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.

7 thoughts on “Review of WordChamp, LingQ and their mashup”

  1. Hi Alexandre,

    BOLSHOE SPASIBO for responding with such a thorough comparison between WordChamp and LinqQ. I was pleasantly surprised to find many things on your blog that of great interst to me. In particular, just now I have read your paper for TeleRead about e-books for language learning.

    Some time ago I also concluded e-books for language learners, both their format and functionality,could and should be different from the e-books for the native speakers. Unexpectedly for myself, I then set up to prototype a version of such a book. I try to focus on the ease of reading such a book and on grasping the meaning of new words and phrases in large amounts, more than on the means to review the new words and phrases.

    Would you be agreeable to discuss this project? Could you please refer me to other material similar to your paper in TeleRed.

    Thank you.

  2. Hello Ilya,

    Glad that you found the article useful. Sure, I would be happy to chat about your project. I will contact you by email.

    As to the similar articles, they are mostly in the “Language Acquisition” category with some extra under “e-Books” category.

  3. Alexandre,

    Thank you for this review.LingQ is only getting started. You will see more and more functionality there. We will also expand the number of dictionaries that can be accessed and get better ones. We will speed up our search function and much more. We have lots of things on our list. It is just that with one programmer things move very slowly.

    I still believe that the community will be more important than the functionality. That is why our multi-lingual approach will, in the long run, be the right way for us to go. Please stay tuned.

  4. Steve,

    Thank you for commenting. I am looking forward to more functionality in LingQ.

    I understand your comment about the community, though I, myself, feel that Internet with its growing user base could probably allow for many more users if the right functionality was there.

  5. Hello Alexandre.

    Thanks for the survey of both systems.

    What do you mean by “deep support for the specifics of the learner’s target language”. As I understood it must be some features a of system. What kind of features?

  6. Hello Dmitriy,
    A simple example would be conjugation of the verb. WordChamp supports that in two ways. When you enter a word, it finds the infinitive from the conjugated form. Also, when you want to understand or practice the verb it has conjugation tables and conjugation flashcards. LingQ only has the first one provided by the dictionary it uses.

    Other example would be identifying common problems in learning languages, such as noun-adjective agreement on plurality, gender, etc. (большая машина, большие машины).

    Many programs will identify that you made a mistake during an exercise; deep support of the language would mean noticing that the mistake is a case of agreement error and increase number and/or frequency of exercises on that specific area or even offering to review it directly.

    This is something that a good tutor will do in a one-on-one class, but they don’t have time to do in the group classes. Next generation language learning system could (and should) offer this kind of functionalities.

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