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Software Review: Keep Your Word from Bambooapps

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If you've ever studied a foreign language (or anything else that requires memorization), chances are you've used flash cards. If you're like me, you started by writing some out by hand, quickly tired of that, then bought a pre-printed set, which you used for two or three quizzes before forgetting about them entirely. Perhaps you would get more out of your flash cards if they were handily available on your shiny computer rather than dog-eared and forsaken among the broken pencils and lint in the bottom of your bag. If so, take a look at Keep Your Word.

Keep Your Word is a Mac app (requiring system 10.5) for creating, organizing and presenting flash cards. Each card consists of two user-defined sides: "their word" and "your word." Beyond that, you can attach your own tags, comments, and learning progress notation. The software even keeps track of other helpful metadata like date created, times viewed in exercises and date of last view. At a glance, you'll know which words you created months ago, drilled hundreds of times, and still haven't memorized, and paper cards just can't provide that kind of motivating shame.

All the functions you'd expect for getting the most out of your cards are here, with nothing extraneous or over-complicated. You can simply study your cards, view them as a multiple-choice quiz, or print word lists for whatever purpose. Card groups can also be exported or imported as comma-separated values lists.

There's no shortage of flash card software out there, some of which may even share such features. Where Keep Your Word shines is in its appealing and intuitive interface. In the main window, when you create or edit a card, both sides are displayed prominently and its metadata fields are instantly accessible. Commonly used functions (Add word, Print, Character map etc.) are readily available as buttons in the toolbar.

The basic interface for actually viewing your cards is slick. The cards are large and distinct, and arranged side-by-side with one brightly colored active card occupying the center of the window and the edges of adjacent ones visible. They can be flipped, advanced or scrolled through by simple keystrokes or entirely with the mouse. The "Quick Quiz" uses the same presentation, but shows a (user-defined) number of choices for what's on the back. Pressing the key for any choice simply turns over the card, revealing the answer; it doesn't keep score.

The cataloging system is, as with much software these days, drawn directly from iTunes, which is no bad thing. There's a library of "All your words" as well as drag-and-drop groups (just like playlists) and "Smart groups" that automatically include cards based on an impressively vast selection of user-definable parameters (just like smart playlists). A familiar built-in search field produces results from your search terms in real time. You'll be right at home if you've ever used iTunes, but even if you haven't, you'll find the system easy to learn and convenient.

In experimenting with Keep Your Word for a week or so, I've found only a couple of things I would class as problems. The user can choose how many cards from a list to include in card viewing or quizzes, but there's not a ready option to use all the words in a list. This effect can be achieved by entering any suitably large number, but that seems somewhat inelegant. Also, the smooth frame rate of the flash card viewing becomes noticeably slower and halting when running in quiz format.

Not only are these very minor complaints, but in this same week, Bambooapps issued two updates. With such attentive support, it's reasonable to expect that KYW's few rough edges won't stay rough for long. Speaking of support, they've also set up a separate Web site called Wordsparade where users can share dictionaries they create. Selection is limited as of this writing, but as the user base grows, this could become a useful resource.

The only real sticking point is the price. You can try Keep Your Word as a fully functional demo for 30 days before registering it for $24.95. If I were a starving student, a price tag like that might drive me to the competition (iFlash, for example, is a similarly feature-rich though much less streamlined app, and costs $10 less), or even have me abandon software altogether in favor of good old (cheap) index cards.

That being said, this title does everything one could want a flash card application to do, and it's hard to imagine another app that does it better. If it's worth going digital with your learning tools at all, then it's worth the cost to get the right one, and Keep Your Word might well be the right one for you.

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