Review of WordChamp, LingQ and their mashup

WordChamp and LingQ are competing online language learning services that use learner driven approach and try to support multiple languages. WordChamp is a (recently) free service. LingQ is free during the current beta stage, as it is a rewrite of the existing paid English-only service The Linguist. Because both services try to be language-agnostic, they use methods that are largely independent of the target language.

LingQ’s methodology (from my understanding) is based around repeated reading and listening to the target language material with the learning process based around finding new words, recording them down with their real-world usage and identifying known and new words in the texts. LingQ will suggest the consequent texts to read and the words to learn based on the learner’s individual collection of words to date. A basic dictionary lookup is available as well as simple flashcard facilities. A recent description of LingQ’s ideas is available from the founder’s blog.

WordChamp does not have a methodology as such, but instead concentrates on helping a learner to acquire words fast. It provides word lookups that include dictionary definitions and pronunciation of the word (where available). WordChamp also allows people to add the content to the system by writing down their own definitions for words and common phrases as well as by recording pronunciations of the words. The service provides a large number of different flashcard training methods. WordChamp, like LingQ, does not provide grammar rules of the language, but it does provide much stronger support for understanding and practicing verb conjugations of at least couple of languages.

WordChamp has several tools I have not seen in other language services yet. For a long time, it had a WebReader, which allowed to look at the text or an external website and have WordChamp automatically pop up definitions of the words under the cursor. Recently, this functionality became available as a FireFox plugin, so it could be activated on any website without needing to take a side-trip to the WordChamp’s own site. There is also an option for webmasters to embed the interface into their own webpage. I have an example of that on my website.

WordChamp also allows to export the list of words into an audio file - something like basic audio-flashcards. This allows to practice the word lists while not at the computer. LingQ does not have similar functionality, but it does have audio files corresponding to the texts, so a learner can listen and read at the same time.

Neither service is perfect and both require a dedicated learner to succeed. My preferences are currently with WordChamp, but I am hoping that LingQ will improve rapidly, as it has some interesting ideas in its core.

It is also possible to combine the services of the two systems in a mashup. At the moment, LingQ’s dictionary lookup is quite slow and it uses basic dictionary definitions that do not recognise common phrases the way WordChamp does. It is possible to install WordChamp’s FireFox plugin and activate it while on the reading page of the LingQ. This provides fast lookup of the WordChamp, with the methodology of the LingQ.

Unfortunately, at the moment there is a small problem with the mashup. After using LingQ’s dictionary lookup/word creation popup, the WordChamp toolbar stops working. Reloading the page and reenabling the toolbar is a quick solution, but is a bit annoying. My recommendation is to read the text once with WordChamp’s toolbar enabled and then read it the second time while extracting interesting words into the LingQ system. As the texts are supposed to be read several times anyway, this is not the biggest problem available.

I consider both LingQ and WordChamp to be the second generation web-based language-learning systems. They have started to discover what web allows them to do, but perhaps not yet explored all the possibilities. I also think that both system exhibit ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ problems due to their attempts at targeting multiple languages at once. I think the best system will combine great support tools like flashcards and read-and-listen activities with deep support for the specifics of the learner’s target language. That - to me - would be a real web-native language learning system.