šŸ‘šŸ» Method šŸ‘šŸ» Review — The Short-lived Tinycards (2016 – 2020)

In 2016, Duolingo made a new application which functioned quite a bit like Memrise. Using aesthetics and assets similar or inspired by the main Duolingo project, the flashcard app, Tinycards, was unveiled. It tried to be like its cousin Memrise, using a similar flashcard method, but with their own user-created or Duolingo-style art attached to some of the decks. It had a vision, to dominate the flashcard application market with its simplicity, the clout it got from Duolingo, and user friendliness. Used for many topics like anatomy to flags, Tinycards has its roots from the Duolingo courses, where they have probably garnered the most learners.

However, this all came to an end, for in 1 September 2020, Duolingo had stopped all support for the application, choosing instead, to focus more resources in the main Duolingo application. They hinted a similar flashcard method being introduced in Duolingo, but that is still subject to speculation. In this review, we will be covering how Tinycards compared to its Memrise counterpart, in teaching words and basic phrases to the language learner. Like Memrise, Tinycards had rather similar goals and intentions, as Tinycards was intended for:

  • Learning new words in a user’s target language
  • Learning basic phrases
  • Familiarisation with pronunciations of new words and phrases, through audio or video playback
  • Engaging learners in learning languages in a fun way

Like Memrise, Tinycards was not made for:

  • Learning grammatical patterns in the target language
  • Building reading and writing skills, except in vocabulary expansion and familiarisation
  • Developing conversational skills

How well has Tinycards worked to achieve this in its four-year lifespan? This short review will be targeting the aspects of interactivity, audio integration, as well as thematic units.

Thematic Units

Tinycards has both Duolingo-generated and user-generated courses, aptly organised into decks. The decks are then split into separate units to be picked up by the learner in a progressive fashion. Users can also choose to complete the units in an order of their own choosing as well. Following the completion, or if the user feels ready, they may do a review quiz to test how well they recall the flashcards.

Users could opt for more practice depending on their familiarity with the flashcard (Duolingo Russian course)

Users can also select flashcards they are already familiar with, hiding them in future exercises. This gives the user more autonomy to suit the decks to their learning goals, instead of being subjected purely to the Leitner system of flashcard learning. However, users are still exposed to some simple, shallow elements of spaced repetition, although not as extensive as that in Memrise.

In Duolingo Language courses, decks are organised according to exercises in the Duolingo application. The intention was to function as a flashcard aid that complements Duolingo, probably to help catalyse the process of new words entering memory. For vocabulary, this was great. With nouns and some adjectives being sorted by theme, it certainly helped learners form thematic word banks.

An example of a flashcard belonging to a deck in the Russian Duolingo course.

The issue comes when the decks were too faithful to the language course, and in this case, they were. Introducing conjugations to words is one example, like the dative case in Russian, for example. With the lack of grammar pointers in the Duolingo application, this appeared to be a brute-force way to teach grammatical cases, as opposed to applying patterns of declination or conjugation in the target language. Similarly, some thematic units were polluted with miscellaneous grammatical particles or words that do not seem to belong to a certain deck theme at all. As a Duolingo-created deck course, this organisation is rather lackluster, and definitely the decks could have done better with a more logical organisation process, rather than sticking too closely to what was covered in the Duolingo application.

Nonetheless, the decks the users generated and created had various organisation “standards”, as some of the courses have words nicely organised into thematic categories, such as food, colours and numbers, and others may take a different approach to organisation.

Audio Integration

While like Duolingo, Tinycards lacks a pronunciation guide for respective languages, it does come with audio integration, depending on the course a learner chooses. Native speakers provide these audio to allow learners to pick up how the words or phrases are normally spoken and articulated.

This feature helps with figuring out stress patterns in those that have a heavy emphasis on them, like Portuguese, Russian and perhaps Ukrainian. Similarly, it helps users in distinguishing tone in languages with complex tone, or even simple intonation patterns like Chinese, Vietnamese, and Swedish (anden has two meanings depending on intonation). The playback for a word helps users deal with how a word is read, or ironing out how to pronounce relatively foreign sounds. Overall, this is an extremely helpful feature to have, especially when no phonetics guide is given.

Voiceovers can be automatically played when the user flips to the target language side of the card, and can also be played upon tapping the speaker icon, much like accessing the audio playback on other language learning applications.

The main issue is that not all language decks or courses have this audio integration, although Duolingo-generated ones are fully supported. This comes from experiences with the community-made Akagu and reformed Nsibidi script flashcard decks, a relatively new writing system made by the Ode Nsibiri project. Meant to write Igbo, these writing systems have decks with no audio integration, causing a bit of problem when familiarising Akagu letters and Igbo sounds, especially for non-Igbo speakers.

An introduction to the Akagu alphabet cards, a writing system in development to write Igbo. For non-native Igbo speakers, there is, unfortunately, no voiceover feature for the deck, which may cause problems when associating sound with letter.

Interactivity

While having a similar range of question types to Memrise, such as spelling, and matching word to translation, Tinycards does appear to lack what Memrise tries to do right. While there is a seemingly more friendly interface, like playing cards from a hand, or choosing between options, Tinycards lacks the capability to create mnemonic aid or any other kind of memory aid to help learners pick up the words faster.

This type of question looks like playing a card from a hand! (Duolingo Russian course)

Tinycards also lacks the point-and-shoot mode that was featured in Memrise. In fact, the application lacks any other feature to help with the learning goals other than the flashcards and associate reviews and overviews. In essence, Tinycards kind of provides only the bare essentials to flashcard learning, in the simplest manner, whilst being functional.

However, Tinycards was able to try to push for one thing that Memrise generally lacks. Visuals on the flashcards, in a classic Duolingo style, offers some help to visual learners, or people that require visual aid for learning. While this use is quite limited across Duolingo language courses for example, it is indeed a method that has been implemented that could benefit the wider community, particularly those who prefer visual learning.

Final Remarks

With Tinycards closing its doors on 1 September 2020, this review is really a tribute to what Tinycards was and perhaps, could have been. Just like other flashcard applications like Memrise, Tinycards did serve its intended functions well, but there were several gaps left behind that Memrise has covered sufficiently well. Audio playback, the point and shoot mode, and a user-generated mnemonic aid system were some features Memrise had, and still has, that Tinycards lacked.

In essence, Tinycards, whilst simple, is really just it, simple. It provided a much more simplified flashcard system compared to Memrise, but still retains its functionality. One admirable thing is that creating the simplest application that serves these functions is not that easy, but yet, Tinycards had managed to achieve it. Had Tinycards continued to develop, we would have seen several major improvements to the flashcard methodology, such as more audio integration in the language decks, or more interactivity in review exercises.

The Language Closet Rating: 6.5/10

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Note: This rating is based on user experience, criticism and evaluation through this post. It is in no way an objective stance, nor is it a static rating. Since Tinycards support would have been already terminated by the time of posting, there should not be any updates to this rating.

How would you rate Tinycards? How had Tinycards shaped your learning experiences? If given the chance to continue Tinycards, how would the application have improved? Let us know through the comments!

Afterword

I had fond memories of using Tinycards during its relatively early developmental stages, thinking that it seemed to be more attractive, or mobile friendly compared to Memrise. Thus it really came as a shock to learn the withdrawal of Tinycards support from Duolingo, when the creation of new decks was phased out, and the application was terminated in 1 September. I probably would not forget the relatively simple yet functional design Tinycards had adopted, as a user who prefers a nice, clean interface. With Memrise continuing to dominate the language learning flashcard scene, I do hope Memrise strives to improve their application in time to come.

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