Readlang Blog

Read for pleasure and super‑fast language acquisition

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.

UPDATE (2023): Installing the extension now doesn’t work at all. Please install the bookmarklet instead. You can do this here: Readlang Web Reader.


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:


Readlang is getting Reddit-ized

November 6, 2013 by Steve - Comments

I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and added voting to documents. It works much like Reddit and my hope is that if enough people share and vote it will provide a good stream of quality new content for language learners to read.

As well as Readlang texts, you can also vote on any web page directly using the Readlang Web Reader.

PS. Thank you to the users who have been sharing content, especially the prolific lyarraocatilla!


More Dictionaries

October 10, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Readlang uses the great WordReference dictionaries where supported [1], and recently I’ve been adding some other dictionaries to fill in the gaps, namely:

Thanks to the users who suggested each of these!

Now some of these don’t fit neatly into the sidebar, so I’ve added an “Open in new window” button to the reader page, and an “Open Dictionary” button to the Web Reader to open the dictionary in a separate window instead. This offers more flexibility for you to arrange and resize the dictionary as you see fit:

If you have suggestions for dictionaries for other languages, or if you have better alternatives for any of the current ones, please leave a comment below.

[1] Languages with WordReference dictionaries in Readlang:


Tutorial Videos

October 4, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Yesterday I uploaded a playlist of tutorial screencasts:

It starts with basic usage of the site, but the 4th video is more advanced, demonstrating how to create synchronised YouTube transcriptions yourself.

I hope you find these useful. I plan to add more in future, and to update them as Readlang improves. If there’s anything specific that you find difficult and would like explained, please let me know.


Introducing the Readlang Web Reader (alpha version)

September 20, 2013 by Steve - Comments

I’m working on a feature that isn’t 100% complete but is too good not to share :)

It’s the Readlang Web Reader, and offers the same swipe-to-translate function as the current Readlang reader, but this time it works from within any web page. Check it out…

Your words and context sentences are saved to your Readlang account just as if you were translating a normal Readlang text.

How to use

  1. Bookmark the following link. (Drag it to your bookmarks bar, you may need to set your browser to display the bookmarks bar first.)

    Readlang Web Reader

  2. Open any web page in your browser.

  3. Click on the “Readlang Web Reader” bookmark.

  4. Click words or drag accross phrases to translate them.

If people like this I have plans to improve it by adding a sidebar dictionary, and integrating it into the Chrome Extension. What do you think?

As always, please report any bugs or suggestions!

UPDATE: The Chrome Extension now opens the Web Reader exactly like the above bookmarklet.


Spaced Repetition, Version 2

August 9, 2013 by Steve - Comments

I’ve recently updated the way Readlang’s SRS (Spaced Repetition System) works. If you haven’t heard of SRS, I recommend reading this Wired article about SuperMemo creator Piotr Wozniak.

The Past

This is how Readlang used to work:

This approach works fine if you want to do exactly the same number of flashcards, every single day. If you neglect them for a few days two bad things happen:

  1. A backlog of scheduled words accumulates, so that when you return to Readlang you have an intimidating number of words to get through.

  2. No new words will enter the system until you’ve worked through your backlog.

And if you go crazy and one day decide to increase your limit and pump lots of new words into the system, you’ve just guaranteed an unmanageable work load for the next couple of weeks. Think about what this does for motivation, instead of getting rewarded for learning more you get punished.

How important is that number of “Scheduled for today” words anyway? After all the distiction between “Scheduled for today” words and “Not Started” words is artificial, they are all words that you want to learn, so if you have entered 2382 words into the system it may as well say “Learn (2382)”, which is ridiculous. The number only serves to guilt you into doing your flashcards.

This is a common problem with SRS systems, and it can lead to disillusionment. It’s still a great method and if each word was equally important, then clearing your backlog first makes sense, but every word is not equally useful and so I think there’s a better way.

The Present

The new system is designed to fix these problems:

  1. You can choose to do a small set of 10, 20 or 30 flashcards as many times as you like per day. The system doesn’t even tell you how many cards are scheduled for today, because I don’t think it’s important or useful. This puts you in control. Study as much, or as little, as you like.

  2. The flashcards shown to you are the most useful (highest frequency) 10, 20 or 30 words from your entire collection of “Not Started” plus “Scheduled for today” cards. Usefulness here means word frequency, and can be overridden by starring words to favorite them.


