“Whenever I am asked how I was able to succeed in many languages in a relatively short period of time, I always make a bow in spirit to the source of all knowledge: books. My advice to learners can thus be expressed in one word: read!”
This quote originates from one of the most famous books on language learning “Polyglot. How I learn languages” by Kato Lomb. But even Kato Lomb, a linguaphile speaking over 20 tongues, would admit that reading in a foreign language can as easily be a torture as it can be a pleasure: it all depends on the approach. Every foreign word you look up in a dictionary sucks up your energy and disengages you from the the text, so you have to make a choice between enjoying the plot and learning as many new words as possible.
Or do you?
Not with Readlang. When the translation is one click away, there’s no need to make trade-offs.
What is Readlang and how it works
Readlang is a fantastic tool that allows you to learn languages in the most natural way: by reading. And, yes, as a born bookworm, I do claim that reading interesting stuff in your target language is the most natural way to learn it (correct me, if I’m wrong).
So let’s say you are reading El Confidencial (which is, obviously, all in Spanish) and in the very first line you hit a word whose meaning seems quite obscure. And now, because of this word, you can’t even guess what the heck the whole post is about. So what do you do?
Well, you just turn on your Readlang extension, give it a few seconds to analyze the page and then click on the notorious word. And voilà! You’ve got your translation so now you can keep on reading. Beauty!
Of course, Readlang itself doesn’t translate texts; instead it acts as a middleman between you and Google Translate. And it saves a lot of time since you don’t have to jump between your article and GT every time you stare at a new word. This web app basically embeds Google Translate into a website of your choice!
But this is just basics. Readlang does much, much more than simple translation.
3 major Readlang features that you probably don’t use (but should!)
With Readlang you can follow your linguistic curiousity and use posts in 50+ tongues as your language learning material. It’s that easy. But about those new words that clicked on? Do they just disappear as soon as you close a tab in your browser?
Readlang digital word lists
Once you clicked on a new word, Readlang automatically adds it to your personal dictionary. It notes not only the word itself and its translation but also the immediate context in which it appearedand the link to the original post.
So when you’re done reading, you can go back to Readlang and see all this vocabulary beautifully piling in your digital word list. You can even listen to the pronunciation of each word! And I have to admit it sounds… surprisingly nativelike although still a bit robotic. (For the sake of the experiment, I checked Readlang’s pronunciation of Russian and it did sound technically correct to my native ears. The lack of intonation, however, remained hard to ignore).
The third good news is that word entries are editable. And you totally should make use of it for reasons that will be explained a bit later.
In any case, I found this digital warod lists extremely helpful because my usual practice came down to writing new vocabulary manually in a little language notebook. And I still like doing it but Readlang is simply more time-efficient.
Readlang spaced repetition system
Have you ever created real physical flashcards with target words on one side and their translation on the other? No? Me neither.
However, I do accept that spaced repetition is one of the most effective ways to force your brain to memorize stuff it doesn’t want to memorize. Like that French word for “to hear“, for example. Is it entendre, éteindre, étendre…?
And that’s another reason I now prefer Readlang over my paper-based language notebook: it creates flashcards. Moreover, Readlang SRS (spaced repetition system) uses more elaborated algorithms than any of us would think of implementing manually. The typical SRS approach would be to repeat each new word over specified periods of time, with these periods gradually increasing as the word becomes more familiar.
And it works just fine – with small word lists.
But, come on, you never have a small word list. What you end with having after just one little article is that long tail of 87 unfamiliar words neither of which you recognize five minutes later. It doesn’t mean that they all are equally useful; it just means that you don’t know these words (and that’s why you clicked on them!)
Luckily, Readlang does some sorting and prioritizes high-frequency words over lower frequency ones so that you focus on the right thing. Very practical feature.
Readlang Library and Resource Center
It’s easy to feel desperate when starting learning a new language. Because the first problem you usually hit is “How do I find things to read?!” (…/to watch/to listen/to whatever). The second problem you face is the realization that you can’t even read the stuff you just found because it’s too-damn-difficult!
And Readlang web app, again, solves both of these problems.
In the “library” tap on the Readlang website, you find a whole bunch of various texts (and songs) categorized by genre, difficulty, and length. So if you have a 10 minute time window and feel adventurous, you’re free to search for something under 300 words and of your proficiency level. If you’re ready for a more deliberate practice, embarking on a longer and harder text is made equally easy.
