Ever read The Times and feel like you need a dictionary by your side? Last month, Times deputy news editor Philip Corbett sent a memo to reporters about the 50 most frequently looked-up words on nytimes.com. “Sui generis,” “penury,” “peripatetic” made the top of the list. Interesting!
Well, now there’s a site that can help you brush up on your vocab without pulling out a No. 2 pencil. Check out VocabSushi.com, a site that scours the Web for big words in articles from daily newspapers (we’re sure a few Maureen Dowd columns are in there!) and helps users learn the words in contextual sentences. So long, flashcards!
VocabSushi creator Jeff Novich presented the site at the New York Tech Meetup at FIT on 27th Street last night. Launched in June, VocabSushi was developed by Mr. Novich, 29, as he tutored students in Manhattan for the SAT. Mr. Novich called his system “bite-sized learning.” “It’s a cross-curricular bento box,” he added, because it doesn’t just teach users about words, but important stuff that’s going on in the world, too.
Users can sign up for free, answer a few vocabulary questions to test their knowledge level and get a vocab score on a scale from 1 to 50.
VocabSushi’s system scours news articles from about 600 news sources, Mr. Novich said, and indexes about 15,000 sentences every day. Each sentence is tied to its source, date, and original headline, so users can read the whole article. They learn words by answering fill-in-the-blank questions from the news sentences, or more traditional multiple-choice ones. They can also listen to a recorded pronunciation of those phonetically challenged words.
If VocabSushi is any indication, it seems like education sites are trying out Nick Bilton’s “bite, snack, meal” model.
The site is also, of course, working in the hottest new Web element: gaming. The site keeps track of users’ progress and replaces “learned” words with new ones. The level of soy sauce in tiny bottles next to the words indicate whether or not users could take on. “This is a smart system that grows with you,” Mr. Novich said.
He plans to build an app for the iPhone so can take it on the go, too.
Mr. Corbett, the Times editor, wrote in his memo that reporters “should never talk down to readers. But how often should even a Times reader come across a word like hagiography or antediluvian or peripatetic, especially before breakfast?”
With VocabSushi, we could nosh on that.