In this review of LingQ I’ll tell you why it isn’t one of the resources I use to learn Chinese and I’ll recommend other apps and podcasts I prefer.
LingQ is an example of what happens when a language learning platform tries to do too much and ends up doing nothing particularly well. There’s a lot going on at LingQ. There are courses, lessons, LingQs, points, coins, avatars, tutoring, writing and speaking corrections. It’s not particularly obvious how everything works and there’s a bit of a learning curve to get through it all. Unfortunately, after trying out the platform, I feel like a lot of it is rather useless.
What is LingQ?
I guess it’s a bit of everything. It’s a platform with a free version that has very limited use and a paid version which has some benefits but still isn’t something I’d highly recommend. It’s not terrible, it’s just not that great either. Let’s start out with the things I like.
There’s a lot of content to learn from but not much of it is original. LingQ allows users to upload their courses in exchange for points (I’ll talk about these later). With anybody being able to upload courses, there are quite a few of them coming from places you may already be familiar with. Some of the materials come from Slow Chinese, Chinesepod (Review), The Chairman’s Bao (review), MIT Open Courseware, Rutgers, textbooks, songs, interviews or radio transcripts. We’ll just overlook the questionable use of other platforms’ materials.
The lessons are actually my favorite part and where I can see some value in using LingQ. It’s nice being able to easily switch content style and try lessons from different places.
Reading on LingQ
When you first start using LingQ, every word will be highlighted blue. As you look up words, you can add LingQs. These are basically just words to review later and these words will be highlighted in yellow. When you say that you know a word, it’ll turn white. After a while using the platform, each new lesson you open will have a variety of new words (blue), words you’re learning (yellow) and words you know (white). This is what makes LingQ different from its competitors but it’s not very user-friendly in the beginning. This is especially true because the free account only allows 20 LingQs per day and then after that, you can’t even look up the definition of a word.
They also keep track of how many words you know, but this is really just a vanity metric and not an accurate measurement of the words that you know. Being able to understand a word in the context of a reading and being able to use it in a conversation are two very different things. Nonetheless, it’s pretty cool to see the number go up higher.
The interface isn’t the best or the worst around. It’s nice being able to read and listen at the same time but you can also do that with Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao. What I enjoyed about LingQ is some of the content that you won’t find on those platforms. For example, an interview with Jeremy Lin or some songs and being able to jump around between different types of content.
As you read more and mark words as known, you’ll earn coins. As far as I can tell, these can only be used in making an avatar for yourself and giving it things like an iPod and new outfits. I find this to be completely pointless so I won’t waste any more time discussing it.
Remember those points I mentioned earlier? Not the Avatar coins. You can earn or buy points to be used to buy extra help like a tutored course, writing corrections and conversation practice. It’s not the worst idea but I don’t think it works very well here. Basically, after paying for a premium account, you can pay $10 for 1000 points. You can also earn points by tutoring others, correcting writing or speaking, referring a friend or sharing courses. One issue is that the community isn’t that large so there aren’t many people looking for you to correct their writing. The opportunities to earn points are rather limited.
The services that you can spend your points on are also overpriced. For example, speaking with a tutor for 15 minutes will cost you 500 points, or $5. That comes out to $20/hour. On Italki (Review) you can find good teachers for less than half that price. A 100 word writing correction averages 333 points, so $3.33. On Lang-8 or Busuu (review) you can easily have this done for you quicker and for free.
The points and exchange are a major part of LingQ but they do it so much worse than others that I don’t see much reason to use this function.
As you read and listen to texts, you’ll end up with a bunch of LingQs, or words you don’t know yet. You can review these using flashcards, cloze test (fill in the blank), play the audio and you type pinyin or multiple choice. The audio never worked when I tried to review this way.
After not much time reading, you’ll end up with a ton of LingQs. Normally while studying, I like to add some new words to my Pleco flashcard deck. But, I don’t add every word because I’ll end up with far too many words that I don’t need to learn right now and there will be too many to actually review. What happens with LingQ is that every word gets added to the review pile and it’s chaos. So, you either end up reviewing for far too long or not at all. Neither are good options. In a video in their FAQ section, they actually mention this problem and suggest not trying to review everything. But, there’s no simple way to have an appropriate amount of content to review.
I mostly used the web version because the android app is very outdated. I did see that they’re planning on a new version sometime in the near(?) future.
The free plan allows five lessons and 20 LingQs. This isn’t particularly useful as you won’t be able to look up new words you don’t know.
The premium plan is $10/month and gives you everything I mentioned before and a few small extras.
The premium plus plan is $39/month and is the exact same as the premium plan but they give you 3000 points. This points would equal $30 of those extra services I mentioned before.
LingQ isn’t terrible but it’s not that good either. The benefits are being able to get audio and text from a lot of different sources. This might be enough of a benefit for some people to subscribe. Everything else is done better by other places. You can try it out but I personally prefer using other resources to learn Chinese.