Not Fond of Mond(ly)

That was certainly a terrible attempt at making a pun.

I have no plans to become a reviewer of language apps. I just like to talk. What, eight years of this blog doesn’t make it obvious?

There are dozens, if not hundreds of language learning sites and apps out there. No shock. Reviews are good, but ultimately, the only person who can tell you what works best for you is you. I’m already partial to two particular sites, but I get curious and check out others too. Most recently, I started playing with one called Mondly.

It’s possible that despite I have absolutely no fluency in Spanish whatsoever, I’ve learned enough to not really be impressed with these apps anymore. I mentioned in my post about my feelings on Rose and Duo that I prefer it not to be a cute game. However, I find Mondly to be worse.

First and foremost, while not necessarily cute, Mondly looks more childish than DuoLingo. A description I read of it says it teaches language in a “Rosetta Stone like way”, but I really disagree. It’s worse than Duo when it comes to choosing difficulty because regardless of whether you choose “beginner”, “intermediate”, or “advanced”, you’ll start at “beginner”. Duo at least gives you a placement test and lets you skip over a certain number of lessons (although doesn’t put you at level 5 for them). Why bother with levels if there’s no effect on where you start?

There also seems to be an issue with the speech recognition. I did a few lessons that required it, but the task is marked correct, regardless of what you say… or if you say nothing! Technology is imperfect, but neither Duo nor RS are that bad. At the very least, you have to say something.

The lessons themselves feel like they’d fit right in with a kindergarten class. There’s a reason I despise flash cards and fill-in-the-blank, but it’s more than that. Even for a “beginner”, it’s ridiculous. The lessons – at least, the first ones of each category – treat the user like she/he is only now beginning to speak any language at all rather than a new one.

Much like Duo, Mondly feels more like it’s for playing than teaching. I use Duo to play games and RS to learn. I don’t need another game. I was doing one lesson in the category of “seasons and weather” that apparently attempted to teach me the order of months. No, I’m not kidding.

[Blank] is the first month of the year.

February is the [blank] month of the year.

March is the [blank] month of the year.

[Blank] is the fourth month of the year.

You get the idea. The sentence was in Spanish and you’d have to fill in the blank or translate the sentence. After I reached May, I realized it was going to go through all twelve months and I exited out. I know what order the months of the year go in. Make it a task to put them in order and be done with it!

Unlike DuoLingo, Mondly isn’t free. The most expensive package, a lifetime subscription to all forty-one languages they offer, costs $2,000! You can get it for $90 (95% off) through some affiliates like Mezzoguild for a period of time and it’s no wonder why. Supposedly, it’s their most popular subscription. Perhaps the normally exorbitant price explains why it’s hard to access any page for their pricing on the website itself. I can’t find a link to it for the life in me. There’s seemingly not even a link to their current sale – 90% off a yearly subscription for all languages (knocking the price from $480 to $48, the cost of subscribing to one language for one year). I only found it by adding “offer” after the hyperlink in an attempt to find regular pricing.

I freely admit I’m not a business expert, but if finding the cost of a service on the business’s own website is difficult, there’s probably something to hide or the designers really need more training.

There’s one thing I can say I do like about Mondly, and that’s that it gives the user a list of past, present, and future tenses when conjugating a verb if the user chooses to see that option. That’s it.

Also, their homepage claims (in bold letters!) 33 languages are available, but the subscriptions claim the number is 41. In fact, 41 is only seen on the site’s pricing for subscriptions. Every other page claims 33. Who’s keeping up with the website?

The same description that claimed Mondly teaches similar to Rosetta Stone also calls it “beautifully designed”. Mondly isn’t ugly, but I can’t agree with that. “Crammed” is the best word I can consider for it.

What Happened To LoliRock?

I want to talk about this show for a while.


Lolirock is a typical magical girl show. And when I say typical, I mean that absolutely. The show covers just about every cliche ever shown in magical girl shows. Personally, I like the show, but I can’t say it didn’t put me to sleep after a while. I never got through more than half of the first season, though I know what happens, important plot points, and how the show ends.

The show is aimed at kids, but I think My Little Pony proves the age of the target audience doesn’t doom a show to be boring. So, what’s LoliRock’s problem?

As I said, the show is very cliche. On its own, that’s not a bad thing, but there’s ultimately nothing unique about LoliRock. Lost magical princess sent to Earth to be raised in safety because of the downfall of her kingdom? Yep. Male characters who exist solely to be the generic love interest? Got it. Repetitive day-to-day plot? Check. I’d say the only unique thing about LoliRock is the show never did school episodes. I consider that a plus because school episodes bore me, but a lack of something rarely stands out and that’s easy to miss.