The underlying SRS is still the same, but now it now:

I hope you enjoy it!

PS. I'm currently working on an open API to allow others to create apps and games using your words in Readlang, stay tuned!


Favourite Words

July 31, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Readlang already uses word frequency lists to prioritise the most useful words in a language first. Now you can override this and bump your favourite words to the top of the list by starring them from the words page:

You can also star them from the sidebar in the reader page:

These words will appear as flashcards in the learn page before others in your “Not Started” list.


Multiple Contexts

July 22, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Now, if you translate the same word multiple times, Readlang will:

  1. Use the translation you provided for that word, if you edited it before.

  2. Store all context sentences where you clicked to translate the word.

  3. Display one of the context sentences at random when displaying the flashcard for the word. You can also cycle through each of the context sentences.

e.g. Here I’m editing the word “tras” which has been translated in two different contexts.


Translate flashcard contexts

July 16, 2013 by Steve - Comments

While doing my flashcards, I sometimes notice another word I don’t understand, apart from the one on the card. Now the contexts are translatable by clicking just like full texts, and doing this will generate new flashcards for those words if they don’t already exist.


Click And Drag

July 1, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Drag to Translate Phrases

People seem to like Readlang’s phrase translate feature, but having to click on each word separately was a bit tedious. Now a simple click and drag, or tap and swipe, will translate an entire phrase in one fell swoop:

What used to be complete drag, is now a simple… well, drag. (sorry!)

Phrase Length Limits

The phrase translate feature has proved very popular. But some people have been using it translate whole sentences, which wasn’t really it’s intention, so to keep my Google Translate bill under control, I’ve limited the phrase length to 8 words maximum.

Support Readlang

Also, as people continue to sign up for the beta, I need to ensure that the site is sustainable. To this end, phrase translation will be restricted to only 10 phrases per day for all new users. Or, for only $29.99 / year or $9.99 / 3 months, you can become a Readlang Supporter, which lets you:

This will allow more people into the beta test without endangering my finances. Even in it’s beta state Readlang has proven itself a very useful learning tool for myself and many others, I hope it will for you too.


Edit and Share Documents

June 11, 2013 by Steve - Comments

I’m excited to tell you about two new features.

Edit Documents

You can now edit any book or article that you imported to Readlang. Just open the Sidebar and go to the Edit tab:

Share Documents

Why keep your perfectly edited documents to yourself? Share interesting articles with your friends or students from the Share tab in the sidebar:

Articles shared here will appear in the Library tab for the appropriate language.

I’d like to make the public library the best place on the web to find articles and links for language learners. Here are some ideas I’m considering:

Can you think of any features that would encourage you to share content on Readlang?


A Future Language Learning Platform

May 31, 2013 by Steve - Comments

Here are a bunch of popular language learning websites:

Notice a common thread? They all re-implement their own spaced repetition system and all except for LingQ1 don’t share their data2. This means if I’ve invested time with one tool, there’s a resistence to switching to a new one. And the experience I have with a new tool will be inferior until it learns about me.

Imagine if all these tools backed onto an open learning platform which stores your progress on each word or concept. You could encounter a new word on Duolingo one day, test yourself on it with flashcards in Anki the next, then encounter the same word in an iPhone game the next day, and all these events would contribute to the same user profile. New apps would hook into this data to provide you with a personalised experience from the start. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Of course, getting all the existing sites on board with this is a tough proposition. But if this existed and got a bit of traction, users would demand that new language learning tools or games use it.

I’m not sure exactly what it’ll look like but it should provide an open standard API to:

For bonus points it could incorporate grammatical rules, understand conjugation of verbs, provide good dictionary definitions, translations, etc…

I predict that one day an open platform like this will exist, and an ecosystem of connected language learning tools will emerge.

  1. LingQ does provide an API allowing read/write access to the words and the spaced repetition data, which is good, but doesn't seem to have attracted much of an ecosystem as far as I see. Largely due to the paywall for users.
  2. I suppose you could look inside Anki's local sqlite database, but if you're developing for the web, that doesn't count.

</small> (PS. As for how these ideas may affect Readlang, I’m not exactly sure yet, but stay tuned!)

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