After Duolingo, 8 months of language exchange. Video tutorials:

I’ve been teaching my buddy English while he teaches me French. Here’s what we’ve learned in the past 8 months. You’ll find links to video tutorials below on our learning method, which therein contain links to my files designed to help collaborative language learning.

First – you need to find a language partner you actually like working with and who shares similar goals. My language partner and I are both vigilant about keeping a routine; 3 hours a day, same time, same place. That’s half the battle.

Learning Together Online

You should explore how to best work together. For us, our initial struggle was maintaining a good conversation. It can be difficult Skype calling an internet contact, but doing so in a foreign language is even harder. So, we changed the game. We started watching YouTube videos together and discussing what we saw. I would share my screen via Skype, mute the show and enter full screen mode. After that, we’d follow our curiosities. “What’s that thing? And that?” When we learned a new word, we’d pause it and write them down. We also tried using the PC game Counterstrike, which unlocked first person conversation style. We’d load a custom map such as a zoo. “Look, I am walking up the stairs. Now I’m walking down the stairs.”

I created a Google Sheet customized for language exchange vocabulary. You can both load it up, make a copy and work simultaneously. It’s also easy to export the vocabulary to Anki for review.

Here’s a video demonstration of our learning method

And here’s my user guide for using the spreadsheet

Tracking Progress

Although there are no progress pics for language learning, I’ve come up with the next best thing. I’ve created a free massive wordlist from Project Gutenberg ebooks, using some easy automation and a database. It shows the frequency at which millions of words appear in the books.

In my English sample database that I create during my tutorial video, these words are “the,” “of” and “by,” which respectively account for 6.0%, 3.6% and 2.9% of the total 1.5 million word count. If you only know these three words, your sum vocabulary level is already at 12.5%! Now mark that number on your calendar, because you can chart your progress over time! As you descend the list, you may also discover some crucial word gaps. Scrolling down far enough will inevitably reveal the extent of your vocabulary.

Here’s a video tutorial on creating a Wordlist

That’s it. I tried being brief at the cost of clarity, so just post any Qs that come to mind.

We’re all gonna make it!

September 1, 2015


Hello Garth! I have been lurking on these discussion boards for a while, but this is the first time I felt compelled to write here. I'm particularly impressed by how you used an fps game to merge both your and his experience. You should consider streamlining this approach to the masses and create yet another learning tool that offers a somewhat quasi-immersion exchange.

What was the level of your French and the level of his English at the beginning of your exchange? Prior to the wordlist system you had, what was your common ground that enabled a mutual exchange?

Good job and keep it up!

September 2, 2015

Thanks Aliqusai!

Yeah I actually found my first language partners via the PC gaming platform "Steam," which has a franco-forum for gamers. They have a Android chat client which I used to talk with friends during my morning work commutes.

Previous to this? I had done a short Alliance Francais course and then reached level 10 on Duolingo. He had pretty good English. Unfortunately, we have no recording history for comparison. However, I can tell you that, frankly, we sucked at the beginning. We have both improved IMMENSELY. This method carried me from level 10 Duolingo to being pretty conversational.

Common ground? Not much. We are both kind of quiet, and didn't have anything to say to each other. This is why we changed focus off of us, and onto a TV show. Eventually, we learned our humor, music preferences, etc, through small talk while watching the travel shows (e.g. "They are skiing. Do you like skiing?")

Do you have any ideas on another language learning tool?

September 2, 2015

This is a brilliant idea, I hope more people see this. As someone who doesn't like the idea of having conversations on Skype, this seems like the perfect alternative to me.

I watched your example video of the two of you playing Counter Strike. It looks like you had a lot of fun practicing. Some very funny parts.

Best of luck with your future studies!

September 2, 2015

Thanks ketoacidosis, looks like you're on one hell of a streak. Great discipline man!

September 3, 2015

These were very interesting approaches. Thanks for sharing.

And btw, you might like to share them on reddit too (if you haven't already) at /r/french and maybe also at /r/languagelearning.

September 3, 2015

Will (re)-do. Looks like the mods pulled it for some reason....ah reddit mods.

September 3, 2015

This is great, thanks!

For me your video for "creating a Wordlist" is marked private on youtube, and it and one other also show as private on this playlist. Am I doing something wrong?

February 4, 2016

That's an impressive system!