Iris, the blonde you see in the middle, is the show’s central protagonist. Unfortunately, cute and sweet as she is, she’s more bland than a Barbie doll. She’s not a bad character, but she’s arguably the most vanilla character of the cast. She’s perfect, her life is perfect, and she barely struggles.

A character with a perfect life isn’t boring for that reason. A good comparison is Usagi of Sailor Moon. Like Iris, Usagi also had a picture-perfect childhood and had few worries growing up outside of her next test. However, unlike Iris, though Usagi’s life was perfect, Usagi herself wasn’t. She was lazy, clumsy, ditzy, a crybaby, a drama queen, and a bit of an airhead. In other words, she was flawed. But she made up for all those traits by being an all-loving heroine who’d go to the ends of the earth for her loved ones without hesitation, and would willingly sacrifice herself for the good of everyone else. Usagi struggles so much with being Sailor Moon, her powers temporarily disable because she dislikes being Sailor Moon that much. She just wants to be a normal girl and not worry about her loved ones dropping dead at any moment.

Iris is perfect from the start, and while she has her own battles, her life doesn’t seem hugely affected. After the first episode, she seems just fine with the revelation she’s a magical fighter. She has few flaws, if any, and simply put, she’s not as interesting her friends. The defining trait of the redhead, Auriana, is that she’s boy-crazy (surprise, surprise), but that’s still something over Iris. The cast as a whole isn’t very fleshed out, but with the show’s focus primarily being Iris, there’s little excuse for her.

Some fans feel the show’s title is awkward, but I disagree. It definitely sounds better than LoliPop, and it still matches the show’s overall cuteness. In fact, the overall opinion is cuteness is all the show really has going for it. By the end of the first season, the show’s whole plot is reset and the girls have to achieve the same goal in season two. Not hard to see why the show didn’t do well.

No news has been given about the show for more than a year, so it’s unknown if the show is really cancelled or if it’s merely on hiatus. If it’s the latter and there is a plan for LoliRock, I hope, if nothing else, there is less repetition and the cast outside of Iris gets more exploration. And that they either get rid of the generic love interests (yeah, right) or give them a purpose besides being generic love interests. But it is an MG series, so best to not hold my breath for that one.

Toy Story No More

One of my favorite trilogies is Pixar’s Toy Story. I love the first three movies, the third being my most favorite, and I like the shorts they had. I was never interested in Toy Story 4 because, to me, they ended the trilogy perfectly. On top of that, Toy Story is one of those rare series where the sequels are better than the original. You cannot beat that! But they tried.

And in my opinion, they flopped.

The only reason I watched this film is my boyfriend likes it and wanted to watch it with me. I figure maybe I’ll be surprised, so I said yes and we watched it during a sleepover. I was surprised, but not pleasantly.

The only parts of this move I enjoy are the flashback montage at the beginning, and Bo Peep. I love her character, and I didn’t expect to because, while I have always liked Bo Peep, I never liked her more than any of the other toys (Jessie is my favorite, and Buzz before her). However, in my opinion, Bo Peep is the sole reason this movie is worth watching. She’s still not my favorite overall, but she’s my favorite in this film.

I can’t decide which is more annoying in this film: Woody, or the romantic plot. I never enjoyed romantic plots, even as a teenager, and ironically, they are more annoying now that I have my own steady relationship. But depending on how they’re done, they can be enjoyable. This one, however, was only a nuisance. And no, I don’t believe romance weakens an action girl (I just said I have my own!). My issue is when it takes over everything. Which it did here.

And that brings me to Woody. I like Woody in every film except this one because he is an utter idiot! I was glad Bo Peep called him out on his actions, but really, after the first scene with the antique shop, I could not stand Woody anymore. The entire movie after that scene happens because Woody is a blundering fool!

I am not trying to knock down those who love this movie, but you can’t say everything after the first scene with the antique shop isn’t Woody’s fault because the rest of the movie wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t go in there. He got Forky back, and finally convinced Forky he was valuable as a toy, so Forky is willing to stay. But after going through all the hell of bringing Forky back, Woody suddenly decides a tiny chance of seeing Bo Peep is more important than Bonnie, despite how much he preached that importance just a scene ago, and that we saw he still misses Andy.

