I’m interested in languages from a lot of different angles–I want to know how to recognize a language when I see it written (here) or hear it spoken (here), and to understand how language concepts are organized in our brains (here). I’m also interested in improving my Spanish (more particularly, my castellano), since we live in Spain for six months each year. As such, I’m always on the lookout for resources that can help me. My most recent find is Forvo, with the tagline, “All the words in the world. Pronounced.” I don’t know how much progress they’ve made toward that ambitious goal, but I’m willing to explore to see what they’ve got lined up so far.
Forvo organizes languages on their site into tiers–their databases currently have audio files of more than 100,000 words for thirteen languages: German, Russian, English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, Dutch, Mandarin Chinese, Swedish and Tatar (spoken in Russia and other previously Soviet states). They’ve got more than 50,000 words each for another thirteen languages, more than 10,000 pronunciations for 29 more, and so on.
As I go further down the list, there are more and more languages I haven’t heard of. I could do the ABCs in languages that are new to me: there’s Adygean (also known as West Circassian, which doesn’t enlighten me), Bardi, Chuvash, Divehi, Ewe, and Fulah, to get us started, and then skipping toward the end we’ve got Uyghur, Venda, Walloon, Xhosa (I think I’ve actually heard of this language, but there’s always a dearth of X words when writing an abecedary, so I’ll leave it in), Yeyi, and Zazaki. For many of the letters I had several unknown-to-me languages to choose from.
Aside from the fun of exploring languages I know nothing about, Forvo should help me with the language I’m trying to gain fluency in. But I don’t want to get right down to practical matters just yet. First things first–how does it do with the longest word I know in Spanish? Said to be the longest place name in Mexico (or at least a variant thereof), it’s a favorite of people trying to flummox gringos: Parangaricutirimícuaro. It sounds just as I remembered it, being spoken by Mexicans inviting me to see if I could imitate them.
In many instances, more than one pronunciation is listed for a word, along with information about where the speaker is from. This should give me a chance to learn to identify regional accents, something I’d like to be better at.
If you’re learning another language, chances are good that Forvo has at least some words from it in their database. And if you want to help other people to learn your language, you can sign up to contribute word files. I haven’t yet checked to see how many people they already have pronouncing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but they’re likely to have room for one more.