Brand management is pernicious


It seems that, UC Davis, a Californian university pepper sprayed students some time back. Don’t worry. It happens. Students. Seat of learning. Pepper spray. These things go together like strawberries and cream.

For some reason, the university is now trying to hide references to the incident. I wonder why?

Quoting from this article in the guardian : “Multiple contracts were with Sacramento-based IDMLOCO, which was awarded its first six-month contract, in June 2014, for the amount of $82,500, for “search engine results management” that involved creating new content to push “negative” results lower in searches”

This is online brand management, and happens all the time.

So why is this relevant to language learning? Well, why do you think that certain big name learning products are always linked to positive success stories?

Could it be … Could it be .. that they are all absolutely brilliant, and will bring you fluency … quickly … effortlessly … and so on and so forth.

Unlike the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, I don’t always believe six impossible things before breakfast.

This, my friends, is often the result of using ‘Brand management’ to manipulate search engine rankings (perfectly legally) to return the information that THEY want you to see.

Sure I’m paranoid. But am I paranoid enough?!



Decisions about my new web site (

Firstly, I’m in a better mood today. After a good nights sleep the world doesn’t look so grim.

So …… I’ve been working on my new website Polyglot People (another language learning site)  and I need to make a decision. I always have problems making decisions, or rather making decisions and then sticking to them.

The decision is do I,  or do I not force learners to progress in sequence through the lessons when using the above. Lesson one might be (it isn’t but could be) colours,  followed by (for example) lesson two describing things with colours and so on with each lesson logically following on from the previous.

I like this in principle but see how it might be annoying. I don’t like to be forced to do anything in a particular order (even if it makes sense), so should I really have a website which does the same?

Another option is that each lesson will allow you to learn (say) ten words, and it is up to you which lessons you choose and the order you do them in.

I had thought of adding something like this to Surface Languages but decided it wan’t a good fit, and so I’m intending to keep Surface languages as it is I.e. a way to learn phrases in millions (ahem fifty or so) languages.

Polyglot People could then be used in conjunction as a way to get a basic understanding of how a language fits together through basic sentences, or on its own, or of course not at all depending on whether or not you find it useful.

I … need … to … think ….



Coming soon … ! Probably …?

A new language course is almost ready to be added to Surface Languages!

The first part  French language course is almost complete. I’ve not linked it into the main French page as it isn’t finished, but you can see the contents.

As yet, there is no audio!. This will arrive soon, and so I hope by the end of next week another course will be finished.

Spread the word. Tell the cool kids!

I don’t know any cool kids, as I’m kind of a geek. But if I did I’d tell them, so that they could get into some language learning goodness.

Of course, the exact time-scale depends a bit what else is going on in my life.

As a part-time language learner, and webmaster real life often intrudes. I recently  mentioned that I had had to replace a tap – which is a simple example of the kind of things that take up  my free time.

But I now find myself wondering what I will add next to SurfaceLanguages?




Articles written for SEO purposes only

I don’t normally look at the type of search phrases that bring people to Surface Languages but this morning (as it is the first of the month) I had a look.

So, I had a look at some of the searches used,and one was ‘free language learning’.

Naturally, I typed this into Google to see where Surface Languages ranked. Somewhere on the first page is the answer, with the BBC languages being firmly in pole position.

It also revealed articles written for SEO or link purposes only. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation the gist of which is to try and increase the number of visitors to a website through various means.

One is to increase the number of other sites that link into your site. This moves the site up the rankings for relevant searches within the search engines and so increases the number of visitors to your site.

So, for example, if Surface Languages had 5000 links (I wish) and you typed in ‘language learning‘ there would be a strong possibility that it would rank first.  As it doesn’t, you won’t find this website using that key phrase. I doubt whether it is within the first 30 pages!

The downside of this is that many, many articles are written solely for the purpose of gaining links, either for the authors site or perhaps a a website they are being paid to promote.

