New Projects - Fresh from the Labs

Vocatra—Text-Mode Vocabulary Trainer (

I'm always keen to bring you ever more niche-market stuff, and here's the latest little project I've found. Vocatra is a vocabulary trainer with a twist. It works in a terminal as text only—no GUI. I'm guessing there's a demographic for that—perhaps an Apache system administrator who wants to brush up on five minutes of Japanese while he's logged on by Telnet.

Vocabulary training by command line? Guess so, it's Vocatra!


Deb and RPM packages are available at the Vocatra Web page, as well as a source package, and as usual, I cover the source version here for the sake of remaining bleeding edge. Grab the latest tarball from the Web site, extract the contents, and open a terminal in the new directory. Compilation is a doddle, as it's the standard process of:

$ ./configure
$ make

And, as root or sudo:

# make install


Once the source has compiled and installed, start the program by entering vocatra. However, it will return an error message about missing a vocabulary file. This is normal, and for the moment, you will need to make your own vocabulary file. It sounds like a pain, but it's genuinely easy to do, and it allows you to define the words with which you want to train, as opposed to some projects that just grab random words from a dictionary file (where you're just as likely to come across words like helicopter and prophylactic in the same lesson instead of something more pertinent). To make a vocabulary file, simply make a new text file and enter any words you want to train with the following syntax:

Foreign word=meaning1,meaning2,meaning3,etc.

Here's an example from the Web site:


The foreign words and native definitions are separated by an equal sign (=), and multiple synonyms are separated with a comma (,). If you want to make any comments in the text file, add a number sign (#) in front of a line (in keeping with the style of most modern programming and scripting languages). Check here for an example file in German and English:

Once you have made your vocabulary file, you can start Vocatra by entering the following:

$ vocatra vocabulary-file.txt

Vocatra now presents the words you want to train with, and it's up to you to provide the answers. Once you've finished the lesson, a summary at the bottom of the screen tells you how many words you covered, how many mistakes you made, your error rate and the time it took you to complete the lesson.

Ultimately, this is a great little niche program that's going to make a geek somewhere very happy. And, given its tiny size and simplicity, I can't see why it wouldn't be included in good educational distros. Hopefully, a community of users will pool around this program, as it would be great if someone took the time to make a series of lessons that you could use right off the bat (rather than making your own).


John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.