SPB Flash Cards is the latest application for Windows Phones, released by SPB Software just before Christmas. In this article I would like to provide a step by step overview of this application, but what type of application is SPB Flash Cards ?
My personal first guess was that it was a kind of game, since SPB Software has included an educational twist in their games. Think for example about SPB Brain Evolution or SPB Geo Game. However SPB Flash Cards isn’t a game as you can read in the press release:
“SPB Flash Cards provides great assistance in learning a new language, although it has no claim to be the sole mean of doing that. When mastering a new language, it is crucial to skip the stage of translating a word into mother tongue first, memorizing a direct match of a subject and a foreign word instead. SPB Flash Cards software is aimed at just that – the process of learning begins with a new flash card appearing, showing an image of an item along with the matching word and the right pronunciation from a native speaker. But this is just the beginning - several other memorizing techniques are also included. Besides, SPB Flash Cards contains a smart algorythm to track the user’s progress and adapt further learning process accordingly.”
The basic “gameplay” of SPB Flash Cards
At first you select the language you want to study from the SPB Flash Cards download page. In this review I will choose for the Dutch cab-file and install SPB Flash Cards on the HTC HD2. If you are a native Dutch speaker you might want to check out a different language for example the SPB English Cards. At this moment there is an impressive number of 13 different languages to learn !!
In the left screenshot above you simply launch SPB Dutch (Flash) Cards via the start menu, while in the right screenshot the main screen with categories is shown. SPB Flash Cards includes more than 1000 words distributed over more than 65 categories.
In the bottom right corner of the category graphic you can see the number of items/words in the category. Above the category graphic you can see a bar that visualizes the progress for each category. Let me start by selecting the category “Accessories”.
When the category accessories is opened, the first step in the learning process is a graphic of the item with a description below in your own language. The left screenshot above shows you the graphic of a tie and the englisch description “tie”. Furthermore you can move the item to the recycle bin, with the button below the graphic, however I don’t see any reason why you should do this.
When you tap on the graphic the card is turned, as you can see in the right screenshot. The description in english stays at the same place, while instead of the item-graphic you can see the dutch translation for tie, which is “stropdas”. Furthermore you can see that in the bottom right corner of graphic-box there is a “sound” button. If you tap on this button the word “stropdas” is played, and this helps you to pronounce the word “stropdas” as the native speaker of the chosen language does. You can tap the button as often as you want, just to illustrate that the word is not just played once.
Below the graphic-box you furthermore see two large buttons. When you are sure and confident enough that you know the word you simply hit the green “I knew” button, while if you need some additional practicing you hit the red “I didn’t know” button.
A closer look at the levels and underlying learning mechanisms
“If you say you knew the word the program will consider this word as a word that was known before and will not ask it again. SPB Flash Cards will help you to learn the words you did not know before. There are five levels for each word.”
In the screenshots above the second level of SPB Flash Cards, when you don’t know a word, is outlined. Again a graphic is shown of an item together with the description in your own language. When you tap on the graphic, the card is turned, just like in the first level. However you now need to choose the right translation from four options !!
Furthermore I should remark that you can’t “enter” the second level on the same day due to the spacing effect which is outlined on the SPB Flash Cards Learning Algorithms page !! SPB Software has done quite some research on learning, algorithms and psychology and I you might be interested in the following references:
- Wikipedia (Spacing effect)
- Ebbinghaus, Hermann (Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology)
- Wired (Want to Remember Everything You’ll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm)
- On the first level you see a picture and should answer for yourself how it is called;
- On the second level the program shows you a picture and gives you four different word variants and you need to choose the right one;
- On the third level SPB Flash Cards shows you a word and you should answer for yourself what it means;
- On the fourth level you need to choose the right picture for the given word among four options;
- On the fifth level the program plays you a sound and you should select the right picture among the four given.
In the screenshots above the third level of SPB Flash Cards is shown, in line with the description above. In short this is the inverse of the first level of SPB Flash Cards. The translation is shown, and when you tap on the box, the card is turned and the item graphic is shown.
The screenshots above show you the fourth level of the SPB Flash Cards algorithm. At first the translation is shown in the familiar box, while you can also listen again to the pronounciation. If you tap on the Flash Card, the card turns and you now need to collect the right graphic that visualizes the translation of the item. In this example “sjaal” means scarf so the bottom right graphic is the right one.
You will need to start using SPB Flash Cards yourself to find out how the mechanism behind the fifth level of the SPB Flash Cards algorithm works.
A closer look at options and settings
When you have a look at the SPB Flash Cards main screen there are two buttons in the toolbar at the bottom, which look similar in design as SPB Mobile Shell v3.5. The left button executes the “exit” or “back” command, while the right button opens the options menu like is shown in the left screenshot above.
The “About” and “Registration” menu items don’t need much of an explenation. When you click on the “Options” menu item you get the possibility to change your own native language (this is not the language you want to study) as well as you can change the “sound mode” here. For example you can let the sound play automatically after the card turns.
Furthermore you can get an overview of your overall progress via the “statistics” menu item. Or you can “clear statistics”, by category or you can clear all categories at once. The screenshots above show the statistics commands. Finally the options menu consists of the undelete command, in case you have deleted one or more particular SPB Flash Cards.
Concluding thoughts and feedback
I would like to start the conclusion by concluding that SPB Software deservces a big compliment for the overall design of the application and the underlying research on learning algorithms and psychological effects of learning. To my knowledge this is a total new concept for an application that didn’t exist before, and which transforms your Windows Phone into a personal language learning assistant.
I haven’t taken any language courses recently but I can remember the problem at the secondary school, when you needed to make the switch from memorizing the word to pronouncing it and using the word in practice. These are two different aspects and cleverly combined into SPB Flash Cards.
In the introduction I already discussed the difficult positioning of SPB Flash Cards (at least from my perspective). Like I told before SPB Software tends to include an educational twist into their games as well, and perhaps it is because I got used to it, but unfortunately I miss some kind of competitive gaming element. Have a look at SPB Brain Evolution, SPB Geo Game or even the ability to upload scores and battle in the “online competition” of SPB Quads.
Furthermore I need to remark that the footprint of this application is large, +/- 10 MB. This might not be a big surprise, because the pronounciations and graphics of more than 1000 items somehow need to be included included in the SPB Flash Cards application. I highly recommend to install the SPB Flash Cards on the storage card of your Windows Phone.
You can purchase SPB Flash Cards for $9,95 per language from the SPB Software website, which is a reasonable pricepoint given the amount of embedded science, innovation and the complete new concept !