Readlang blog

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:

Review vocab after reading

The list is sorted to show your most recently added words first, so come here after a reading session to review the new words you’ve encountered, and either:

Cram study a list of favourite words for an upcoming trip or exam

Starred words are always prioritised highly on the learn page, but they still respect the spaced repetition algorithm, which is ideal for learning a large amount of words over a long time period. But sometimes you may want to study a bunch of words in a short time, which you can now do:

(If you have more than 25 words in your starred group, you will have to study the separate pages separately.)

Review your words before a flashcard session

To review those words queued up to enter the Learn page flashcards:

This allows you to review all words at a glance and delete or edit them before starting a flashcard session.

(Note: a flashcard session consists of the most useful words from both the Scheduled and Not Started groups. If you have a lot of useful scheduled words, you will need to practise these first before you see your new Not Started words.)

Export words to study in Anki, Quizlet or your other software of choice

Practise words from specific books

If you’re in the middle of reading a novel, you may want to concentrate on only learning vocabulary from that particular text. Focussing on these words should help you enjoy the rest of the novel more.

As soon as you have translated more than 10 words or phrases from the same text, it will appear in the sidebar below the other word groups.

Future possibilities

This redesign opens up possibilities for more cool features in future, such as:

What do you think? Do you find these new features useful? What would you like to see in future? Please leave your feedback and suggestions!

* Dictionaries and word frequency lists only available for some languages - list of language support.


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:

Basically, they’re trying to determine if certain innate abilities will predispose a person to be a better language learner. I’m very sceptical of studies like this, and usually tend to think that most people are capable of learning most things if they are motivated and try hard enough.

Here’s an interesting anecdote from the Hacker News comments from someone who’s been though a class which used an older aptitude test, the DLAB:

As far as the predictability of someone's aptitude, the DLAB was a good baseline to show that a person had better language acquisition than the average student. When students barely met the baseline of 100 points on the test, they had an incredibly tough time in the beginning with a language as different from english as arabic. What the test didn't measure, however, is a person's will to persevere through the slow progress, constant mistakes, and utter frustration. Although the low scoring students had a tough time in the beginning, most of them passed in the end. The student's that ended up failing out of our class were, ironically, the students that did exceptionally well in the beginning. I mostly attribute this to them relying on the ease of understanding in the beginning, rather than studying at the level that the lower scoring students had had to learn how to do when they had started out.
bazillion, Hacker News

He’s saying that will to persevere was the most important factor, which is what I tend to agree with from my experience. People I’ve met who are good at learning languages tend to enjoy and be fearless about talking and socialising with native speakers, and truly immerse themselves in the language. I tend to think this is far more important than any general ability test, and I think it would be a shame for people who score poorly on any one test to be put off learning a language when it may not be testing the most important predicator of ability - motivation.

From an academic point of view, I’m sure there is some natural difference in ability, and I’m fascinated to see whether researchers can shed more light on what makes some people innately better language learners than others. But I’d be very surprised if innate ability turned out to outweigh personal motivation. From a practical point of view, as someone planning to learn a language today, I wouldn’t pay much attention to these tests.


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:

It helps if your texts have sensible names so you can remember which is which - I'm looking in your direction Mithridates ;-).

Please let me know if you find this useful or not!

I have an idea to improve this, allowing you to upload a group of texts to represent the kind of texts you'd like to read, so that Readlang will prioritise vocabulary that appears the most frequently in those texts. Does that sound useful?

PS: I'm working on a big redesign of the "Words" tab at the moment, with searching and filtering though your translation history. It's taking a little longer than expected, so be patient!


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!

I wrote this post to share the struggles and challenges involved in creating an online business from nothing. For anyone interested in the completely open and honest story behind Readlang, check this out. (Be warned, it’s long!)

The story of the first 16 months of Readlang


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!

Why is this exciting?

Harry Potter is a favourite series among language learners.

Now that DRM free versions are available, this means it’s possible to read Harry Potter completely legally within Readlang, a reading interface lovingly designed especially for foreign language learners, which is getting rave reviews and testimonials.

Drag across words to translate them, Readlang is like an Ollivander wand for language learners!

Sound good? Here’s how to get started…

1. Buy the book from Pottermore

Pottermore is J.K. Rowling’s own website and online eBook shop.

Click this link to go to the Pottermore Shop

If you’ve ever purchased anything online this is reasonably straightforward, just make sure you:

2. Upload the book to Readlang

3. Read the book

Later on, you can work on learning the words or phrases you encountered while reading. Readlang’s flashcard system uses a clever algorithm to prioritise words based on their frequency, and a spaced repetition algorithm to customise the scheduling based on your past performance. Don’t worry about the details, but read and practise daily and it will work like magic.

Good luck, and please let me know if you enjoy this, encounter any problems, or have any suggestions, I’m always working on ways to make Readlang even better!

[1] DRM free versions are available from Pottermore in English (US and GB dialects), Spanish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portugese (Brazil and Portugal dialects), Swedish.

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