the German coach (Nicole S.) gives more thorough feedback than the French one (Sophie K.). I used Speechling primarily for these 2 languages, so I cannot say for the others. (I did try out a few words for Spanish - which I have not learnt - for fun, and those came back ok.) I listed the names in case there are other coaches, just so we are clear.

For the wrong sentences, the German coach usually repeats the problematic word first, then reads the whole sentence again. This is very useful because I find that the intonation of some of the recordings are not how I would say them naturally, but what the coach gives is much better. Sometimes she also mentions what is wrong, like the vowel should be long not short.

For French, normally I get just the problematic word or portion of the sentence as feedback. Occasionally she does do a comparison, something like "You said this, try to say that".

All the feedback is given in the target language, so explanations are unlikely to be very helpful for complete beginners. Almost always it is only a recording. I've only got a few, probably less than 5 in all (out of those 2k recordings), that came with a text feedback in addition to the recording. And usually only after I got it wrong a few days in a row because I couldn't hear what the mistake was.

The downside of this method is that sometimes, if you are unfamiliar with certain sounds (especially if the target language contains sounds not in your native language), it can be quite frustrating to know where you went wrong. The feedback never teaches you HOW to pronounce the sound or to hear the difference.

However, I realise that I usually get caught on the same few errors after a while. I probably didn't do the "r" right, or I forgot to aspirate some k or t at the end of word in German. I rarely get feedback on intonation problems as a whole. Most of these problems I probably could identify on playback. Usually the reason I didn't catch it was because there were other things that I found difficult with the sentence. Or I was simply unable to physically make the right sound by doing all those things in combination, though I knew what was wrong with it.

The App
Software Quality:
I have to touch on this, because I'm a software developer. And also because their main page claims that the app was "developed with love from alumni of the Ivy League and Google" (emphasis mine).

Honestly, I find that the level of bugs that this application has is rather unprofessional. I would be in deep trouble at work if the kind of applications I wrote had bugs like these.

I found quite a number of bugs during my subscription and reported it to the team. I won't go into all the details here, but the first ones were on the very next day I subscribed, and affected the usability, specifically re-recording of sentences. There were also pagination bugs. Some others were less critical, but bugs nonetheless.

What is good (perhaps not good, but acceptable) is that they normally fix the issue and roll out the fixes within a day when I report it to them via email. I usually take many screenshots, screen recordings, and write down the exact steps, so I can easily waste an hour per bug. The one time I didn't have a screen recording they couldn't replicate the issue (even with some screenshots and exact steps) until I supplied them with one.

All I can say is, this doesn't inspire confidence in the app as a whole. It makes you wonder if they have a proper QA team.

There are also usability issues with the mobile app:
- Too easy to accidentally swipe to the next card when trying to click the button to record again or to save, which discards your recording even if you swipe back. Worse, you can only go back one card, so if you accidentally swiped twice to the right... too bad, you can't go back to record that sentence you spent the last 5 minutes trying to perfect. :(
- The prompt that you have feedback appears in real time, so even if you were recording, it will pop up and disrupt you if your coach gave you feedback at the same time as you were trying to record. If I recall correctly, it even reloads the app (you see the splash page with the Speechling logo)!

Content Quality:
I saw some mistakes in the sentences. Mostly for German, I don't think I saw as many issues for French.
- Incorrect translations where the subject of the sentence differs from the source and target langauge.
- Audio recordings doesn't match the German (target language) text.
- Grammatical errors (one I recall is they almost always spell "dass" as "das"!)
- Some spelling errors (actual spelling errors, not like the one above... flipped letters, missing letters etc.)

Report an error doesn't seem to work; I saw many of these errors continue to be there weeks even after reporting them.

This makes me wary of using Speechling when I'm a beginner in another language as I may be taught the wrong thing without knowing! (My level of French and German are intermediate.)