Readlang also offers a huge list of websites and other reading resources of all kinds for learners of various languages. Magazins, local newspapers, ebooks, online TV channels – all this stuff is open to explore. So I like to think of this Readlang “repositorium” as of a good starting point for exploring the TL culture.
How to make the most of Readlang?
Readlang is a very powerful tool for building a strong vocabulary base but many language learners never realize its full potential. Working with it for over a year now, I found a number of ways to make use of its best features. I also implemented Readlang into a larger language learning routine. Here’s how.
Save longer phrases
The context plays a huge role in understanding foreign language texts. Often, the meaning of a word changes depending on where it happened to stand in the sentence. And suddenly instead of a single word you get an elegant adverbial construction or some weird idiom.
With Readlang you can translate not only individual words but also much longer expressions. Make sure to do so. These little constructions is what makes your language interesting, cohesive and logical.
The free version of Readlang translates up to 10 phrases per day – and it’s a good start. Also, you won’t be able to save chunks longer than 6 words. And, in my opinion, it’s just enough. The point here is to learn common expressions not to memorize full sentences.
Nevertheless, if you are on fire building your “common expressions” list, you can go with Readlang Premium that lifts these limitations for just $5 a month. It is certainly worth giving a try, especially if use Readlang a lot.
Edit the default translation
Earlier on I mentioned that you should definitely take the process in your own hands and edit the translation. In case you wonder why bother here’s a screenshot of what Google Translate/Readlang may offer you:
The exact same “Así las cosas” translated with DeepL would come out much nicer: “As a matter of fact”, or “With that in mind”. And it certainly has more sense than GT’s “So things”.
Let’s admit it, GT is not the best translation tool (although, most of us would use it anyway). And, to the credit of Readlang, the web app does encourage you to consult additional resources such as Word Reference or Collins dictionaries. Basically, you can look up the word right from Readlang and edit the entry according to your needs.
So I typically go over a “fresh” set of words I collected and quickly fix all weird GT wordings. Plus, I like to add determines to any gender-marked nouns in languages like Spanish and French. So instead of leaving the potentially ambiguous “mesa” (which is a “table” in Spanish) I prefer to list it as “la mesa” and memorize it accordingly.
This groundwork saves me a lot of nerve cells on the next stage. And the next stage is…
Practice words right after reading
Reading a post in a foreign language always brings this amazing sense of accomplishment.
But then you go to Readlang and find like a hundred words eagerly waiting for you… and realize that you remember neither of them. None. Ninguno. That’s right, you saw these words in the article just two minutes ago and they already seem wiped from your memory.
That’s the forgetting curve for you.
So if you want this vocabulary saved in your memory rather than just in the Readlang word list, you have to act immediately. The rule of thumb here is to return to Readlang right after reading and refresh your memory with flashcards. The rest will be taken care of by the Readlang’s SRS (if you come back to the webapp daily, of course – and you should).
Make a personal “to read” list
I wish another interesting post in French just magically appeared before my eyes every time I had a desire to practice my language skills. But no.
Nothing can be more discouraging than having nothing to read when you feel like reading. That’s why you want to consider building your own language-specific “to read” list. Two things are possible here. First, you can add stuff from the Readlang library – it’s a very simple and straightforward approach. Second, you can upload your own material (such as ebooks, articles, etc) to Readlang by yourself.
I prefer to go with the second option just because it offers more control over the content of readings. If I don’t read children stories in my native tongue then I won’t read it in Spanish even for the sake of language practice.
Readlang has a special button for uploading texts right in the web app but I found the process a bit cumbersome. So I actually use a combo of Pocket and Readlang extension. Every time I stumble across an interesting article in my target language I simply add it to Pocket with an appropriate tag (#SP for Spanish, #FR for French and so on). And when I have time to read it I just turn on my Readlang extension and dive in.
Use Readlang to learn different languages
I used Readlang extensively when I needed to level up my French proficiency. After a pause for a few months, I returned to the web app but this time as a learner of Spanish – and saw my French word list disappear.
“What a heck..?”, I though, cold shivers running down my spine.
The heck was that Readlang saves multiple languages to different word lists which makes it the perfect tool for polyglots and language enthusiasts. But only if you know where to find these lists. Obviously, the only thing I needed to do to find my “lost” French word list is to switch the target language to French. And there it was, perfectly intact.
So now I simultaneously polish my French vocabulary and build up Spanish one while doing the precisely same thing: reading interesting stuff. And all this – thanks to Readlang.
Image credits: Photo by Monika Rams on Unsplash