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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 got into 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:

1. You can do it alone

Talking with native speakers is the most effective way of learning a language (the HB 2.0 system). But depending on your mood and how much energy you have, this can too stressful or tiring. Reading shouldn’t be a replacement for either written or verbal interaction but it’s a perfect way to continue learning in a more relaxed way.

2. Set your own pace

Unlike other forms of media like podcasts or video, you can read as fast or as slowly as you like.

3. Treat the story as a puzzle (extensive reading)

It’s OK if you don’t understand everything! It’s very gratifying the first time you can even roughly follow a story. A few years ago I was travelling in Latin America with a very low level of Spanish. I picked up a paperback copy of “La Máquina del Tiempo” (“The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells) and read the whole thing with the aid of a pocket dictionary. It was a vastly different experience than reading in English, I had to become a detective and enjoy piecing together the plot as best I could.

For this approach, the simpler the plot the better, and if you’ve read it before in your native language that will help. Other things that may help are parallel texts, or (shameless plug…) a modern language reading tool.

4. Treat each sentence as a puzzle (intensive reading)

Sometimes you may like to go more thoroughly to really analyse the structure and grammatical nuances. This can be slow going so only works for shorter texts. To be honest, I rarely do this kind of intensive reading since it makes it so difficult to follow a story. But hey, everyone’s different, perhaps you’ll enjoy it!

5. It’s addictive and habit forming

Once you find a text you enjoy, you’ll be compelled to keep reading. On the flip side, if you aren’t enjoying a text, don’t force yourself! I’ve made this mistake before and it’s not worth it. Switch to something you enjoy and you’ll have more fun and learn faster. The holy grail is to became so engrossed you just can’t stop reading, even if you wanted to! Finding the right material for you is key, which becomes easier as your ability increases, leading to the next point…

6. It creates a positive feedback loop

The more you read, the more of the language you acquire, the easier and more enjoyable it gets. Basically, the more you read, the more want to continue reading!

7. Exposure to many words in many contexts

Vocabulary isn’t only words, it’s phrases and idioms too, which often don’t make sense when trying to analyse or translate literally, but which will click into place after you’ve encountered them in many different contexts. For beginners, transcribed spoken conversations are great source of practical everyday vocab. For intermediate and advanced learners, novels and other prose forms are an incredibly rich source which will help take you to the next level.

8. Because of the waffle waitress ;-)

Finally, in the words of the legendary Bill Hicks (WARNING: some profanity in this video!)


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

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