This is what makes me hate romance plots. Yes, real people make stupid decisions in the name of love. But again, Woody’s stupidity is the sole reason the rest of the movie happens. And no, the resolution does not make me hate that less. At the very least, take Forky back to the RV before going into the antique shop. But the movie couldn’t exhibit Woody’s chronic hero syndrome if he used common sense. My point is there’s a difference between a single lapse in judgment and having the intelligence of wall plaster.

Gabby Gabby. I am enjoying the trend of movies with no villains, so I like that she is more morally questionable than outright villainous (kind of like Elsa in the first Frozen, though Elsa’s questionable actions are either unintentional or done with selfless intent), and I do like she finally gets an owner. I admit I felt for her when Harmony rejected her. But otherwise, I don’t think much of her. I like her for what she is, but that’s really all I can say.

I don’t like the ending, but with Woody’s obsession with Bo Peep, it was probably the best ending.

I do enjoy the film’s concept of lost toys, however. The previous films depicted not being loved by a child as a tragic thing, so it is nice that not all lost toys are devoid of hope and can have a good life outside of a child’s bedroom. At the same time, Gabby’s desire to be owned by a child isn’t shamed and is shown to be as valid. I see it as a metaphor for commitments (career, marriage, parenthood, etc) versus freedom. It’s okay if you want to be a free spirit and go wherever chance takes you, and it’s okay if you’d rather settle down into a more (presumably) comfy and stable life. Neither is better than the other, and neither makes you better than someone who chooses differently. We definitely need more “live and let live” messages in society. Even when Bo Peep calls Woody out on his actions, it’s his selfishness, his disregard for his actions hurting his friends, she calls him out on, not his need to help Bonnie (which he sees it as an attack of).

Speaking of which, I admit that’s another topic the movie does tackle well: toxic loyalty. In real life, relationships are (or should be) built on mutual love, trust, and respect. Bonnie no longer had interest in Woody, but Woody was still willing to go to ridiculous lengths for Bonnie’s happiness simply because he could not accept he isn’t her favorite toy like he was Andy’s. Through Woody’s stupidity, this is shown as a bad thing, and it’s what Bo Peep calls him out on. As much as I dislike this film, that is a very good message for kids: be wary of who you give your loyalty to. Yes, we’re talking about a 5 to 6-year-old girl and her toy, but close enough.

All in all, I give Toy Story 4 a plus for Bo Peep, its positive messages, and realistic child behavior. Everything else is a “meh”, and Woody is an absolute negative.

Return to the Past… Again!

Have I mentioned I’m really bad at keeping promises to myself? I’m sure I have.

Way back in 2013, I talked about rejoining Neopets, a game I played a lot in my childhood, and being “determined” to stick around. As I’m sure you can guess from the first sentence, that didn’t happen. Six years later, I’m on there again! This time, I didn’t lose my passwords because I kept them in a Word document. I confess it’s name to see so much age on my accounts. Of course, with the site being twenty years old, there are much older accounts than mine. Too bad I didn’t discover it when I was five. I started when I was around ten, so my very first account would be 14 or 15 years old by now. Darn it! Then again, ten-year-old me had very bad taste in usernames.

Anyway, as I do with most things, I did a little bit of research on what’s happened with the site lately. It still has a good user base, but I also found some things that were very unsettling, to say the least. Specifically, incidents of fraud and horrible customer service, some incidents dating back to when I was still a child. However, as I said in my last post about reviews, those kind of complaints are to be taken with a grain of salt.

There’s something in one particular review about Neopets on a website called Site Jabber that stuck out to me and prompted me to create this post.

Getting a million Neopoints is a difficult task on its own, and by just playing a few games, it could take well over a year to get that. If that’s the case, can anyone imagine trying to earn 50 million NP or 100 million NP for those Battledome weapons and other useful paintbrushes and potions? No. It was out of reach for probably 90% of players. Basically, anything that can make the game more useful or interesting for you is impossible to achieve so why bother?

That was why cheating was rampage.. because no one could make that many Neopoints legitimately.

This. Is. False!

Unlike our very depressing world, Neopets really is an equal opportunity place. In fact, new users have a much better head start now than new users when I was a kid. It is time-consuming, but that goes for any game you want to make a lot of progress in. Now, I never reached millions, but I did reach one million on Neopets some years with zero cheating done. In an unrelated game, I also made a million in that currency without cheating. It may not be possible to do everything a game has to offer, but it is possible to become “rich” in any virtual setting if you put in the time and effort. And if you don’t want to, no judgment. It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun, not a struggle. But that’s not a reason to violate the site’s rules and complain when you’re rightfully banned for it.

