After more than a decade teaching English to Spanish students in the capital, Sternberg came up with an idea to help them understand the fast English of native speakers that so often proves to be an obstacle for listening comprehension.
“I realised that there were certain combinations of English words that were just very hard for non-native English people to grasp,” he told The Local.
“I looked at different studies and identified that there are around 50 words that represent about 50 percent of spoken English, and that are very difficult to break down and understand when said quickly”, he explained.
“These so-called clusters represent the difference between the spoken and written forms of the language, and without mastering them it’s very difficult to understand first language English speakers,” he said.
Phrases such as “but it was” and “and I didn’t want to” sound like “badih woz” and “ana din’ wanna” in everyday informal speech.
Sternberg teamed up with entrepreneur Luis Morgado and lead developer Ramiro Blazquez to come up with “Wannalisn”, an app that offers free interactive listening and vocabulary exercises using short clips from movies and television series in a game format they call “edutainment”.
“It’s designed to help you train your ear to understand English as it is spoken in the real world ,” and is proving hugely popular.
“It encourages people to become comfortable and familiar with the fast natural English of native speakers that we hear in movies, TV series, and, of course, in real life.”
The app was launched in May, and is now operational in over 100 countries with 80.000 users worldwide.
And it is already a tool that English teachers in Spain are recommending to their students.
Its popularity comes at a time when Spanish learners of the English language seemingly need all the help that they can get.
A new ranking places the Spanish as the worst in the EU at speaking English, below even the notoriously bad-at-English French and Italians.
Unlike their neighbours in Portugal who rank among the best, thanks in part to the custom there of not dubbing over all foreign television and film productions.
“Watching films and TV can be a very valuable way to learn a language and especially hone listening skills, but watching with subtitles does almost nothing to help that skill,” argues Sternberg. “However, watching the short clips and then engaging with the interactive exercises is hugely helpful and also lots of fun.”
For more about Wannalisn and to try out the app for free CLICK HERE.
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