For German: Be aware of inconsistent pronunciations in the supplied recordings! The most prominent example is the pronunciation of words ending in -ig, such as richtig. Standard German pronunciation is /ç/ (voiceless palatal fricative) as in /ˈʀɪçtɪç/ but sometimes, it’s the harder g: /ɡ̊/. Some recordings have the former, others have the latter. The coach appears to favour the latter (hard) pronunciation in the feedback, but that might also be because most recordings have the harder g sound.

Support for Features:
Multiple languages: There is poor support for multiple languages. If you cannot already tell from their current interface, there is no way to easily filter the sentences by languages in your Audio Journal. They are simply shown by time.

Review: There is no SRS. You have to manually track sentences that you want to review in the Audio Journal. I don't do that because of the extra effort, so apart from those that are flagged by the coach, I don't usually re-record, and once it's ok, I don't review them even though I might find that they were not that easy for me to pronounce accurately. In fact, I don't know what algorithm they use to display your next sentences in Study mode. They tend to show new sentences mostly. But it's frustrating when you are down to the last few new sentences, mostly the sentences that you've already recorded and got good feedback on appear. As a result, I never finished the German A1 unit. I looked at 1103 cards in all, but my progress is 679/714. I gave up trying to surface the new cards and moved on to A2.

Premium Offline Content: The offline content isn't that useful. The recordings are in one giant mp3 file by unit. There are Anki decks too by unit, but... I wouldn't know what to do with them since I couldn't submit any recordings of those to my coach even if they come up for review! (Also, the design of this downloads page is such that it loads precisely one language and one voice (male or female) at a time, so if you want another language you have to go to your settings to make the changes and then return to that page...)

Questionable Practices
While not related to the app and its features, I would like to highlight my overall negative experience dealing with the company behind this app as a paid subscriber, and would hence caution anyone against subscribing unless the company improves their customer service and is more honest about their dealings. If you only care about the features, you can skip this section.

I personally think whatever features the site provides cannot outweigh their business practices, but this is something that is up to the individual. Here, I will just recount what happened.

1. They advertised a lower price by mistake during a Black Friday sale, but dragged their feet to honour the incorrect (lower) price.
They were running a 30% discount on all their plans for a week. However, on the price page, they had listed the prices as lower than a 30% discount would have been.

As a concrete example, for a 3-month subscription, the price was advertised as $15.11/month down from $23.99/month, which would mean $45.33 for 3 months. However, my card was charged $50.38. (Their payment popup also does NOT show the total cost that would be charged, so only when I got the SMS from the bank did I realise the amount was more than I expected.)

When I wrote in to ask, this was their response:
Sorry for the confusion. It was a bug on the payment page that our engineer will fix as soon as possible. $50.38 was correct. Thus, it should be $16.79/month. To thank our uses for support, we are offering an one-week promotion @30% discount of regular prices. The system was right but the display $15.11/month was wrong. I hope that you will understand the mistakes. Thus, the charge was right. Thank you for pointing the bug out so that we can fix it to avoid confusion.

Initially, I decided not to press the matter. But the next day, when I found the numerous bugs that affected my use of the system, I wrote another email to them detailing all the bugs, requesting a full refund if they did not fix the bugs within a week, but if not for an extension to my subscription for however long they took to fix the bugs. At the same time brought this payment issue up.

I was eventually refunded $5, and to their credit, they did fix the bugs within a day. I will also acknowledge that out of goodwill, I was given another 5 days even though it took them only a day to fix the bugs. This extension is not reflected on my subscription page but I was assured that they would "keep a record of it in our accounting department if and when you decide to unsubscribe."

As far as I know though, I don't think anyone who subscribed before they "fixed" their payment page got a refund unless they asked for it.

2. Unsubscribing is NOT immediate, contrary to what is indicated on the page. My card was charged even though I unsubscribed before the next renewal date.
I hit the unsubscribe button 2 hours before it was said to expire on my settings page. As mentioned above, the expiry date doesn't account for the 5 days given to me. Admittedly, I dragged my feet to unsubscribe. Honestly, it also came out of fear that cancelling early might suspend some of my privileges, despite their assurances to the contrary.

