Learn new words – while feeding the world?

Do you know that a ‘pollex’ is your thumb, that a ‘dinkey’ is a small locomotive, that ‘stertor’ is another word for snoring, and that ‘oscitancy’ means yaaaaawning? 

I sure didn’t.

So let me tell you about a fun and addictive vocabulary learning game called Free Rice that seeks to feed the hungry masses. Affiliated to the UN World Food Program to help end world hunger, the people who run this website promise to donate 20 grains of rice for each and every word you get right. So five correct words will add 100 grains of rice to a little wooden bowl on the side of the screen. The rice you ‘donate’ is actually paid for by the advertisers whose names appear on the bottom of the vocabulary screen.

Since the site started in October 2007, they claim to have donated 30 billion grains of rice. In the last month alone, the total was 5.6 billion.

It’s an adaptive kind of game: If you get a word right, the next one may be a harder word; if you get it wrong, the next word will be easier. You can set various options for the game on the Options tab, like remembering the level you reached the last time you played the game, or always starting at zero again, or remembering your total rice donations from one time to the next. You’d need to enable cookies on your browser for these settings.

It’s all multiple choice – they give you four possible meanings of a word. You click on the one that best defines the word, or that is the closest synonym. And you can click on a little icon to have the word pronounced – although that usually doesn’t make the meaning any clearer.

I always thought I had a fairly good size vocabulary, but I have never ever heard or seen most of the words they use! So I often have to make a more or less educated guess… or a blind stab… The nice thing is that, if you get a word wrong, they repeat it a couple of words down the line, so you start to remember them.

There are 55 levels in all, but apparently it is rare for people to get much above level 48. Today was the first time I actually hit level 50. You need THREE consecutively correct answers to improve to the next level. But after one mistake, you drop down one level. Another mistake, and you drop down another level.

It took me 10 frustrating mins to work myself up to level 50 again, and only one wrong guess to be demoted once more. Sigh….

But it’s all for a good cause, and fun too.

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