LingQ – building vocabulary by reading online

lingq post graphic

LingQ is another site that is based around learning through flashcards. It takes a slightly different approach to WordChamp however. The underlying philospophy here is the natural acquisition of language through reading and listening.
The idea is that you become receptive to a language before you can become active in it. You learn from examples rather than studying the specifics of grammar. Vocabulary is seen as the most important tool for communication and understanding. Oh, and having fun.

The basic premise is that there are lot’s of resources in your target language available on the Internet. By reading sites you’re interested in and learning vocabulary for the topics in context you can improve your language skills. They might go as far as to say you can learn a language this way.

On LingQ instead of just having vocabulary lists of words as flashcards, you have lists attached to an written article. You make your flashcards while reading articles in the target language. Your flashcards will also have example usage from that story. So you are learning words in context.

It works like this. First set up your free account. Then from the “Store” choose an article to read. This will appear on your “Work Desk”. Most articles have audio to accompany them. Listen to the audio and read along. Then try extensive reading if you can, hopefully the piece will be at a level where you can do this. Then do intensive reading where you use the built-in dictionary while making LingQ flashcards.

This is the core of LingQ. When you go through an article you can highlight a word and click the LingQ button. This looks up the word in a dictionary and starts a flashcard for you. A major component of this flashcard is that it copies the phrase around your target word so you have an example in context. You can also tag your flashcard to organise your vocabulary lists later.

You review these flashcards in the traditional manner to memorise the words. The flashcard system has a simple interval learning system marking the cards as New, Can’t Remember, Not Sure, or Known depending on your answers. It can also help you to manage your own interval system if you want as you can set the levels manually. Based, I think, on the frequency of words in the articles you’re reading, LingQ lists the 25 most important words for you to learn. This is such a simple but effective idea. The words that occur the most are the ones you need to know.

On your overview page the system also sets you targets for the amount of words to learn or read etc. It’s an external incentive for you go for that high score and Level Up.

If you can’t find anything in the store there is also an option to import text files into LinQ’s system. These can be shared with other users. There are certainly copyright and I think ethical implications here however. Tae Kim also voiced this in his review on 3 Yen. I would prefer to read a site in situ than go through the process of exporting, cleaning up, and re-importing to LingQ.

There is also a forum. It seems friendly and reasonably active. The post I made got quick replies from the moderator and other users. It’s a fairly basic forum though. They might have been better off using one of the more familiar off the shelf solutions. I do like that when you opt-in to a thread it emails you the full text of follow-ups. However that also means I’m less likely to visit their forum or site.

This is a business. Beyond the free account you have the option of subscriptions and buying points to spend on having writing corrected or having one to one conversations. In the future they intend to charge for articles in the “Store” (the reason they went with that label) in a sort of iTunes like manner I expect.
The one on one conversations are charged in 15 min blocks for 500 points. Up to four people can share an hour paying for 15 minutes each. The conversation is on a pre arranged topic and led by a native speaker. It’s reasonable value perhaps, it might depend on the skill of the tutor and in a group situation having the proper share of a conversation.

There is also the option to have your writing corrected. at a cost of 1 point per character. (kanji is cheaper!) You receive a comprehensive correction for this fee. The Japanese LingQ is still in beta so the charges may change. Points cost $20 for 1000 if you don’t have a subscription or $10 for 1000 if you subscribe. Higher levels of subscription have points included. Points unlike money expire after 90 days though.

I don’t think I would go the paid route. I feel that with a good tandem partner you could have a similar experience for conversations and corrections to writing. However if you are in an area where you cannot find a tutor, it seems reasonable value. I pay £15 ($30) an hour for one to one tutoring, but have seen much more expensive rates.

Overall this site has potential. It still feels a little rough around the edges however.
The content needs better level classifications. What might be worth paying for would be a graded series of articles or stories.
I prefer flashcards that have more sides. As always exporting the content you’ve made isn’t as easy as importing it.
The LingQ button and audio only seems to work properly in Internet Explorer or Firefox. (On the Mac I only really had success using Firefox) It’d be nicer if web apps like this could be browser agnostic and standards compliant.

The LingQ system of making a flashcard with a words context is the most attractive part of this system. Unfortunately it is only available within LingQ’s site. This is a slight problem I think.
It’s fine for material LingQ has produced themselves. But it’s not so good when working with material from elsewhere. I’m uneasy about this. LingQ isn’t sitting on top of other sites. The articles are republished albeit with atribution but I wonder about permission sometimes. I see a lot of Miki’s blog from JapanesePod101 with a transcript. They are “free to air” so to speak from jPod’s site but it feels wrong. Maybe it’s just I feel a part of jPod’s zoku and feel protective of what they do. I noticed work from another couple of sites as well. This is different than linking, which would drive traffic to these sites. It’s different than having a toolbar solution like WordChamp which sits on top of a site, because at least you are using the primary site. I am certain LingQ will take down material when asked. But in the end content is king, user posted content can be very difficult to police (just look at Internet video sites), and LingQ will need to produce quality content themselves and that is expensive and time consuming.

I think ultimately what I would like, and would pay for, is a stand alone desktop solution. I would like a flashcard program that could copy a word from a browser or e-mail as well as the surrounding text and put it in a flashcard looking up the meaning for me on a single mouse click. If it can be done on a web page it should be possible to do it on the desktop.
I could do it by hand of course but the 1-button approach is seductive.

Overall this is a site that’s worth watching and the method of making flashcards is a good one.

07. May 2008 by ロバート
Categories: 02 reading • 読む事 | Tags: , , , | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Thanks for the writeup on LingQ. You seem to have a good grasp on our methodology. The only other thing I would point out is the value of our audio files. We believe in a three pronged approach to learning vocabulary made up of listening, reading and vocabulary review. We especially stress the listening since it helps to build fluency and is an activity that can easily be fit into most schedules.

    On the issue of content, we are actually not intending to start charging for all content. There is some content available for sale now but the majority is free and will continue to be so. In fact, we recently changed the name of the Store to Library to reflect this reality.

    We are also not really interested in producing a lot of content ourselves. There is so much great content out there already and it can all be used to learn from on LingQ. We don’t want to limit what people can use to learn from. We will improve our grading system to help users find content at their levels better and we will continue to improve our system and make it easier to use. Obviously, copyright is an issue as well and we would rather deal with it by trying to partner with content producers. We will be more active in this area in a few months time.

    We look forward to your reaction to future improvements.

    Mark Kaufmann
    Chief Operating Officer

  2. Thanks for reading.

    The change of name from Store to Library is a good decision I think. It really stood out when I first went to LingQ, you even have/had a FAQ about it.

    It’ll be interesting to see what direction partnering with content providers will take. I would have thought a medium to large provider would be more interested in licensing your tools rather than you hosting their content. But that’s merely my guess.

    Everyone’s approach to language learning is different I think. Although I doubt LingQ would be the principle tool I’d use, I’ll definitely continue to visit and see what you’re doing. You’ve certainly given me ideas for my own studies.

    I wish LingQ every success.
    The more language education sites around the better it is for language learners.

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