September 1, 2015

Hi Garth !!

It's a great idea !! I tried to create a google sheet like you it's very easy and it works !! Bravo !! Now I need to solve another issue, in fact I am interested by a french chinese version, I did it, it works fine but I can only display the chinese caracters, not translate them in pinyin (the romanization of chineses chars). I began a small search, it seems there is a library or a plug in to add to google sheet but as far I know, it only allow to transform the pinyin with numbers to pinyin with accents. By any chance, you don't know how I can do that ?

One more time bravo, it's a great tool easy to set to share and also manage information


September 1, 2015

I found it, it's a library to add and we get the function HanyuPinyinTools ! THank you again to poped this using

September 1, 2015

Gurzixo, you added pinyin? I thought was not possible. Can you explain how you did that? 可以麻烦你一点吗? :)

September 2, 2015


I use google translate to convert in chinese chars, then I use =HANYUPINYIN_TONEMARKS(XX) to convert it in pinyin, there are 3 functions, one without tone, another with tone in numbers and the one I use which display tones as accents. Theses macros are in HanyuPinyinTools


September 2, 2015

Awesome, thanks Christian.

Tones > numbers. I tried doing 1 column English, 1 column French, 1 column Mandarin characters...but my brain was too small.

September 2, 2015

I am not sure to understand, so you succeeded to do the conversion ?

I find out google trans doesn't do very well his job in chinese. It gives only one char, and it's often an unusual one. I use it to learn chinese with duolingo. I know it's not an existing course, but I switch the interface language to chinese and I pretend to learn english, it's not very practical, but it is very interesting to learn the real common language. I am using your technique to find or write down the new chars. But google trans doesn't gives me the right words and I have to update manually the sheet

You don't know an other way to do the translation with another provider or system ?


September 2, 2015

There is an app similar to Duolingo called ChineseSkill, panda bear logo.

As far as google sheets functionality, I could have sworn I had pinyin with numbers working last year (ni3 hao3), but I can't find it in my docs.

Here's a quick and dirty solution - just copy the translated column of hanzi, and paste them into Immediately below the hanzi translation box, you will find the hanzi with tone marks.

e.g. 冠 -Crown 过山车 -roller coaster 邮轮 -Cruises 散热片 -heat sink Guān guòshānchē yóulún sànrè piàn

You can copy paste this pinyin column back into the sheet. And yes, google translate is low quality. It's easier to translate phrases, but even then it is poor. In our language collaboration, we use the googletranslate() function as only a recommendation.

September 2, 2015

Very nice routine, but most importantly, it was awesome to see CS:GO as part of it :D I would love to join you guys some day in a map if you would like.

September 2, 2015

Roger that bro, add me via steam? "g4r7h" You take the point!

September 2, 2015

I'm going to immediately try this idea YESTERDAY! Thanks for sharing.

Skype + YouTube + Valve STEAM = Language Learning FUN!

Just in case your interested . . .

You can export those list to an excel file.

Hey Garth . . . don't shoot up McDonalds ;-)

September 2, 2015

Try posting right in the steam language forums. It can take awhile and monitoring before you get a bite though.

September 3, 2015

I just posted a query in Spanish yesterday. I got QUICK responses. I already "friended" a couple of people from México, Venezuela and an Italian fellow that also speaks Spanish that's interested in learning English.

Connecting with the right person may take a while but I don't think that's going to be a problem. And I guess the right multi-player game (Garry's Mod - all my new friends have that game, Unturned?) that we can enjoy . . . I'm not picky. I think one of the most important things that I need to do is practice basic conversation and pronunciation.

I'll wait for another STEAM sale and get "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive", because many people are into that game.

THANKS AGAIN. Eventually in a year or two, I'll play in France.

September 3, 2015

Cool. Kane & Lynch 2 is co-op for 2 players and has ridiculously beautiful, detailed, realistic maps. Lemme know if you discover any other useful gaming resources eh?

September 3, 2015

Sure! I have that game - thanks to a Steam Sale.

Tip: What I currently do with the games that I play is take bunch of screenshots (with subtitles turned on) and get a lot of vocabulary words.

September 3, 2015

Great idea using the spreadsheet Garth. I use to use Google Translate to type out common sentences that I wanted to say, but the spreadsheet at least helps me recap words. Great idea, thanks for sharing

September 16, 2015
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