This person is correct that getting a million neopoints (the currency of the website’s virtual world) is difficult, and it would take a long time if you relied solely on games. But games are not the only way to make neopoints. There are actually many guides written about this, one of the best by a user I admire named Jenesis. Her guide is old, but it’s still relevant, as it’s very informative and probably my favorite guide on the subject.

Basically, anything that can make the game more useful or interesting for you is impossible to achieve so why bother?

This particular part is the next thing that bothers me so much. First of all, if everything that would make the site better for you involves striking rich in virtual currency, that’s a personal problem, not the staff’s fault. I was “poor” for most of my time on Neopets, yet I never had a problem having fun with the site before other things took more of my interest. Years ago, there was website dedicated to stories of how players became so addicted to the site, it bordered on being akin to a drug to them (video game addiction). Even if everything that improve personal experience does require being rich, it’s not impossible. Again, it takes a lot of time and effort. It irritates me to hell when people insist because they can’t, or won’t, do something, it’s not possible for anybody.

This untrue review continues:

This once “free” game with some advertising became a massive bloat of ads and then started to ask you to pay for Neopets Premium. Then you had to pay for items and then Neopet clothes. Now, you probably have to pay for everything.

This review is from 2016, and the bold word makes it more evident this person is exaggerating. For starters, the game is still ultimately free. Neopets does have a premium subscription and while they do advertise it (like every site ever with a premium service!), it’s not mandatory. You don’t have to pay for items and clothing. Spending any amount of real money for Neopets is purely optional. It’s no different than free games with in-app purchases. Spending real money gives you an advantage, but it’s not necessary to play the game. There is nothing users playing for free can’t achieve that users who pay for the premium subscription can. And while ads are annoying (again, this applies to any site, not just Neopets), you don’t need their premium service to block the ads. An ad blocker will do just fine. I use AdBlock Plus in Firefox.

There is a feature called the NC (NeoCash) Mall, which only uses real currency, but again, it’s optional. There’s no need to spend your real money.

Some other complaints are about being banned for legitimate offenses, like buying NeoCash or Neopoints from outside sources. Their virtual currency is not allowed to be sold! Buying their currency outside of their website is on the user, not the staff, and they state in their rules it isn’t allowed. The only exception is their own merchandise, for obvious reasons.

I don’t doubt there are legitimate complaints because no company is perfect and there are cold people out there. But a lot of ban complaints seem to be about cheating or falling for scams. While I have some sympathy for the latter, most common scams on the site won’t get you banned so much as inconvenience you for a while if you fall for them. To get banned for falling for a scam rather than being the perpetrator of one, my best guess is the scam took place outside of Neopets and involved something along the lines of selling their currency or items, which, again, is not allowed. Perhaps this is where I’m being judgmental, but that seems like an easy scam to avoid falling for. If it’s outside of Neopets, don’t buy it.

I chose to spend some real money for the site (back when I was a regular player) because I liked it that much and I could. Heck, now that I’m returning again, I spent some real money. I paid for one month of their premium service, though I cancelled automatic renewal because I don’t yet know if I’ll want to continue with it. Spending money for Neopets isn’t different than spending money on other games. Look at The Sims! Their current iteration has twenty-six packs. Including the base game, that would total $560, and that’s just the PC version. At least, you don’t have to download Neopets on every computer you want to play it on! I can play Neopets on break at school!

Many Grains of Salt

I am more anxious than I expected to get back to school. Of course, I’ll eat those words when I really start, but it feels so strange to have so much free time. My hours at work have been heavily cut and without school, I haven’t had so much free time since I first began working. It’s hard to find much to do that feels fulfilling with the time I have and all that’s been on my mind is returning to school.

Yesterday, I spent much of the day reading reviews for the school I’ve chosen. For the sake of some privacy, I won’t reveal its name, but it is a school with a lot of negative reviews on a certain website called Grad Report. I am all for doing research on any school of interest. However, I noticed while some poor reviews had legitimate complaints, most were faulting the school for what was the student’s fault, either accidentally or intentionally. I understand many people throw legible spelling, grammar, and sentence structure out of the window when it comes to the internet, but many of the low reviews were typed so badly, I had trouble understanding what exactly the problem was beyond the reviewer simply screaming, “This school sucks! Don’t go here!” I am by no means suggesting any school is perfect or it’s always a student’s fault if they’re dissatisfied, but internet or not, I cannot take a review seriously when it reads like it was written by a hormonal middle-schooler. Some students did not even give the correct rating. They had nothing good to say about the school, but awarded it four stars. I truly hope that’s an odd glitch on the website.

