LingQ Review: The World’s Most Popular Online Language Platform

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Steve Kaufmann is an impressive man. He is a polyglot, someone who is proficient in several languages. Even before I’d read about his online language learning system, LingQ, I was impressed when I saw his videos on YouTube:

 

The man speaks hundreds of languages! I want to do that!

 

Actually, “only” about twenty. But still, amazing.

Steve Kaufmann, as can be expected, has many good ideas about language learning, among which one that particularly resonates with me is his insistence on learning how to READ READ READ. I look at my two year old who LISTENS LISTENS LISTENS and has done for years. No one expects her to talk to you. Her speaking is like the tip of the iceberg- the submerged part is tens of thousands of sentences of comprehensible input. In short, my two-year-old sits there and absorbs (she also tends to paint the walls with soap and drive me crazy, but that’s for another blog). She learns the language by osmosis, and not by forcing herself to speak or write (unless it’s with crayon over the carpet).

Anyway, Steve Kaufmann believes that we should begin our language learning by focussing on input. If we read and listen enough (the so-called passive skills), we will naturally be able to speak and write (active skills). I’m already sold on that idea, so when I found out that he is the owner and creator of a language learning platform, a playground of his skillset and ideas about language, I was more than intrigued. 

Yesterday, I became a subscriber for three months. I have no idea about this platform and, apart from the fact that I need “Lingots” (did I spell this right?), I don’t really know anything about it. 

No, wait, that’s not true. I know:

 

  1. The platform was created by a very impressive polyglot;

  2. I share several ideas with this polyglot;

  3. I’m currently learning French

 

So, I’m going to write a diary of my experiences using this. This isn’t a tutorial because I don’t know how to use it myself. What I’ve set myself out to do is:

 

  1. Use the platform everyday for at least half an hour;

  2. Write a diary entry for each day of the first week.

Here goes!

 

Day One: Lurking Lingots

 

1) Right, so I’ve chosen my language (French) and I’m at this landing page. I feel I could go for beginner 2, or even Intermediate 1 at a push, but I don’t want to waste any of the content. I choose Beginner 1:

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2) Voilà! The Eiffel Tower. That perpetual symbol of France and everything French. There are lots of squiggly bits at the bottom. Numbers. Apparently, there are 199 things and that 87% is important for understanding these things. Could these be the dreaded Lingots…… I enter at my own peril.

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3) Not Lingots, but words! Let’s open the first lesson. I’m ready for the alphabet (which I haven’t actually learned formally). Great!

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4) I was wrong! They’re not called Lingots (which are cryptocurrency used in Duolingo), but LingQs. How do I pronounce this? Ling + Queue?

Back to the content. I see a lot of noise on the right-hand side, which I’m just going to ignore for now. There’s a nice, shiny play button and a French text. I’m going to Shadow this lesson 5 times. See you on the other side!

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5) Finished doing that, but wish there was a speed function for playing the audio. I do like the soft guitar background music, though.

 

My bad- there is a function for speeding up and slowing down the audio. Well played!

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I started fidgeting with the widgets on the page (fidget widget?) and came across some information: A revelation! So this is what LingQs are. Cool. 

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There are no new words for me in the first lesson, so I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s lesson. 

 

But a problem emerges:

 

“4. All other words become known as you page.”

 

Sorry, what? I mean, pardon? I guess I need to do the English course to figure out what this sentence means! See you tomorrow!

 

Day Two: Reading, Reading, Reading and . . . Fuzz!

 

OK, much of the same. I’m beginning to enjoy the simplicity of the system and love the neurological stimulus buzz of clicking COMPLETE LESSON; the grey, monochrome drizzle becomes ablaze with festoons and fanfare:

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But all is not well in paradise . . . There is buzzing! Yes, that’s right, piercing fuzz that cascades upon my eardrums like so many gnawing chipmunks on heat. Well OK, not exactly like that, and not really such a huge problem, but watch out for this guy and his book of fuzz:

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But to play fair, this lesson seems to have been pulled off another platform (YouTube). The main lesson feed for French is crystal clear (and even has a beautiful french theme-tune to it).

 

Conclusion: The main lessons have excellent audio, but many of the supplementary files may not be as high in quality. Still, it seems that because the content feed is so vast, there is bound to be some not so up-to-par lessons. I’d rather have less than perfect content than no content at all.

 

Day Three: Excellent Content

 

I start lesson four in the lesson feed and feel that I am starting to learn some really useful content. Even though I understand each sentence perfectly, I’m still not comfortable with the material in the lesson*, so have decided, in true CI style, to Shadow the lesson ten times**. That is to say that I listen to the lesson 5 times without looking at the text, but speaking along with it. Then, I listened  to it another 5 times but this time reading the text as well. The audio is perfect; no English, no unnecessary sound effects, just pure input. 

