Yesterday, while reading the comments on Stanley Fish’s latest New York Times rant on university education in the United States, I came across an interesting website for language learners called LingQ.
The site currently facilitates self-guided instruction in ten languages, including Russian.
As an advanced student of Russian, what was most interesting to me was the library of various types of podcasts and other audio programs, which are presented along with the full text in Russian. The library includes a variety of materials, including newscasts from Ekho Moskvy and Voice of America, audio books such as Tolstoy’s Detstvo and excerpts from Anna Karenina, and original programming specific to language learning with topics ranging from travel to business etc. Moreover, it seems to be quite easy for any user to add content to the site, as long as both audio and text are included.
The most exciting technical function of the site, however, is that it tracks the progress of your learning. By registering for an account (free), the website keeps a personal profile of the texts that you have read/listened to. If you come across a word that you don’t know, a scroll-over feature allows you to see the word’s definition(s) as well as to see any other clues or definitions that users have entered in the past. If you like, you can add new clues or other information, which will then be available to anyone learning the word, and you can save the word to your profile for further study (there is a cute flash card option for reviewing these words). Furthermore, the same word will from then on be highlighted when you’re reading until you decide that you’ve learned the word. It’s worth noting that this function only works for single words; expressions such as “travit’ baiki” (bol’tat’, rasskazyvat’ anekdoty) are not identified by the program, as far as I could tell.
More broadly, the site aims to create a language learning community by encouraging users to interact and by providing a broad range of other fee-based services (tutors, live conversations vis-a-vis skype, discussion forums, more developed courses as well as an option to submit your writing for correction). There are various levels of paid membership, and by contributing to the site you get free credits.
In terms of presentation, I found the site very functional. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it beautiful, but it’s certainly not overloaded with advertisements. But I did find the ubiquitous spring green banner promoting the $10/month plan somewhat tiresome. Audio files seem to come as mp3 downloads.
But all in all, this is the most interesting language-learning site I’ve ever come across. Its founder, Steven Kaufmann, is an also active participant on the site. He is the author of The Way of the Linguist (2005) and a blog called ‘the linguist on language.’
Does anyone have experience, positive or negative, with other online language learning sites?