LingQ – The Best Language Learning App?

LingQ is without a doubt my favorite language learning app. It’s mentioned constantly here at the Language Learner Blog. It’s a resource that I’ve used religiously to study languages over the past several years.

Everyone seems to have heard of Duolingo and maybe other language learning apps like Memrise or Babbel. This lesser-known app has qualities that aren’t commonplace in others.

What makes the LingQ App Unique?

For starters LingQ’s practicality stands out above anything else.

Apps like Duolingo are meant to be interactive and exciting. The gamification that’s built into them gives you the opposite feeling that your now dusty Spanish grammar book from high school gave you.

LingQ falls somewhere in between the two examples above. It’s a mix of a modern language learning app and a traditional language course.

The app has daily streaks that count how many consecutive days you’ve studied in a row.

One modern but unique feature that’s included in the app is a count of your “known words”. I put known words in quotations because this number in reality is fluctuating throughout your language learning journey.

Snapshot of the LingQ app that displays it's functionality. This example contains Mandarin Chinese content
Snapshot from the LingQ user interface. You can see the “known words” counter next to the Chinese flag and the streak counter next to the green apple.

In general, known words is a difficult thing to track, but it does carry some value and it’s a good general indication of your progress, especially if the app is your primary tool for studying.

The essence of LingQ is reading. There is content on the site for essentially any proficiency level. Content written for absolute beginners all the way to classic literature for advanced learners is available.

This content nearly always has audio spoken by native speakers. In addition to this content, LingQ has an import function that allows you to import articles from well-known news sources. This allows you to take advantage of the vocabulary functions while reading real-world content.

Image of the lesson feed inside of the Spanish content library
Snapshot of the LingQ News Feed where you can find articles to import from well-known sources.

One incredible feature of LingQ is the vast number of languages available on the platform.

It currently has 18 languages that are fully supported and 19 that are currently in beta, 37 in total. These languages range from English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese to lesser spoken languages such as Croatian, Hungarian and Belarusian.

Esperanto, an artificially created language, is also available on the app.

Articles that contain apps mentioned in this section:

Duolingo and an Example of How to Use it Effectively

A Strategy for Starting a New Language: Apps

The Best Features of the LingQ App

Now let’s get into the nooks and crannies of the application.

The most significant feature of the LingQ app is the ability to use foreign-language dictionaries integrated into the platform.

As you’re reading through text you can select individual words, or a series of words. You will receive three suggested primary translations to choose from based on the popularity of translations for that word or phrase in the LingQ community.

Snapshot of the user interface demonstrating the dictionary function of the LingQ app
Snapshot of the LingQ user interface. The panel on the right side displays three different suggested translations to turn into LingQs.

You can select which translation you believe is best, choose the most popular translation, edit an existing one or create a new one entirely.

The individual translations that you create are called LingQs, hence the name of the app. The number of LingQs you create is directly tied to your daily streak. You need to create 13 LingQs to meet your daily goal.

The concept used for streaks on LingQ is very intuitive. You essentially need to come across unfamiliar vocabulary on the app to meet your daily streak. It’s necessary that you choose content that challenges you in order to meet your daily goal of 13 LingQs.

Typically, I end up choosing a translation or creating a LingQ, as it’s referred to on the app, based both on how popular it is and how well it fits the context of the text. Then I might make some edits to it that fit my personal preferences.

For instance, when I am creating Spanish translations, I will keep them as simple as possible. I make them only one word if possible.

Spanish has a lot of cognates with English and Portuguese. I find myself often interpreting a word based on context just as much as the translation itself. This is because I can already infer what the meaning of a cognate is. My understanding of the word is going one step further by analyzing the context it’s placed in.

I’ve found that keeping these translations as simple as possible makes them easier to interpret later down the road. Adjustments can always be made later, also.

