The more time I spend learning languages online, the more I’m getting convinced that software created by language learners for language learners work the best. For whatever reason. And this is exactly the story of Beelinguapp: an atypical language learning app for language hackers and bookworms in one person.
The story of Beelinguapp: 2017 “kickstart”
When David Montiel decided to learn German, he looked at the literature as the primary source of the language in its best form. But reading foreign books is a fairly demanding task, especially when it comes to the vocabulary size. It was hard to go far without checking up the dictionary all the time: the routine highly disruptive and annoying.
But from the suffering grow the best ideas. And Dave got one: he’d create a language learning app that displays text in two languages simultaneously. The translation mirroring the text in a foreign language would allow the learner to grasp the meaning of any unfamiliar word or a difficult construction within a second. And reading would essentially bring more pleasure.
So Beelinguapp was created.
Apart from the parallel text, the app got a “karaoke-reading” function. So the learner can listen to the story sentence-by-sentence while simultaneously reading it. The brilliance of this idea made Beelinguapp one of the top projects on Kickstarter and 2017 Editor’s Choice app on Google Play. Which, of course, I couldn’t miss. Thus, Beelinguapp made it into my Resources for language learners list.
And since I am a pure productivity geek, I don’t justs dig for the tools that are more effective than others, I also try to understand why they are so effective. And what I’ve found explained a lot: there’s a hell of the neuroscience behind the success of language learning with Beelinguapp.
Assisted reading: how Beelinguapp helps you to learn vocabulary?
On the first glance, Beelinguapp is anything but a typical vocabulary learning app like Duolingo or Memrise. There are no word lists, no flashcards and, oh my God, no spaced repetition. Which is already a sin by modern language learning standards.
Nevertheless, this “reading” app is actually quite a powerful tool in helping you to gain required vocabulary mass.
Beelinguapp combines reading with listening: the phenomenon known as assisted reading in linguistic research. These two activities, when done simultaneously, lead to bigger vocabulary gains and improved understanding of the text. With assisted reading, you also tend to memorize words faster and retain them for the longer periods of time.
How is assisted reading better than silent reading?
If you’re, like me, a faithful supporter of silent reading, you might wonder what so magical happens to your brain so that it learns better with an audio?
Dr. Stuart Webb, one of the leading specialists of vocabulary acquisition, proposes four explanations:
1. More natural reading
Learners following the audio tend to “read” with much faster pace than they would naturally do in a foreign language. As a consequence, the brain goes beyond word by word processing, speeds up and acquires text in larger chunks. This way, the reading in a foreign language actually begins to resemble reading in your native tongue and becomes more effective and effortless.
2. More repetition
When it comes to vocabulary learning, repetition is everything. Research suggests that your brain needs to encounter a given word 16 times before it makes an effort to actually save it in the long-term memory. And since the audio recording goes quite fast, you may need to listen to the text several times in order to fully catch up its meaning. This forced repetition gives you an extra credit for words encounters, so new vocabulary imprints in your memory much better.
3. Human intonation
If you got used to silent reading, you know that quite often you’d read a sentence a-a-a-and…won’t understand a thing. So you’d have to return to the first word and start over. And again. And again. Until something clicks on your brain and it stops rejecting this particular sentence.
By contrast, when you have a chance to listen to the story, intonation and prosody in the voice of a speaker help you to catch the right wave momentarily. So you end up understanding text better and being more engaged with the story.
4. Extra memory link
There’s a high chance that you’ve heard much more words than you’ve read. With simultaneous reading and listening, you have a chance to fill this gap and link the acoustic form of a word to its written representation. This creates more neuron connections, strengthens memory links, and leads to better retention as a consequence.
So Beelinguapp “karaoke-reading” offers you the amazing opportunity to try assisted reading on your own. You probably won’t be able to say whether it is more effective than other language learning apps since “organic” vocabulary acquisition is a largely unconscious process. But one day it will strike you: the fact that you can understand much more than you thought you’d be.
Nevertheless, reading while listening is not the only feature that makes Beelinguapp so effective.