Some complaints of a few reviews that particularly stuck out to me were:

  • The cost of the program(s). This seemed to be the most common complaint. The total cost of every program is listed on the school’s website, so if this was unknown beforehand, I cannot understand how this, while maybe a genuine unintentional oversight, isn’t 100% on the student.
  • A former student complaining she failed her chosen program for frequent tardiness and one day of absence while other students who missed multiple days were excused because they had notes. In most schools, including below higher education, too many unexcused absences and late arrivals result in the student failing the semester or the whole year, regardless of their academic performance.
  • Being expelled from the program for getting into a fight. In this example, the reviewer stated he was the victim. As a victim of bullying for all of my school years prior to high school graduation, I can find this believable on its own, but I’m skeptical because of its source.
  • One student had the entire cost of her schooling covered by FASFA, but complained she still had to work full-time to cover her unrelated expenses. I understand having to work and attend school sucks, but I found this complaint particularly egregious for two reasons: 1) The school has zero control over how much FASFA covers, so she is pointing the finger at the wrong people. 2) During what time was aid awarded by FASFA ever intended to cover outside expenses?
  • Being expected to provide their own lunch. When I attended community college after high school, if you didn’t have your own food and you were hungry, you used the vending machines. In other words, I highly doubt this is an uncommon expectation of colleges and trade schools. Even if it is uncommon, it’s hardly unreasonable. Heck, this was an expectation after elementary school! If you don’t want to pay for lunch, you bring your own.
  • Their degree or certificate (varies by location) being withheld due to being in debt with the school. This is stated within a handbook given to students, and I’ve found this to also be a common rule among colleges. There was one instance of a mother reporting the school to the BBB because this issue occurred with her son. To put it simply, she lost the case.
  • One student was unable to take a test for a license because she had no transportation to get there, and the school only covers the cost of the test for a year. Again, a situation that sucks, but is not the fault nor the responsibility of the school.
  • A complaint about being expected to wear uniform and abide by a strict dress code. This is another rule stated within the handbook and enrollment is entirely optional, of course. The dress code, while strict, is not exactly religious. I was permitted to wear flower-shaped earrings.
  • Another complaint about the uniform was only two are provided for free. It’s possible to purchase more uniforms, and to my knowledge, there is a popular chore called “laundry”.
  • One student complained there was no hands-on lab work. For a trade school, this would be a reasonable complaint. The problem? The student not only mixed up the name of the school with a university’s, but majored in liberal studies. How can a program for politics have any hands-on learning, short of an internship in a political office? I despise politics and am not on any side, but even I have to laugh at that one.
  • A student complaining he wasn’t told he needed a license to be a mechanic. Even if this one is true, I find it ridiculous. Why would you not research the requirements for the type of job you want?
  • A student who took night classes complaining no one has time to do book work, study, or prepare for tests because they have a day job. Again, I very much understand going to school and having a job at the same time sucks, but if you truly do not have time, why would you enroll in school to begin with?
  • A student who complained he still owed a balance, despite not having a job when he tried to enroll. When in history has lack of employment ever negated your bills? Note this student didn’t lose his job. He never had one to begin with. His complaint was his lack of employment wasn’t netting him a free ride if he enrolled.
  • In my opinion, the worst was from a mother. Her complaint was her daughter claimed she could take the test for GED and this turned out to be a falsehood. It seems neither she nor her daughter verified this. Why would a trade school, of all places, offer a test for GED?

The low reviews with valid complaints were outnumbered by reviews with complaints like the above and more. It’s one thing to be dissatisfied with the school and realize it’s not suited for you. That is absolutely okay and what happened with me in community college. It’s why I sought out trade school. However, blaming the school for your own mistakes and shortsightedness is a whole other matter. While I don’t believe all positive reviews and testimonials at face value either, they are more believable than someone who’s angry they still have to take responsibility for their life outside of school. There’s a reason for the old expression about leading a horse to water, but being unable to make the horse drink it. There’s only so much even the most helpful campus can do.

These negative reviews have not swayed my mind at all, though they were a surprising source of amusement for a full day. I look forward to returning and hope I get the best out of the program I’ve chosen. The campus has already proven themselves to go out of their way, so I have little doubt about their commitment, but time will tell where I stand.