However, when it comes to using LingQ to study Mandarin I encounter very few cognates. I often write several definitions of a word to cover all possible meanings. I generally have less confidence in my comprehension of Mandarin. This is due not only to the lack of cognates in Chinese but also to my low proficiency level.

First of two images demonstrating how you can customize your LingQs
Originally Lingq suggestion

Second of two images demonstrating how you can customize your LingQs
Lingq after adjustments

The adjustments I make to the text of my LingQs for Mandarin typically look similar to something above.

Another fantastic feature that follows the integration of the foreign language dictionaries is the ability to use your saved translations of words and phrases as flashcards for study.

image demonstrating the ability to update your knowledge status of a word on the LingQ app
LingQ allows you to upgrade or downgrade your knowledge of any given word, phrase or series of words. There are 5 levels that you can place a word in and an “ignore” function. This feature is displayed on the bottom of the image.

LingQ has a built-in feature that automatically creates flashcards out of your saved translations. It also keeps track of how frequently you study those words. It also tells you when you should study them again through SRS (Spaced Repetition Software). This is a great feature for those that enjoy using flashcards to learn new vocabulary.

LingQ and Comprehensible Input

For me, the value of LingQ comes through in the way it utilizes reading as a tool for language learning.  

As you’re reading, the words that are most significant to the text will naturally appear most often. As you read you can check their meaning.

You’ll learn the words that you see most frequently first. This is a similar concept to flashcards except you’re only learning words that you need to know for any given topic or text.

There is a common term that more or less refers to this concept called comprehensible input. The co-founder of LingQ, Steve Kaufmann, mentions this term a lot on his YouTube channel. (You can check out his channel here.)

This concept doesn’t necessarily require the use of a platform like LingQ.

It’s rooted in the idea that you could pick up a paper book that is appropriate for your proficiency level. Say you already know 90% of the words in the book. Based on your understanding of those words and the context of the book itself you can interpret the meaning of the words, or at least that’s the intended idea.

I’m somewhat skeptical of how effective this truly is with a paper book. I used to read a lot of paper books in German during and immediately after university. I felt that I could often make an educated guess of words that I didn’t know through context, my accuracy varied tremendously.

Even when I’m reading a dense book in my native language, English, I can’t necessarily interpret an unfamiliar word even if I know 99.99% of the words in the book.

front cover of the biography Stalin, Volume I, Paradoxes of Power, 1878 – 1928 by Stephen Kotkin
Front cover of “Stalin, Volume I, Paradoxes of Power, 1878 – 1928” by Stephen Kotkin

I’m currently reading the first volume of a biography on Joseph Stalin, “Stalin, Volume I, Paradoxes of Power, 1878 – 1928” by Stephen Kotkin. It seems that I find a word per page in this book that I’ve never come across before. I feel that I almost never know with certainty what the word means unless I’ve at least seen it more than once.

open book displaying two pages of the book Stalin, Volume I, Paradoxes of Power, 1878 – 1928 by Stephen Kotkin
“Stalin, Volume I, Paradoxes of Power, 1878 – 1928” by Stephen Kotkin

You could argue that learning these new words requires seeing them multiple times, but in this case, that’s not happening or at least not frequently enough.

Nevertheless, it’s going to take several more attempts, maybe double or more, to learn a word than it would by using LingQ.

When you look up a word in LingQ you get a direct translation of a word and there is much less doubt about the meaning of the word.

LingQ is a platform that I recommend to students and those interested in learning a language time and time again.

You can use LingQ for free with limitations, but I’d recommend paying for the premium service if it’s something that you’re considering.

I began seriously using LingQ 4 years ago to study German and have used it extensively to study all four of my foreign languages at various proficiency levels.

The content that I’m studying on the platform evolves with my language level. I never feel like I’m going to outgrow the app from the very first day I study a new language on it.

In my mind LingQ is the language learning app that can’t be beaten. Nothing comes close in terms of functionality and the purpose it serves for its users.

Check out LingQ’s website here.

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