Parallel text: how translation helps your vocabulary learning?
The double-sided text has been the main feature of this language learning app since its launch. And although it seems like very creative and modern, this method existed 5000 years ago. Yup, sorry, Dave.
What is more striking is that language teachers usually dislike this approach (assuming, I guess, that learners would simply rely on translation and ignore the target language whatsoever). Nevertheless, if you’ve tried reading a parallel text you know that the translation is as essential as were the training wheels for your first bicycle.
4 ways the parallel text helps your language learning
I don’t have another Stuart Webb’s article to prove this point, but a few seconds of simple reasoning usually help to understand the secret of Beelinguapp “side-by-side” reading.
1. “Organic” learning
Learning new vocabulary from reading is very different from learning single words with flashcards. The problem of the last method is that a word without a context is a like a match in the hands of a child. It’s very dangerous and can cause a genuine drama.
When you learn this words from reading, however, you simultaneously acquire the context they can be used in. And it generally helps you to avoid stupid mistakes.
2. A wonderful anxiety pill
With side-by-side texts, you tend to be less terrified when too many words look too unfamiliar. And there would be a boatload of new vocabulary in whatever text you’re reading.
You’d need to know about 98% of these words before you can painlessly retrieve the meaning of new ones from the context. The translation on the side helps you to overpass this barrier and increase your vocabulary learning rate.
3. More reading, less dictionary checking
That was the main reason for the creation of Beelinguapp, because the lack of vocabulary knowledge is a real pain in the butt when you’re trying to read here. Checking up a dictionary, even if it’s a super-fast online version, not just takes time but also disturb your concentration and generally kill any remaining motivation to continue.
With parallel text, a quick glance on translation helps you to grasp the general meaning and keep going without losing the interest.
4. A pathway to complex texts
All these advantages bring up another bonus point: with the parallel text you can read things that are much beyond your current proficiency level. If before you’d rather refrain from the topic that genuinely interests you, just because it’d be too difficult to understand, now you can go crazy and grab any text you like. Literally, any.
So what Beelinguapp actually does is that it prepares you for a real reading in a foreign language. And while you’re having fun with that exciting story about the tower of Babel, your brain naturally acquires vocabulary, syntax, and pronunciation of your target language.
And it, of course, doesn’t mean that Beelinguapp should be your only solution for language learning.
Beelinguapp: the perfect tool for beginner language learners
There is one thing about both assisted reading and parallel reading I didn’t tell you about.
They work the best for beginners and struggling language learners.
And it totally makes sense, since the training wheels are designed for kids 🙂
But, hey, it applies to all language learning apps. Would you still stick to your Duolingo, should you be fluent in your target language?
Nevertheless, Beelinguapp helps you to overpass this level fairly quickly and move on to the next challenges: if you use it right.
How you can make the most of Beelinguapp?
- Start from day one
Let Beelinguapp guide you through the jungle of the foreign language syntax, pronunciation and vocabulary.
It won’t teach you typical ice-breakers useful in conversations as would Memrise and Duolingo do, but you’ll be much more at ease with the structure of the language you’re learning.
- Always read and listen simultaneously
Sometimes Beelinguapp tends to pass for a “foreign language audiobook reader”. It politely suggests that you’d turn off the screen, put your phone into your pocket and enjoy your Spanish story while commuting to work.
Nah, don’t do it. Listening without reading, same as reading without listening, is much less effective. Moreover, if you want to listen, get a podcast, or an audiobook in your target language. There’s no point to use Beelinguapp just for that.
- Turn off the translation
Yes, yes, it sounds somewhat contradictory to what I’ve just said about parallel texts and so on.
But, the major problem of the parallel text is the human tendency to look for shortcuts. The shortcut, in this case, would be to the translation way too often because it’s easier and more fun. Avoid getting into this trap, by hiding the translation and checking it only when you’ve already hypothesized about what the problematic word might mean. This way you’ll learn much faster.
That’s it, my friend! If you haven’t try Beelinguapp yet, it’s your chance to do so and enhance your language learning experience. If you’re using it, don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments below. Vale!