You can spot these articles easily. They contain generalisations, cliches, no useful research, no useful information and can be written extremely fast.

Unfortunately, if they are on pages that are themselves on *authority* sites (maybe like some of the big newspapers), they will rank extremely highly for the targeted phrases.

The internet is increasingly cluttered with these *informative articles*,  so when you are genuinely looking for information, you have to sift through articles written solely with the idea of SEO and not intending to inform.

Look for titles such as The ten easiest languages to learn if you want to example of  articles like this.

I don’t particularly advise this.

The other way of increasingly a websites popularity, is too make a it sufficiently useful that people want to use it and to tell their friends:).

This is what I’m attempting to do here.





Crosswords and language learning

I’ve almost finished adding a crossword game to SL. To be more precise, I’ve added it to SL but it isn’t entirely finished. There are bugs, and all things being equal they will be fixed next week.

I uploaded it by mistake too early. So if you try it, go easy on me.

Remember PPPPPP?

Proper planning prevents p**s poor performance. (No swearing on my blog). Unless you are FBTFFOF – work that out yourself. Anyway, as usual my attention to detail planning wise is poor. Very poor.  These reasons and many more explain why I write iPhone Aps for a living, rather than run a FTSE 100 company or something more grown-up.

For the geeks among you, feel free to copy the code (mainly javascript). I wouldn’t recommend it particularly, as it turns out that writing a decent crossword generator is something you need to do more than once to get it right. And as with so many things in life, it might well be something you only do once. It also turns out that my javascript knowledge isn’t as l33t as it could be. Ho. Hum. This isn’t the first time I’ve written shonky code, and it won’t be the last 🙂

For the non geeks/programmers javascript is a programming language commonly used to make webpages more splooshy. (I’m going to turn auto-correct off. I meant to write splooshy, and definitely not splashy).

I’m really hoping that these crossword generators will be a useful language learning resource, as picking up vocabulary can be difficult and needs re-inforcement in as many different ways as possible. This struck me as a good one – while chilling in the garden drinking a cool cider or maybe red wine.




Italian Dictionary

I know I sound like a stuck record – continually wittering on about dictionaries. (If any of you can even remember what a record is or the origin of the expression you get a bonus). I’m showing my age … soon I’ll start talking about gramophones.

Anyway, I have finally added an Italian dictionary to Surface Languages. Phew!

I’m well chuffed.

OK, I accept there may be teething issues but that is the nature of the beast. Bugs will occur and I will fix them.

Other Dictionaries?

Naturally there are other Italian dictionaries out there, and  this begs the question: do we really need another one?

Of course we do!


Well, for a start, on a personal kind of level, it is a proof of concept. I now know how to add a dictionary to SL and as importantly how to obtain the information from Wiktionary – (perfectly acceptable according to the Creative Commons License).

This means that I can add dictionaries (over time) for some of the smaller (although equally important) languages. I have a hankering to add Catalan …

And answering the next question which is: what are you going to do with the dictionaries?

Look up words!!??

Obviously,  but I also have the basis to allow me to  create an app for  iphone and android devices when I have a moment.

It also means that I can add some cool and sparkling dictionary related games – and I will do this next week. I hope … 🙂

And even better, down South (UK South that is) where I live, summer is about to start – according to the met office! For once, I’m going to believe them, what with it being July and all!

Peace and happiness,


New language learning game

I’ve added a new language language learning game to SL.

For the technically inclined it uses a mixture of jquery, javascript, ruby and html, and naturally took me longer to get working than I hoped. I have also discovered there is still one slight bug which I will iron out tomorrow. No doubt there will be more which I will track down and squash over time – probably to do with different scripts, cyrillic, arabic and the like …

For anyone else, I hope you enjoy using it. If you have any suggestions or improvements let me know. I’m going to spend some time over the next day or so improving, refining, bug fixing and adding this ‘Word Game’ to other areas of the site.