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Just found out that there is a side by side translation as well. This is absolutely perfect for Shadowing. Unfortunately, there aren’t similar translations for each lesson (I had a sneak peak at the next lesson in the feed), so I can’t use the text as I would use others, but there is good news: I can download the audio file and edit it to get rid of pauses. I’m on auto-pilot now, looking how to make the most out of the wonderful material. 

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Day Four: The Hack

 

The most fundamental thing in learning a language, well for me at least, is productivity. I have so little time to learn a language and have explicit goals to reach. I need to be efficient. I also have a tendency to listen to a text an incredible amount of times (listening to a text 50 times while focussing on different skills is something I often do).

 

So, I’m faced with a very real dilemma with the material from LingQ: 

 

  1. I listen to texts over and over again;

  2. The LingQ texts have pauses after each sentence. This wouldn’t be a problem with one listening, but if I am to listen to a text x10, then 10 seconds of pauses would become 100 seconds; almost two minutes of silence!

  3. There is a speed-up function, but I don’t want to learn French from Alvin and the Chipmunks

 

The Hack!

 

Thankfully, I can download the audio file, put it into Audacity (freeware):

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The audio is 1:49 seconds.

 

Now, to get rid of the music at the beginning, Truncate Silence and:

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Voilà! 

 

Now the file is 51 seconds. I’ve saved just under a minute of dead silence time (you can see the spaces between the audio have decreased). So, if I listen to this ten times, I’ll save ten minutes. That’s a considerable saving!

 

Day Five: Creating Personal Lessons out of Internet Content

 

This is actually an amazing feature. I got a little bored with my CI approach (sometimes I want to punch above my weight and read something beyond “I like sandwiches”- which I do). I searched the internet and found a page dedicated to French history for kids (in French):

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The LingQ Chrome Extension has the ability to swipe content off the internet and import it into LingQ in lesson format:

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Now, I can use the platform as a reader and learn new words. Be warned though, that the free version only allows you 20 new words. If you're using it as an extensive reading programme or review, this won't be a problem, but if you're using this as your main platform for learning a foreign language (and I don't believe that this would be a bad idea), you might consider getting a subscription.

 

Day Six: Using LingQ for CI Listening

 

CI Listening is a method I’ve been developing for a few weeks now whereby I try to convert comprehensible input from written sources (appropriate level language) to audio. Basically, the idea is that listening to a foreign language seems to be much harder than reading it. Take the fifth lesson in Beginner’s French, se présenter, for example. Now, I had literally zero problems when reading this text, but I didn’t read it first. I listened to it twice, and neither of those times did I avoid the fuzzyness of not knowing what the hell was going on. Listening is hard and I believe we need to treat it as I and many others treat language acquisition-  by setting a definitive goal of audio input in terms of numbers. I have recently given myself the goal of 25,000 sentences of audio input in the French language. So, why am I writing this? Simply because LingQ has loads of great content here that can be easily converted into listening material. In fact, I think I’m going to use my French course to primarily improve my listening and log down how many times I’ve listened to each dialogue. 

 

Day Seven: Cantonese

 

I've started to learn a bit of Cantonese. Mandarin is my strongest foreign language as I’ve clocked up about 15 years of using the language (13 of which were in China). Now, it’s time to try Cantonese. I’ve scoured the internet for resources to help me with this and it’s not looking good. I have bought a couple of books, but there aren’t many. But wait! LingQ has less popular languages, right? Let’s have a look . . .

Yes! Even Duolingo doesn’t have Cantonese (come on Duolingo!), but there is a BETA version of Cantonese (as well as other languages) on LingQ. So, what’s BETA? 

LingQ tells us:

 

New Languages on LingQ

We are regularly asked to add new languages to LingQ. We would love to offer all languages but without a certain critical mass of content, new users get frustrated. Therefore, we will only add new languages after we have a solid base of content for them. If you would like to see your language added to LingQ, here are the requirements:

 

Beta Languages

Beta languages are not fully supported but do allow full import capabilities.*

Requirements:

60 Mini Stories

 

This is actually wonderful for me. It means that there is a Cantonese course with a relatively substantial catalogue of material (enough to make it worth my while). So, in the following weeks I’m going to be doing the following things on LingQ:

 

  1. Continuing with my French listening;

  2. Learning Cantonese with the BETA version

OPTIONS: 

 

Let's just sum up the two options for the course:

 

Free: I recommend this if you just want to use the platform as an extensive reader. The platform won’t allow you to learn new words and there will be loads of functionality that you'll be missing out on, but it is a great resource to have a supplement to other methods you're using. 

Paid: If you have the intention of using this for purposes other than revision, then the paid option is highly recommended.  

Conclusion: LingQ is a solid course built on scientific linguistic principles. It's fun to use and offers loads of content in all of the popular languages, plus several under-represented ones. Language learners everywhere should know about LingQ and I look forward to using it regularly in my personal journey.

 

Thanks, Steve for bringing such a great platform to the table!

 

*Questions are particularly difficult in French for a novice

**I’m sure Steve Kaufmann would approve

If you have any comments, please leave them below. Also, please share this review with other language lovers!