Learning with Readlang

I’ve recently started using Readlang.com a lot more, adding it to my list of daily language learning tools. It’s similar to LingQ and Learning With Texts, but ultimately, I’ve found that I like Readlang the most out of the three. It’s speedier than Learning with Texts, is cheaper than LingQ (and quite usable without paying anything), and it has a Chrome extension that you can use on every webpage.

The Readlang reading interface (click to enlarge)
The Readlang reading interface (click to enlarge)

What Is It?

For those not familiar with it, as the name implies, Readlang is a reading tool. It lets you look up words or phrases by clicking on them (or highlighting, in the case of phrases), instantly pulling translations from Google Translate. You can either do this on the Readlang site itself, where you can upload your texts; or you can use the Chrome extension (found here) to use the tool on any web page you’re interested in. When enabled, the extension makes every word clickable.

(Side note: I mentioned above that the base translation comes from Google Translate, which, admittedly, is sometimes a bit… off. While you can’t change the instant translation dictionary, you can add custom dictionary links, which are used when you click to edit a word’s translation. The system will automatically search your preferred dictionary, so you can quickly and easily “tidy up” erroneous translations. You can access this feature in the reading interface, or in the word list pane.)

Whenever you translate a word – whether on the Readlang site or a third party site using the extension – that word is added to your master word list. In addition to the word and its translation, the context of the word is added. Being a lover of word lists (and printing them out to use with the Iversen word list method), I really love how seamless this works.

The Readlang word list area (click to enlarge)
The Readlang word list area (click to enlarge)

There are a few perks to the word list that come with the premium membership ($5/month). First, you can see the words from specific texts / books; if you look in the above image on the left side, you’ll see various Assimil lessons that I’ve added to Readlang. In the image, you can see I’ve selected Assimil Swedish 51, and the page is only showing me words from that specific text.

The other word list premium perk is being able to export your words in a variety of formats, as well as select which fields are exported. Here’s the export screen to give you an idea:

Export screen in Readlang (click to enlarge)
Export screen in Readlang

If you’re wanting a quick and easy word-> translation list based on your readings, this is your new favorite tool.

If word lists aren’t your thing, you can export your words for Anki cloze cards. If flashcards are your thing, however, Readlang also has those built in:

 

Readlang flashcard system
Readlang flashcard system

 

The flashcards go both ways, and in any given session, you have to get both directions correct before the system says you’re “done” with that word for the day. While I appreciate Anki’s bells and whistles, it’s also hard to argue with a flashcard system that is automatically populated with words you click on, with their context included.

Another thing I really love about the Readlang flashcard system is that the context sentence words are clickable as well. If you look at the above image, you’ll see that I couldn’t quite recall what “på samma sätt” meant, so I just highlighted those words and got the translation.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I’ve really been enjoying using the site, and I think it’s definitely worth adding to your language learning toolkit. The free version is fairly robust as is: you can use the extension / bookmarklet, flashcard system (without selecting which text you’re focusing on), and look up an unlimited number of single words. The premium subscription gives you longer phrase length (12 words versus versus 6), as well as unlimited phrase translations (instead of 6 per day with the free account), in addition to the sorting and export options I mentioned above. It’s definitely worth checking out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning steps in Swedish

A few weeks ago, I received my copy of Schwedisch ohne Mühe. This was very much a spur of the moment purchase, based largely on this train of thought: I’ve long been interested in Viking history; I’m interested in Old Norse; I should check out a modern North Germanic language; Swedish looks good. And so I leapt to my favorite line of courses. 

Wanderlust strikes again, but I’m okay with it.

I’m only up to lesson 5 so far, but it’s going well and I’m enjoying it. Some of it seems fairly transparent due to my English and German skills (besök -> Besuch, flytande -> fließend, not to mention things like syster -> sister).

My biggest hurdle right now is pronunciation. There are a few obstacles here: one, my brain keeps trying to read ‘ä’ as it’s pronounced in German. Two, there seem to be some tricky instances of letters being silent, and at least as far as I’ve seen so far, there aren’t hard and fast rules for when that happens. And three, for some words, it seems the voice actors just have different ideas about the pronunciation. For example, in ‘det,’ the ‘t’ seems to be silent sometimes, but other times it is clearly pronounced, depending on which voice actor is speaking the line. I’m sure (much) more exposure will help me sort this out.

One last note for now: for some awful reason, this particular Assimil book doesn’t have a glossary in the back. I was very disappointed to find this when I received the book. For now, I’ve bought a Berlitz pocket dictionary, but I’ll have to upgrade at some point or another. Sadly, a cursory search shows there aren’t a great deal of high quality Swedish-English / English-Swedish dictionaries. Who would have guessed that?

Assimil Russian

I’ve written many times about using the German Russisch ohne Mühe, as well as the relatively old Russian Without Toil. If you’re interested in learning Russian with Assimil and don’t speak German, and would like something a bit newer than the Soviet era, you’re in luck: Assimil has recently published Assimil Russian, a translation of the French Le Russe. It’s not available through amazon.com, but I ordered it from Assimil, and received it within a few days (in the United States).

Have I learned anything?

I recently had a rather frustrating experience:

In the middle of July, I was in Florida with a couple of people to see the last shuttle launch. While we were in Florida, we also visited Universal Studies for two days. Somewhat surprisingly to me, Universal Studios was absolutely flooded with people from foreign countries. I would probably estimate that out of 10 people, perhaps 2 were speaking English.

It just so happened that there was a German family behind us when we were in line for the Harry Potter ride. We were in this line for nearly an hour and a half, so I had plenty of time to covertly listen in on their conversations. (You know you’ve done it before, so don’t act like you haven’t.) The frustrating bit, however, was that despite untold hours of learning German, listening to German, reading German, I could understand nearly nothing of what they said. I’d occasionally catch a word here and there, but mostly it was like listening to a language I’d never studied at all. Their accent was one I wasn’t entirely accustomed to, but even with that in mind, I found the experience to be really, really frustrating. Living in southern Ohio, it’s not often that I get to hear German spoken on the fly by people in “real life” (okay, so it basically never happens). Hitting a brick wall while in Florida has me thinking that I need to be listening to less “news” type materials and more stuff similar to how people really talk, like in movies and T.V. shows.

Have you had any similar experiences where you thought, alright, have I learned anything in all this time? The whole thing had me seriously considering throwing my hands up in the air and calling it quits. But I’m far too stubborn for that.

Grimm Grammar for German

The Texas Language Technology Center of the University of Texas has a very nice online grammar of German, Grimm Grammar.

A snippet from their about page:

Welcome to Grimm Grammar, an irreverent revival and shameless exploitation of 19th-century Grimm Fairy Tales for honorable pedagogical purposes.  Fortunately for you, Dear Reader, thirty-six characters from these fairy tales have returned to 21st century Germany (their precise location cannot be revealed for privacy reasons) to model all things grammatical … anything the most eager language learner may wish to know about the German language.

This online grammar reference was created for lower-division language courses at the University of Texas, but any beginning or intermediate learner of German may use it completely free of charge, as long as he or she is willing to take a trip to the imaginary world of Grimm Grammar … the characters of which are grumpy and gorgeous, scary and smarmy, witty and wicked!

If you’re getting started in German, check it out; you could probably skip the introductory German grammar book, and instead just wait until you need a copy Hammer’s.