Early last Friday morning, one of our users -a girl named Kristin- made good use of the feedback box to detail something she felt would help her learn SAT words better. The message read:
“please include, along with the definition, a phonetic spelling of the word so I know how it is said. I know tons of these words but not the pronunciations!! PLEASE!!!! Thanks”
shortly afterwards, for good effect, she added a second message:
“please give pronunciations!!!!!!!!”
Moved by the first feature alert, and stirred to action by its sequel, I woke Dr. Detre, Memrise’s neuroscientist CEO, who was conveniently sleeping just eight feet away. Always having one’s colleagues to hand is one of the joys of working in a start-up. Having emerged from his dream about Mongo databases, Greg shook his head, regretfully. “The thing is, no-one knows how to read the phonetic alphabet, except perhaps the estimable Kristin. For this to be generally useful, we’ll have to go one better and give actual audio. But that’ll take a week, I’d guess. Regrettably, Kristin will have to wait for it.” “But Greg”, I said, “the poor girl’s desperate”. Greg looked glum. “I know. I’m sorry. But the thing is, it’s a huge task and we’re so busy creating word-set tools. You’d better wake Spencer”. Spencer is our lead developer, and has been known to complete a week’s work in four hours. In him lay Kristin’s hope.
A few minutes later, Greg, Spencer and I were sat with fresh-brewed coffee at the breakfast table, considering all the things we needed to do to help Kristin. To get the pronunciations in audio form, we had to record and edit at least 100 of the SAT words; Spencer would then have to create a new field in the data base to store those audio clips; and he’d need to engineer an interface at our end so that we could upload the clips, as well as a button for the user so he or she could listen to them. Numerous additional complexities began to stack up. “Hmmmmm” we collectively thought.
We looked again at Kristin’s desperate plea. We thought of her flawless written knowledge of words such as “benevolence”, “paucity” and “surreptitious” and understood how annoying it must be for her not to be able to use them with confidence in spoken discourse. We looked at the capitalization and the exclamation marks in “PLEASE!!!!”. We shook our heads. We knew that it couldn’t wait.
Spencer duly went into overdrive. Over the next twelve hours, he coded like the telegraph operator on a sinking ship. Tappety tap tap went his fingers. By 6 p.m, he had the database and uploading tools complete. By 8 p.m he had added a button in the learning cave to click to hear the word. In the meantime, we’d collected and edited 100 audio-clips: 50 words in my English voice; and, because variety is the spice of life, 50 others provided in the sweet tones of an American girl, Alice, whom we had the fortune to have in the house with us. We then began manually uploading all these clips. By the time we had that finished, it was already 11 p.m, and our place of work was now hosting a party with several other startups in attendance. We were compelled for social reasons to abandon development, with bugs still in the code, and Kristin still unable to benefit. We enjoyed ourselves at the party, there was a certain amount of merriment and music, but at the back of our minds we knew that we had unfinished business.
Fortunately, by 2.30 a.m. there was a hiatus in the party, and we were able to return to the coal-face. In due course (it was at four minutes past three, to be precise) Spencer announced that his final bug-fixes were complete. A small crowd assembled. “Done and deployed,” he cried, fists clenched in triumph, as he was held aloft on the shoulders of the delirious party-goers. Phenomenal. We tested it. It worked. Not only that, but the feature immediately felt excellent, necessary, inherently Memrise. Proudly, we let Kristin know that it was now in place.
And what a pleasure that she was kind enough to email back the very next day: “Wonderful….very helpful! Thanks for responding so swiftly” she said, adding “I love memrise!!!” for good measure.
So anyhow- we thank Kristin for pointing out the need for pronunciation info. Our audio-clip solution is now available in all languages. If you want to add an audio clip, just go to edit the word, and then click on the upload button.