Read for pleasure and super‑fast language aquisition

My Favorite Tools For Learning Spanish

November 28, 2014 by Steve - Comments

The best way to learn to speak Spanish is to just speak Spanish. Ideally with native Spanish speakers. But there’s also a lot you can do completely independently, and these are some of my favourite methods of self-study.

By the way, although I’ve focussed on Spanish, these methods are applicable for many languages.

1. Michel Thomas

This is a great place to start. It gives you a really good feel for the grammar, getting you to construct quite complex sentences from the very start, which really gets you motivated with the feeling of rapid progress. The format is unusual in that there are two other students on the CD who are learning alongside you and who will often fumble through an answer to be corrected firmly by Michel. It sounds strange but it really works. As with most language learning CDs, it’s best to actively participate, pausing after each question and speaking the answer aloud, or in your head, before listening to the student’s and Michel’s responses.

After finishing this course you should have developed a really good intuitive feel for the structure of the language, but will still have a very limited vocabulary.

2. Duolingo

Duolingo is an incredibly well made site, and it’s no wonder it’s become so popular so quickly. For someone who grew up with old Nintendo games the progress tree, hearts, lingots and other game-like elements really get me in the right frame of mind to level-up. And compared to the simple multiple choice questions of other learning websites, the free form text field you get to type your translations into is incredibly empowering. It gives you the feeling of genuinely being in command of the language when you translate a whole sentence correctly. The only downside is that it can be quite unforgiving and you may find yourself stuck at various points without an explanation how the grammar works. This is a minor niggle though since you can always look that elsewhere, and return to Duolingo to complete just… one… more… lesson…

3. Reading

Reading is a great way to assimilate the grammar, vocabulary and perhaps the culture, in an enjoyable and relaxing way. The trick is to find texts that you’re interested in at just the right difficulty. Here are some tips:

4. Flashcards

I’m not a fan of flashcards for most subjects, but when faced with the seemingly insurmountable goal of vocabulary learning, they are very useful. The most important aspect of a flashcard system, online or offline, is it must use an adaptive spaced repetition system to schedule your learning. This optimizes your time to make it possible to learn 1000s of words or phrases in a realistic period of time. The most popular online flashcard systems that do this are Anki and Memrise. Anki is open source and has apps for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS and Android and and allows you to customize each flashcard with your own images, audio, and video. Memrise web-based and has iOS and Android apps, and allows users to contribute “mems” which are fun little images or sayings that help you remember a word.

I use my own flashcard system on Readlang, and I like it because it adds three key features compared to Anki and Memrise:

  1. Every word or phrase added to your list is one that you encountered naturally while reading, and actually clicked on to translate it, indicating that you didn’t understand it. This means that without any extra effort on your part, while reading you are compiling a list of words to learn in a subject that you are interested in.
  2. Each flashcard includes the sentence around the word for context. Context is very important both to disambiguate when a word may have multiple meanings, and to help form associations in your mind which is the key to remembering.
  3. When you practice the flashcards, the most frequently used words in the language are fed into the spaced repetition algorithm first. This ensures you optimize your time by focussing on the most useful words.

Thanks for reading, I hope this was useful. If you have any other recommendations for self-study methods for Spanish or other languages, I’d love to hear them!

PS: I didn’t intend to mention Readlang quite so much, but it makes sense since I’ve spent almost two years shaping it to my tastes.


8 Reasons You Should Read More (includes waffles)

May 28, 2014 by Steve - Comments
Selfie of myself reading at the lab. Note the professional Readlang logo in the background ;-)

I’m already addicted to reading in my native language of English. As a child I would read computer magazines cover to cover, as a teenager I started reading novels like The Andromeda Strain, and now as a guy who works at a computer all day long, even when working I’m habitually reading blogs, forums, wikipedia articles, news sites, you name it! So when I decided to learn Spanish, it was only natural to make reading the foundation, and reading in Spanish is now my core daily language learning habit. Here are 8 benefits:


Tips to take charge of your vocabulary learning

April 23, 2014 by Steve - Comments

Readlang now has a powerful new Words page:

This is a flexible tool to manage your vocabulary, whether you’re a hardcore language geek or simply looking for new ways to speed up your learning. Bear in mind that none of this is necessary to use Readlang, which you can very happily do using only the Library and Learn pages. The Words page is a great addition for those who want to take a more hands-on approach to their vocabulary learning.

Here are some useful tips for making the most of the Words page:


Are some people naturally better at learning languages?

April 19, 2014 by Steve - Comments

I just read a fascinating article about the development of Hi-LAB, the “High Level Language Aptitude Battery” test designed to help the US military identify individuals with high language learning potential. It was borne out of a frustration with seeing so many language professionals getting ‘stuck’ at basic proficiency and not progressing to become fluent. After some research, CASL (Center for the Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland) concluded that the following three traits were linked to language learning success:


Practise Words From Specific Books

April 17, 2014 by Steve - Comments

By default, Readlang will select flashcards for you to practise which are useful, high frequency words, and are scheduled for review according to Readlang’s spaced repetition algorithm.

