Thoughts for serious language learners
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Modernizing Antimoon

Hello Readers! I’ve recently gotten around to making a few much-needed technical updates to Antimoon. Here’s the list of the most important changes:

  • Click / tap / point cursor at any highlighted words to get a pop-up explanation (with additional links to online dictionaries). (Try it right now!)
  • Select any word or phrase to get a popup with links to the best online dictionaries, enabling you to quickly look it up. (Try selecting something.)
  • Completely new audio links and audio player code built around HTML5 and SoundManager — does not require Flash, works great on mobile devices. (Examples of new audio links and new audio player)
  • Wider layout for more comfortable reading of articles. More space for sidenotes (of which there are many) and large images.
  • Responsive layout for mobile devices (including blog, forum and wiki pages). Antimoon now works pretty damn well on tablets – in fact, probably the best way to read this site is sitting in an armchair, holding a tablet. As for smaller devices like smartphones… well, it works as well as it can. You’re not going to get great reading experience on a 5-inch screen anyway.
  • Much faster performance on blog pages and translation wiki, thanks to: optimized templates with fewer HTTP requests, optimized image size, database tuning, PHP cache & updated software.
  • A bunch of audio files have been re-recorded on new equipment for better quality.

New articles coming soon.

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YouGlish: A YouTube-based pronunciation dictionary

What do you do when you’re not sure how to pronounce an English word? You look it up in a dictionary. But what if you can’t find it in a dictionary because it’s a rare word like azure, a derived form like walked, a proper name like San Rafael, or a technical term like JSON? Until now, there were two options:

  1. Pronunciation dictionary. This works for 90% of words.
  2. Forvo. This has the advantage of giving you authentic pronunciations free from possible biases.

I was recently made aware of a third option – a website called YouGlish.com, designed by Dan Barhen. How does it work? There’s a huge mass of content available on YouTube. Some YouTube videos include transcripts. YouGlish lets you search those transcripts. Type a word, press Enter, and you get a video where someone is saying that word. The video will automatically start from the relevant sentence, so there’s no need to look for the right place. If you want more examples of your word being pronounced, simply click the big arrow button to go the next video result. You can also easily replay your sentence. It’s a very nice interface for browsing examples or real-life speech and congratulations are due to Dan for making it work so smoothly.

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Antimoon en español

I’m still trying to get over a message I received from Santiago Madrigal, a user from Colombia, who wrote in to share some news about the Antimoon Translation wiki, the part of Antimoon where users contribute their translations of selected Antimoon content. Santiago was disappointed to see that the Spanish section of the wiki had only four articles and a half, so he made himself a large cup of presumably Colombian coffee and translated 96½ more – a number that any reasonable person would consider a misprint. I can, however, confirm that the total for the Spanish wiki is now 101 – an absolutely unreasonable number which is five times the figure for the next biggest wiki language, Portuguese. In today’s Twitter-dominated world, merely reading a hundred articles could be considered an achievement worthy of a trophy and a commemorative plaque, but Santiago not only read them (hopefully), but also rendered them in Spanish. I’m usually the last to suggest violent solutions, but I’m beginning to think the rest of humanity should find a way to discreetly get rid of Santiago because he makes us all look lazy. I mean, who does he think he is?

Anyway, if you have Spanish-speaking amigos who keep asking you “¿Cómo aprender inglés?“, do them a favor and point them to the Spanish wiki.

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Confusing American phonetic transcriptions for “air”, “near” and “sure”

Ilian writes:

(…) There are different types of transcriptions for American English (and for British English). All of this is confusing because I am not absolutely sure whether they describe one and the same pronunciation or they describe different pronunciations.
For instance, the word “air” in American dictionaries is transcribed in many ways:
1. /ɛər/ (this transcription is clear: it means that there is a schwa sound and the “r” sound is pronounced)
2. /ɛr/ (this transcription is not very clear to me: is the pronunciation the same as the transcription above or does it mean that the schwa sound is omitted/deleted/?)
I have noticed that a lot of American dictionaries use the /ɛr/ transcription. Do they mean that the schwa sound is omitted or does it mean that /ɛr/ is the same as /ɛər/?
Also, in different dictionaries the word “near” is transcribed as /nɪər/, /nɪr/ and /ni:r/). Do they mean the same thing?
And in different dictionaries the word “sure” is transcribed as /ʃʊər/, /ʃʊr/ and /ʃu:r/. Do they mean the same thing?

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Should you care about phonetic transcrip­tions?

Today, nearly all good English dictionaries have audio recordings. If you can listen to any English word as it is pronounced by a native speaker, why should you care about phonetic transcriptions? My latest update gives a few good reasons.

I’ve also added a section that describes why you shouldn’t take phonetic transcriptions too seriously.

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