Spy technique to become fluent in Toki-pona

A decade ago…

… I was working abroad and one of my evening activities was to go to a local school to teach French. For my classes of students, the main thing was not the language per se (fine by me) but rather the social activity these lessons provided.

One day, I had a student who had a particular condition of dyslexia that made him uncomfortable in front of a page of text. Together, we developed a small system that worked on his phone and allowed him to read text word by word. I later used this system on a large scale, with entire classes in an exercise that I presented as language training for spies and secret agents. It was great fun and very effective in terms of learning. By varying the speed at which words were displayed, it was actually listening skills, not reading, that the learners were working on.

One of the major difficulties in learning a language is coping with an uninterrupted stream of speech and making sense of it. This is particularly difficult with monosyllabic languages such as Chinese where the rhythm of speech can be very fast and where words, grouping two or three characters, are not always familiar (so you have to understand them individually to deduce their meaning, on the fly).

In short, as for a few weeks now, I have been thinking about speaking Toki-Pona fluently, so it’s my turn to give this exercise a go.

The principle:

Three words are displayed on the screen. The main word, the previous one (top) and the next one (bottom). This allows, without really reading them, to prepare the brain for what comes next while keeping an eye on what came before. The choice of colors seems to be important in the context of a solution to overcome a dislexical condition.

  1. Here is an excerpt from The Little Prince (great translation by Michael F) in 180 words per minute (click on the pic):

  2. Here is the same in 360/wpm:

  3. You can see that on a known text, you can quickly increase the speed. Here, try in 420/wpm:

  4. Let’s try with random sentences (borrowed from tatoeba)

For those who struggle like me, here are the translations:

  1. Do you have any interest in sports?
  2. He banged the door in anger.
  3. He sold his own car without hesitation.
  4. Can you walk with your eyes closed?
  5. Where is this train bound?
  6. He felt the rain on his face.
  7. Our father used to read us happy stories when we were small.
  8. Where are you?
  9. She’s eating fruit.

Ideas for improvement

Syntax highlighting
I tried to use a regular expression (regex) to catch the verbal group of a sentence before realizing that it was not that simple…

An expression like the one below will help to identify it in most of the cases though:

\b(li|mi|sina|o|mi mute li|sina mute li)( )
(?=( e | lon | tan | tawa | kepeken | anu | seme|\!|\.|\r|:))

As far as contextual groups are concerned, it’s pretty straightforward, as well as the lon structures and all the particles (pi, lon, la a, o etc.).

Adjust the speed of flow based on the length of the word:

Adjust the speed of flow based on frequency:
We can identify words that come up often and speed up their passage gradually.

Use one of the Toki-pona’s hieroglyphic systems to practice reading them and to look smart.

You can download the file and practice the same way. It is a Blender document for which you will need to install the “Animation Nodes” addon. Then, you will just have to copy and paste a text in the top left window and determine the frame per second by changing this value:

I guess the community is full of javascript geniuses and it would be more convenient to have a small module online to do the same thing.


How about closing at 900 words per minute?