I got a shock when I saw a modal pop up saying something along the lines that it would take something like 24 hours to process by someone from their operations team. Shouldn't it have been immediate?

Regardless, everything seemed to be in order as the page tells me that I had unsubscribed at the time that I clicked the button, that my benefits would expire at the correct date... but only until the actual deadline passed. Then the message updated to say that the benefits would expire 3 months from that date (i.e. in May instead of Feb). An hour later, I got an SMS informing me that I was charged for another 3 months for $50.38.

I wrote in to get the charge cancelled. They agreed to give a refund, but their reply tried to shift the responsibility off their shoulders:
Since you unsubscribed at the time that was immediately after the charge and when we were in at night time (We will honor the time that you showed in your screenshot) , we have no way to take off the charge from the third party charging system (It was not engineered automatically). Now, our accounting department will process your case and give you a refund.

(To be clear, I unsubscribed BEFORE the charge. I unsubscribed 2 hours before the listed renewal date/time, and the charge happened 1 hour AFTER the said renewal date/time.)

3. After you unsubscribe, you can't save another recording until a whole month has passed from your last 10 recordings, even if you made those 10 recordings while subscribed.
Your quota doesn't refresh on a new month. It also doesn't refresh from when you last made your 10 free recordings. It refreshes based on your last 10 submitted recordings, period.

This was something I discovered 2 days ago, when my extra 5 days were up. I learned this the very hard way after I spent a good 10 minutes nailing one of the recordings that the coach marked as "Needs work". A modal popped up to say that I'd exceeded my 10 for the month. I was a little surprised, since I had (wrongly) thought that a new month would mean 10 free recordings.

The number at the top left next the logo on the web app (by default 10), actually indicates the max recordings you can have, not the actual amount you have left.

This was their reply:
The way the 10 free recordings per month is calculated is not getting 10 at the 1st each month. Rather, it's one month after the last 10 submitted recordings. For example, if you submit 5 recordings on the 20th of February and then 5 on the 25th of February, then you will get 5 additional free recordings on March 20th and 5 on March 25th.

When I inquired as to why such a policy would effectively punish subscribers whose subscriptions have lapsed, this was the reply:
Of course we'd like to offer more for free but there are reasons behind everything we do. We hope you'll subscribe again but cannot change the policy at this time.


How did you find it? It was okay, but I wouldn't do it again.
How are you using it? I used to record sentences from their Core Curriculum, 25 min on German (main language I'm learning now) and 10 min on French (only trying to keep it alive). Don't intend to use it anymore.
Is it useful to you? I think it was most useful in the first month. Its usefulness is limited in the long run.

I wouldn't recommend subscribing. The best use of it is to do your own practice on the cards without submitting the recordings for feedback from the coach, but personally think what Glossika offers beats them in terms of quality of sentences. (Disclaimer: I bought the old Glossika courses, and am not a subscriber of their new service, though I tried it out before when they made the switch.)
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Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2015
Joined: Sun Jul 26, 2015 7:21 pm
Location: Germany and France
Languages: Spanish, English, French trilingual - actively studying German (B2/C1), Hebrew, Tibetan, Setswana.
Some knowledge of Italian, Portuguese, Ladino, Yiddish ...
Want to tackle Tzotzil, Nahuatl
Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=859
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Re: Speechling?

Postby zenmonkey » Sat Mar 02, 2019 4:12 pm

saronix wrote:Hi! I've mostly been a lurker here but I decided to create an account to reply since I've had a very recent experience with this app and company, which I think people should know about.

Thank you for the feedback, that was very useful to me and confirmed my perception about their current app.
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Tagged posts: Language Method Resource
Please feel free to correct me in any language, critique my posts, challenge my thoughts.
I am inconsistency incarnate.
Go study! Publisher of Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew alphabet apps at http://alphabetsnow.zyntx.com

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