I also have audio for the European Portuguese which I will add anon.

Other News.

Our dog was weighed in the vet and discovered to have gained 0.5kg. Not too bad considering how greedy he is, but the vet indicated strongly that he needed to loose it again. He has a graph showing said hounds weight gain and loss over the past years.

He also had his kennel cough booster. Unfortunately, he remembered what it entailed from the previous year and really I don’t need to say much more than I’m now immunised against kennel cough, and it took three people to administer the booster. (Whoever decided that the  kennel cough vaccine had to be dribbled through a dogs nostril obviously hadn’t spent much time actually trying to administer it …)

Update on Polish coming soon ….







The evolution of Surface Languages

I tend to work on Surface Languages in fits and starts depending on what else is going on in my life, and also when I have ideas of how to improve it substantially.

I’m reasonably sure I’ve come up with a way of improving SL immensely, of taking it to the next level, of making it more useful to more people … etc .. etc…

Firstly, I’m going to finish what I am currently working on. I’ve added  Portuguese (European) and Albanian to the list  of languages. As yet these both lack audio, but I hope to add the Portuguese audiosoon – maybe by the end of next week. I don’t want to commit to a timescale to Albanian as it is not so easy to find someone  to record the audio.

I’m also going to add a language learning game, or maybe two. I have the ideas in my mind and just need to code them. Easy peasy, fun to do and fun to use. I hope …

So far. So good.

Secondly, and this is the ‘take SL to the next level’ part, I’m going to add a whole new section for people who want more than ‘get by’ type language.

For you programmers reading this I’m writing it in php and this section will live under or something similar. The rest of this site is written using Ruby, but for various reasons I think php will be a better fit for this.

Naturally, I can’t write language courses in multiple (or even a single) language, and it isn’t feasible for me to pay people to do this.  I don’t think it is even particularly useful. There are lots of cheap courses out there already (the Teach yourself) type books etc, which are good places to start. There is also a lot of good information and interesting resources. It is certainly possible to learn a language for free or more or less for free.

But there are gaps.  I have an idea which will (fingers crossed) be an incredibly useful learning aide for people who are moving from beginner to A1 start of A2 type of language learning level for a language.  I’ve highlighted learning aide because this is what it will be. An extra resource. An aide to learning.

I think that anyone learning a language should use many different resources and this will be another free resource. I don’t think there is anything quite like it out there.

I’m excited about doing this. I just need to finish the bits and bobs above and do a bit more thinking.

Other news. For those who read this and the previous entry, if anyone did, and the stats indicate this is unlikely, our dog has now recovered, and is back to full speed when chasing balls, sticks and birds.

He has never even come close to catching a bird, but I guess hope springs eternal. He is a ‘bowl half full’ type of hound.

Tomorrow, he has his boosters, and we discover whether his diet (he is a bit chubby according to the vet) has been a success.

I’ll keep you posted.






Language learning games

I’m writing this at 6.40 in the morning. I had read somewhere that a distinguishing characteristic of many successful CEO’s was that they got up early every day to do important ‘stuff’. This coincided with my wife leaving extremely early for work, and so I decided to try it.

Never again. This is presumably one of many reasons I’m not a successful CEO.

Back in my world, I’ve added what I would loosely call ‘language learning games’ to help users of Surface Language to learn words for fruit, count to 20, months and so on.

The stats show that these are very popular which has tempted me to add some more.

I’ve two ideas:

A game to help learn sentence order. The sentences would be split into the constituent words, jumbled up and would have to be re-arranged.

A game to practice spelling of individual words and increase vocabulary. Groups of words would be split into letters (or groups of letters) and randomised. The letters would have to be re-arranged to make the words in the list.

I recently came across a Spanish expression pasar la noche en blanco (to sleep badly) so I might say he pasado la noche en blanco.

I thought that I might make a collection of similar colloquialisms and add a new section to SL?