LingQ is a language learning system created by the polyglot Steve Kaufmann (listen to my podcast interview with him here). The “freemium” site and mobile app allow users to easily look up and save new words and phrases (what they call “LingQing”) using content from their expansive library or by importing custom content from the web using one of their nifty browser extensions (available for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox). Any words you save can then be mastered in context using advanced spaced repetition tools. LingQ focuses on listening and reading tasks, following the same input-based method Steve has used to learn 11+ foreign languages himself. But output is certainly not ignored. Using 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. Quality can vary, but so far, the tutors I have worked with have been excellent.
What I Like
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.
After creating some LingQs on a given day, they will automatically be scheduled for review 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.
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…