The reason that PhraseMix works


November 26, 2012

What is PhraseMix about?

Whenever I meet someone new and introduce myself, I have to explain what PhraseMix is. To be honest, it's always a little bit difficult. I say something like this:

I run a website for people who are learning English as a second language. I write lessons each day and post them on the site. Each lesson is based on one English sentence. I explain what that sentence means and then I break it down into the phrases that make up the sentence. There are also illustrations for each lesson. The lessons are all free, but some people pay to get an audio version of them.

As a description, this works. But it's longer than I'd like, and it also doesn't really explain what's special about PhraseMix. I'd love to be able to summarize what PhraseMix is in just one or two short sentences.

One reason that it's hard for me to give a short description of PhraseMix is that I'm trying to do a lot of things at once. It would be easier if I was only introducing one new language learning innovation, like:

It's an English-learning website with daily illustrated lessons!

It's an English-learning site which teaches phrases instead of vocabulary and grammar.

It's a site which teaches English learners what to say in thousands of daily real-world situations.

But PhraseMix is about all of these things. So how do I combine them all into a common theme?

It's all about context!

This week, I realized that there is something which connects all of the interesting aspects of PhraseMix. It's context.

"Context" means the things that surround something and give it meaning. Context is the reason why you act differently at work than you do at home. It's what makes a vague sentence like "That's something, isn't it?" make sense. Where you are, who you're speaking with, what you're doing, and what everyone has already said are all part of the context of a conversation.

On PhraseMix, I try to give you a few different kinds of context:

Linguistic context: rather than teach single vocabulary words, I try to introduce groups of words that go together.

Situational context: rather than just giving you examples of English sentences, I try to give examples of real situations in which you can use each sentence. I include illustrations so that the situation is easier for you to imagine and remember.

Emotional contect: also included in the scene descriptions are hints about how the speaker feels when he or she says the example sentence.

Social context: I explain not only what a phrase means, but how English speakers feel about it. Does it sound formal or casual? Polite or rude? Positive or negative? Is it a recently-created phrase or old-fashioned?

Auditory context: the recordings on PhraseMix Premium are done at normal conversational speed. That's so that you can hear how the words sound together in a sentence, not just by themselves.

I realized that I've been designing PhraseMix to give English learners as much context as possible, because I think that it's very hard to learn a language without it. Of course, the ultimate context is getting out into the real world and using English as part of your daily life. So make sure that you're doing that!

What do you think? Is this a good summary of why you love PhraseMix? Or is there something else that you think is more important?


(Print this article)