Pronounced like the word “link” (not “ling-kyu” as it is often mispronounced), LingQ is an an online and iOS app based language learning system created by Steve Kaufmann (see my interview with him here). The “freemium” site allows users to easily look up and save unknown words and phrases (what they call “LingQing”, hence the name of the site)m with tools for 11 languages: Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish (which happen to be the same 11 languages Steve speaks).
LingQ focuses on listening and reading tasks, following the same input-based method Steve has used to learn foreign languages. But output is certainly not ignored. Using one’s LingQ points (which can be either purchased outright or earned by tutoring others or sharing content you’ve created), users can speak with tutors and get their writing corrected by native speakers. The tutors I have talked with were excellent.
Users can choose between 4 different levels:
- Free: Up to 5 imported lessons, up to 100 LingQs, and free use of the LingQ flashcard app (but not the iLinQ app).
- Basic ($10/month): Unlimited imported lessons, unlimited LingQs, use of both LingQ apps, a 50% discount on points, the ability to import and export vocabulary, use of the Cloze tests, use of the import bookmarklet, and ad-free.
- Plus ($39/month): All the basic features plus 3,000 points per month to speak with tutors and get your writing corrected.
- Premium ($79/month): All the basic features plus 7,500 points per month.
After using LingQ for quite some time now, here’s what I’ve come to like best:
Automatically Saved Words
After spending years highlighting new words and phrases in magazines and then manually typing them into Excel sheets or online databases, this feature makes LingQ a huge time saver. Some other sites allow you to also save and review new words this way, but they don’t allow you to import your own content the way LingQ does.
When you save words and phrases using the LingQ button, these items appear highlighted in yellow in all future texts you study. To quickly remind yourself of the meaning or pronunciation, you simply hover over the LingQ or click (depending on how you configure the settings).
When you want to LingQ a word or phrase, you can choose between popular hints, add your own, or copy and paste from the integrated multilingual dictionaries. I find that the act of creating (or at least editing) the hint or definition helps increase retention and deepen my understanding of new words and phrases.
Spaced Repetition Emails
After creating some LingQs on a given day, they will automatically be emailed to you following a spaced repetition schedule (that is, gradually longer and longer intervals between each email). You can then quickly scan through the words and hints to both refresh your memory and decide which items to review further.
Good Variety of Content
There are heaps of lessons covering a wide range of abilities and interests, and you can always import your own as I discuss next. You can browse lessons from the library by topic or level, or you can click on individual lessons to see how many new words it presents (all words not yet LingQed or marked as “known” will show up in blue).
Perhaps my favorite feature of LingQ is the ability to import and LingQ your own content. For example, I recently imported an e-mail I received in Chinese and then had a Taiwanese friend record the audio. Voila; instant content that is interesting, relevant, and perfectly tailored to my learning needs. And of course, words I had previously LingQed in other lessons automatically showed up in yellow.
Even the best language learning system always has room for improvement. Here are few weaknesses that I hope to see fixed in the future:
Wonky Word Boundaries in Japanese and Chinese
While this issue has been significantly improved since earlier versions of LingQ, I still come across a number of Japanese and Chinese words that are improperly parsed. This tends to be more of a problem in imported texts.
When LingQing new items or hovering over existing LingQs, I sometimes run into problems getting the window to pop up. When this happens, I simply refreshed the browser and the problem went away. Not a big deal but a little annoying when you are immersed in a dialogue or story.
A Few Unreliable Tutors
Most tutors on LingQ are members themselves, and enjoy tutoring as much as they enjoy learning languages. However, I had one experience where a tutor failed to show up for a scheduled session and didn’t reply to follow up emails or messages on their wall. Fortunately, I was able to get a refund for the points I spent for the no-show tutor.
LingQ faces competition from quite a few online language tools with far larger marketing and development budgets, but it’s focus on effective methods, authentic content, and community help LingQ continue to survive and thrive despite comparatively fewer bells and whistles. There is no perfect system out there (nor will there ever be), but LingQ offers driven, independent language learners one of the best resources I have found to date for learning multiple languages in a natural, input-based way. Those more accustomed to formal, highly structured language programs, however, probably won’t like LingQ very much. Of course, such folks wouldn’t agree with most of what I have to say anyway…
LingQ 2.0 has just been released. Myriad useful improvements to make creating and reviewing LingQs that much easier. This Apple-esque video covers what’s new:
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