But what if you are focussed on a more specific goal? Perhaps your job or studies require you to learn technical terms, or perhaps like me you’re working your way through Harry Potter and would like to restrict your study to those books. I’ve recently added a new feature for Readlang Supporters that allows you to choose to study words from any text from which you’ve translated 10 or more words or phrases, for example:


The Making of Readlang - The First 16 Months

March 27, 2014 by Steve - Comments

It’s been 16 months already. In that time the site has grown from nothing to almost 5000 users, and continues to receive awesome feedback and grow ever more quickly. But it’s not all roses. There’s a long way go to make this sustainable, and I’m very motivated to keep battling on and making it happen!


Learn Languages with Harry Potter

March 8, 2014 by Steve - Comments

A failing of most language courses is that their content is so boring. It’s hard to stay motivated reading stories like “John goes to the supermarket”, I want to read about epic adventures, with drama, mystery, and wizards!

That’s why I’m so excited that the Harry Potter e-books are available to buy DRM free, ready to import into Readlang and help learn languages!


The Unintuitive Secret to Remembering Words - Don't Try!

February 26, 2014 by Steve - Comments

If you’re stuck looking for the right word, does it drive you crazy? Do you pound your head on the table trying to remember it? Do you swear you’ve learnt this before? If only your brain would work! Just think dammit! Think!

There are two problems with this:


Fed up with flashcards? Try other word games for language learning

February 18, 2014 by Steve - Comments

Flashcards are effective, but let’s be honest, they can get a little boring. That’s why I created an API for Readlang allowing any web developers to create games which you can then play with your personal words and phrases.


Readlang for Teachers

February 12, 2014 by Steve - Comments

Are you a foreign language teacher? Would you like to encourage your students to read more?

You can now create reading assignments on Readlang, and track your students progress to see where they need help.


Learn Japanese and Chinese by Reading

December 14, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Finally Japanese and Chinese are available to learn on Readlang!

They work just like the other languages except that you need to drag across individual characters to select the words yourself. The reason is that languages without spaces between words make it very difficult to detect them automatically.

Please give it a shot and let me know if it’s useful or not, if you’re not sure where to start, this video may help: Readlang Tutorial

If you still have questions, please get in touch, I’m always ready to lend a hand!


Happy First Birthday

November 30, 2013 by Steve - Comments

I started Readlang exactly a year ago today. At the time I had no idea I’d still be working on it a year later!

Here are some fun statistics on how you’ve all been using Readlang:

I’m excited about what improvements I can make in the following year! Stay tuned!


Firefox Extension

November 20, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Firefox users rejoice, for today sees the launch of the new Readlang Web Reader Firefox Add-on!

Install it.

It works exactly like the current Web Reader Bookmarklet except it integrates nicely into the Firefox interface.

Once installed, you can access it on any web page by either:

Here’s how the toolbar looks with the toolbar button installed:

Please let me know if you encounter any problems.

If it works well please leave a nice review at Readlang Web Reader to encourage Mozilla to give it offical approval. Thanks!

UPDATE: The Firefox Extension has been rejected from appearing on the Mozilla Add-on gallery since it updates itself automatically which they don’t allow due to security concerns, so if you want it just download and install it here.


Typing Mode

November 11, 2013 by Steve - Comments

You can now type your answers into Readlang’s flashcards! This has been on the cards for a long time, and after getting addicted to the amazing Duolingo recently I knew it was time to add it to Readlang.

To enable this, first enter the preferences page:

Then click the “Typing Mode” check-box.

Now, the flashcards in the Learn tab will ask you to type your answers in the language you are learning (but not in your first language):

I’ve been testing it myself and it’s so much more rewarding to type the answer and get told if it’s right or wrong.

If you get frustrated for getting told an answer is incorrect, when it is actually a different correct answer, it can help to edit your translations to be more specific, e.g. instead of translating the Spanish word “este” as “this”, use “this (male)” to remove the ambiguity. This isn’t always enough however and I do plan to allow multiple alternate answers in future.

UPDATE: I’ve now added the ability to add alternative answers. When you get a question ‘wrong’, a button will appear allowing you to accept it as a correct answer.

Another feature I’ll probably add is an on-screen keyboard with the special characters which are difficult to type without altering your OS settings. For now, I recommend finding out how to alter your keyboard layout on Windows, Mac or Linux and try learning to touch type in the language your learning, that’s what I do for Spanish and it’s far faster than reaching for the mouse half way through a word.

UPDATE 2: There is now an on-screen keyboard for the extra characters in each language.

Please let me know if you enjoy the typing mode, or if you prefer the old one.


Customisable Dictionaries

November 7, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Don’t like the current sidebar dictionary? Or is it missing for your language?

You can now put whichever dictionary you like in Readlang’s sidebar.

  1. Enter the preferences page:

  2. Enter the URL of the dictionary you’d prefer, using {{query}} in place of the word to translate:

  3. Click Preview to check that it looks OK.

  4. If satisfied, click Use this Dictionary.

Your chosen dictionary will now be available in the Readlang sidebar:

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